How Jewish Museums Are Expanding Into the Digital Universe

Cultural Leaders Grapple With Paradigm Shift

After the Flood: Items recovered from Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters are on exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.
Courtesy of Museum of Jewish Heritage
After the Flood: Items recovered from Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters are on exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Published January 06, 2014, issue of January 10, 2014.
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Last year, the National Endowment for the Arts released some preliminary findings from its 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. The survey found that more than two-thirds of American adults accessed art via electronic media, including handheld mobile devices and the Internet. This information came as no surprise to the most widely known Jewish institutions disseminating Jewish art and culture — namely, Jewish museums.

Leadership teams at Jewish museums across the country have been grappling for some time with what it means to have virtual visitors. In the age of Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Tumblr, Jewish museums are strategizing about how to share their collections with and engage people all over the world who might never walk through their buildings’ front doors.

A further challenge is posed by the fact that in-person visitors do not expect to fully disconnect from their screens while in the galleries. For many people, a 21st century museum visit is incomplete without an interactive experience facilitated by QR codes or touch screen technology.

The subject of how new media is impacting Jewish museums will be high on the agenda of the Council of American Jewish Museums’ upcoming retreat in March, titled, “Connecting to Communities in Changing Times.”

“The CAJM retreat is focusing on the many dimensions of change that are occurring in the communal and cultural environments in which our institutions pursue their missions. Technological developments and shifting audience expectations are an important component of change,” CAJM executive director Joanne Kauvar told the Forward.

“We are going to be dealing with how to cope in our current reality, in which there are changing and fragmented modes of cultural consumption,” said Zachary Levine, one of the retreat’s co-chairs and assistant curator at Yeshiva University Museum in New York.


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