President’s Greeting: Nov/Dec 2013

This November 28, we mark a once-in-a-lifetime coincidence in Jewish and American life: Hanukkah begins on the same day as Thanksgiving. Actually, that’s once in many thousands of lifetimes. It won’t happen again for 80,000 years!

This year’s calendar can help us appreciate the meanings of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving. Both holidays are occasions of gratitude, and both are celebrations of freedom.

In the original proclamation of George Washington, dating to 1789, Thanksgiving Day is set aside to appreciate “the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed.” In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving for “continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”

Hanukkah is the Jewish echo of American ideals: the courage to resist tyranny, the struggle for religious liberty, the dedication (which is the meaning of the word “Hanukkah”) Continue reading

Moshe Safdie: Rain or Shine

Designed by Moshe Safdie, the National Gallery of Canada was the first venue for Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie. Updated to include some of Safdie’s many recent projects, the exhibition makes its U.S. debut at the Skirball today. Image by Timothy Hursley.

Designed by Moshe Safdie, the National Gallery of Canada was the first venue for Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie. Updated to include some of Safdie’s many recent projects, the exhibition makes its U.S. debut at the Skirball today. Image by Timothy Hursley.

About three years ago I woke up in Ottawa, Canada, to a driving rainstorm. It was the morning after the gala opening of the exhibition Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie at the National Gallery of Canada. I was there to represent the Skirball, where the exhibition would be traveling next, and I had plenty of company—not only museum colleagues, but donors, press, media, and government leaders and dignitaries from throughout Canada. The gala was a major event, and today’s lecture by Moshe Safdie seemed like an afterthought. It was scheduled for Friday midday, not a great time for a public program in any case, and certainly not when the rain was lashing the streets and sidewalks. I lamented the poor planning and the unlucky weather. It would be embarrassing, after such a triumphant opening, for Safdie to address an empty hall.

The wind was whipping the rain sideways. By the time I turned the corner, my umbrella was inside out and I was drenched. So were the people I suddenly noticed queued up in front of me, standing patiently, if wetly, in a line stretching for blocks. I couldn’t believe it. There must have been 500 people standing in the rain, an hour before the lecture, waiting to hear Moshe Safdie. The hall wasn’t empty; it was sold out. These people were waiting to get in. Not all of them did. They watched the lecture instead on a video screen outside. In the rain.

No rain here! Lucky ticketholders for Moshe Safdie’s sold-out lecture at the Skirball this past Sunday queued up in the sunshine with a view of autumn leaves.

No rain here! Lucky ticket holders for Moshe Safdie’s sold-out lecture at the Skirball this past Sunday queued up in the sunshine with a view of autumn leaves.

By the way, it was worth it. Moshe Safdie is a gifted, dynamic speaker with a rare combination of humility, humor, and grace. But I knew that. What I had failed to appreciate, Continue reading

Bring on the Buses!

How do we mark the passage of seasons here at the Skirball? Well, as this is Los Angeles, there are few, if any, golden autumn leaves to be found on our campus. But the color gold abounds every fall nonetheless—in the form of public school buses that line our main entrance each and every weekday morning.

These buses carry some of the Skirball’s most precious visitors: students in pre-K through twelfth grade and their teachers, from more than thirty districts across Los Angeles. They come to participate in any one of the number of school tours and performance programs we offer throughout the school year. While we’re proud to be providing content-rich programs that are fun and engaging, I am also struck by how much the students give back to us. Their enthusiasm and curiosity bring the Skirball to life and remind me why I love what we do here.

Recently, I cleared my calendar of meetings and snuck down to our galleries to observe a morning of school programs in action. Here are some snapshots from that day.

We welcomed four classes of students on this particular day. That’s pretty typical for us, and our team has it down to a science (really, an art). Here comes a class of kindergarteners from Yorkdale Elementary in northeast Los Angeles. Darn, they’re cute!

We welcomed four classes of students on this particular day. That’s pretty typical for us, and our team has it down to a science (really, an art). Here comes a class of kindergarteners from Yorkdale Elementary. Darn, they’re cute!

These five- and six-year-olds from Yorkdale Elementary have come to experience Noah’s Ark, our award-winning, hands-on destination inspired by the ancient flood tale. The two young Noahs-in-training pictured here are helpfully conveying a pair of monkeys onto a giant floor-to-ceiling wooden ark made of Douglas fir.

These five- and six-year-olds from Yorkdale Elementary have come to experience Noah’s Ark, our award-winning, hands-on destination inspired by the ancient flood tale. The two young Noahs-in-training pictured here are helpfully conveying a pair of monkeys onto a giant floor-to-ceiling wooden ark made of Douglas fir.

Meanwhile, back in our core exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America, a class of third-graders from Estrella Elementary sits around a table set for the Jewish holidays. For this program, “At Home in Los Angeles,” the students learn about Shabbat, the weekly day of rest in Jewish tradition when families refrain from work and spend time together. Our Skirball educator is inviting the students to discuss the holidays and customs they observe with their own families. One of the girls mentions eating homemade tamales every Christmas Eve with her family, who comes from Mexico.

Meanwhile, in our core exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America, a class of third-graders from Estrella Elementary sits around a table set for the Jewish holidays. For this program, “At Home in Los Angeles,” the students learn about Shabbat, the weekly day of rest in Jewish tradition when families refrain from work and spend time together. Our Skirball educator is inviting the students to discuss the holidays and customs they observe with their own families. One of the girls mentions eating homemade tamales every Christmas Eve with her family, who comes from Mexico.

At the Skirball, students learn through doing and experiencing things together. Here’s a jubilant young guy and his fellow classmates learning a traditional Jewish song.

At the Skirball, students learn through doing and experiencing things together. Here’s a jubilant young guy and his fellow classmates learning a traditional Jewish song.

Continue reading

Love Letters to Gary Baseman

Skirball_Gary Baseman - The Door Is Always Open - Skirball Cultural CenteWhile it is quite difficult for all of us here at the Skirball to close the door, literally and figuratively, on the exhibition Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open, this Sunday will be the last day it will be on view in our gallery.

Over the past four months, it has been a joy to have one more whimsical place within the Skirball to welcome our visitors and encourage them to let their imaginations run wild. And it is no small perk that the artist is local. Gary Baseman’s regular presence in the gallery made for a unique experience and everyone from our two-year-old guests to the security staff has been won over by his playfulness and his talent. PicMonkey CollageVisitors did not waste any chance to interact with Gary, whether face to face, or via the multiple options made available throughout the exhibition. I thought I’d take this chance to share a few that came across my desk.

Upon admission, visitors were offered a postcard to fill out and drop in Gary’s mailbox at the “front door” to the exhibition. The Skirball collected them and, playing mailman, is delivering them to the artist himself. This is just a small sample (click on the images to get a closer look):hotchachacha postcardtoby postcard collagebuckingham warrior postcard collage
In Gary Baseman’s studio space at the Skirball, sketchbooks were left out for visitors to unlock their creativity, show their artistic talents, and share their love for Gary. Here are a few examples I found (click on the images to get a closer look):Sketchbook Collage

We also received many pictures of people posing in the exhibition on social media with the hashtag #basemanshome Continue reading

Rhythm Is Gonna Get You

The mission of music group Rhythm Child has always been to get people of all ages up and moving. For the past six years Rhythm Child founder, Norm Jones, has been inspiring young drummers and their families to get up and move as part of the Skirball’s Family Amphitheater Performances series. If you’ve been to any of the group’s last six performances, you know that once Jones passes out his instruments and lays down a beat, the Amphitheater comes thumping to life! I’ve always loved the energy and enthusiasm of Rhythm Child, so I thought it would be interesting to find out more about this fun and feisty musical collective as they plan for their Amphitheater performance on July 21st.

How did you get started in performance?
I grew up being inspired by the performance of others (my brother’s band, choirs in church, supper club shows that my mom took me to). I watched how these singers moved the audience with style, humor, and emotion. For years I practiced at the mirror in my basement before I ever took the stage and performed for people.

What part of performing for live audiences do you enjoy the most?
I love the immediate feedback that you get from a live audience. There is an exchange of energy that is unquestionable. There is a feeling of being out there on the edge without much of a safety net and usually the audience is open and willing to go for the ride. What I hope for is that everyone walks away feeling connected and inspired.

What is the most memorable moment from your career?
I must say that performing at the White House was pretty cool. I got to have my family with me on stage for one of the greatest days of my career.

What music or artist inspires you? Continue reading

President’s Greeting: Jul/Aug 2013

PG coverThe 2013 Sunset Concerts at the Skirball begin with a performance by folk-rock stars and Los Angeles natives The Belle Brigade. The brother-and-sister act hails from a family of great musicians, including their grandfather, the famed film composer John Williams. The duo honors the legacy of their lineage while innovating upon the sixties and seventies pop and classic Americana they grew up admiring.

As our Sunset Concerts demonstrate, music is a mighty force for preserving and shaping culture. Each summer, when my wife, Myna, and I bring our entire family together—children and grandchildren—for a reunion vacation, we sing as a family. It has become a tradition for us. Often we revisit the folk tunes that filled the airwaves when I was a young man. Although our sons came of age decades later, those timeless compositions are among their favorites to play on guitar and lead us in song. Our grandchildren are just beginning to learn the lyrics and the melodies. The music is woven into our collective, heartfelt memories.

My wife, Myna, and I dance to the irresistible rhythms of De Temps Antan at last year's Sunset Concerts. Photo by Bonnie Perkinson.

My wife, Myna, and I dance to the irresistible rhythms of De Temps Antan at last year’s Sunset Concerts. Photo by Bonnie Perkinson.

This July and August enjoy music at our Sunset Concerts, Family Amphitheater Performances, and Into the Night series. I look forward to coming together as a community and celebrating music that crosses time and place.

Let Us Show You Around

Skirball_Mural-1243-cropped

Photo by Bebe Jacobs

Skirball_mural_titlewall

Photo by Bebe Jacobs

When I began my job as a curator at the Skirball in summer 2012 I was asked to rethink the exhibition program in the Ruby Gallery, which is not only an exhibition space, but also the most communicative and communal space at the Skirball. I thought that we should find ways to work with these parameters and not against them. When I began to reflect on my own experiences at the Skirball, I remembered that I immediately felt welcome and, to my surprise, I found out that the notion of welcoming is an important part of the Skirball’s mission statement. So it seemed like a perfect first idea—to create a large piece about welcoming as seen through the eyes of insiders and outsiders. By “insiders,” I mean everyone who works here (staff, docents, volunteers) and by “outsiders,” I mean artists that weren’t familiar with the Skirball. I had already worked with Antje Schiffers and Thomas Sprenger a few times before in Germany and knew they would be a perfect fit for such an open yet specific idea. So I contacted them and asked if they could imagine developing a project about the idea of welcoming that includes all the people who work here. They were excited about the idea. Antje and Thomas spent two weeks in residency at the Skirball, interviewing the “insiders,” and then they returned home to process everything they’d learned. The final result is a smile, they said, a mural consisting of wall painting, text, and paintings on wood, now up in the Ruby Gallery through September 1. The exhibition has been up for a few months now, so I felt it was time to catch up with Antje and Thomas, and reflect on the fascinating process that led to this wonderful mural.

Let’s start by talking a bit about the process, about how this project gained shape.
Thinking about the Ruby Gallery, our first impulse was to work with its functions, not to insist on it being just an exhibition space. We knew very quickly that we wanted a big mural. And it was clear that we would include the voices of all the insiders—all the people who work here—in that mural.

welcoming-officeWe talked to people from the security department and administration as well as to Museum curators, docents, and volunteers. For that purpose we opened a ‘welcoming office,’ which most of the time was a physical office in the Museum department. But it also was a traveling office; we met the kitchen staff in the kitchen, Continue reading

Sticking Not Stuck

Simon Ford takes notes in front of the Rainbow Arbor, where a “Red Sea” scene will be.

I took this photo of our graphic designer, Simon Ford, as he jotted notes in front of the Rainbow Arbor, where a “Red Sea” scene will be.

Following up on my last SkirBlog post, I wanted to share more about the design of Exodus Steps, but time, time, time! We’ve been working away at it late, late, late. The story’s so big, and the Skirball campus is so full of possibilities, we’ve gotten carried away with ourselves. This is going to have to be fast.

Since agreeing with the Skirball we were going to make Exodus Steps, we have (cutting out all the tedious administrative/visa waiver stuff that no one wants to hear about, least of all me):

  1. Re-read the book and identified all the must-have, could-have, and don’t-need scenes.
  2. Written a draft script.
  3. Decided who needs to say how little to make the story function and have some degree of character/humanity. (Remember, we’re cutting all the text into vinyl speech bubbles, so no one is allowed to soliloquise.)
  4. Thought about what objects the audience needs to see/interact with to tell the story and make the thing look attractive. (As in most movies, we’d like the story to be told by sight and action rather than words.)

    Footsteps in the courtyard, ready to be followed.

    Footsteps in the courtyard, ready to be followed.

  5. Designed most of the props, including feet. As this is the eighteenth edition of the Steps Series we have a fairly extensive archive of designs from previous shows so cow, sheep, dog, and horse footprints don’t need designing. Simon Ford, our graphic designer, has created a new line of footwear for Exodus Steps as we aspire to show gradations of social class/wealth in ancient Egypt through the footprints—which admittedly is a little ambitious (the Sherlock Holmes stories were amongst our inspirations for the series). Continue reading