President’s Greeting: Jan/Feb 2016

Inside the new exhibition at the Skirball, A Path Appears: Actions for a Better World, recycled CDs glisten as the backdrop to the "jobs" pavilion. Visitors can listen to stories from organizations like Chrysalis, which helps people like Darius Coffey (pictured above) find jobs and turn their lives around.

Inside the new exhibition at the Skirball, A Path Appears: Actions for a Better World, recycled CDs glisten as the backdrop to the “jobs” pavilion. Visitors can listen to stories from organizations like Chrysalis, which helps people like Darius Coffey (pictured above) find jobs and turn their lives around.

The Skirball’s newest exhibition, A Path Appears: Actions for a Better World, is uniquely ambitious: it seeks to connect exhibition to action, word to deed, individual to community. It is both a gallery installation and a laboratory for social change. Its subject is the welfare of humanity, and its object is to move hearts and minds to improve the plight of those in need. These aspirations are not typical of museum shows. But they are essential to the Skirball Cultural Center.

A Path Appears is literally built out of trash: Continue reading

Journey to Manzanar

The entrance to Manzanar. Photo by Keren Lieberman.

The entrance to Manzanar. Photo by Keren Lieberman.

“We have the road to ourselves!” exclaims Keren Lieberman as she surges ahead on Highway 395, recently paved and smooth as silk, traversing Inyo County’s rugged landscape with barely a car in sight. We continue through High Desert, the Sierras rising precipitously on our left. Keren, Merkie Rowan, and I are headed to Manzanar in the Owens Valley, approximately 218 miles northeast of Los Angeles near Lone Pine. Four more docents will be meeting us at the Manzanar Interpretive Center tomorrow morning. All of us have been intensely curious about the site since the exhibition Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs of Ansel Adams opened at the Skirball.

This is a land of extremes. The snow-capped Sierras are home to the tallest mountain in the continental United States, while Death Valley boasts its lowest elevation and hottest temperatures. The relentless dust, intense heat, and bone-chilling winters of the Owens Valley serve as a metaphor for the barrage on civil rights that occurred here and at nine other camps during World War II, when Japanese Americans were incarcerated for more than three years without due process. Over two-thirds were American citizens!

The desolate Owens Valley. Photo by Keren Lieberman.

The desolate Owens Valley. Photo by Keren Lieberman.

After a pleasant night in Lone Pine, we continue to the former incarceration camp. Comprising one square mile, Manzanar National Historic Site is a poignant monument to 10,000 brave souls who chose to make the best of their adversity. Park Ranger Patricia Biggs provides an overview: “There were 504 wood and tar paper barracks, plus assorted auxiliary buildings such as latrines and mess halls, with fire breaks every two blocks.” Beyond the barbed-wire perimeter and guard towers with searchlights and machine guns, 440 agricultural acres were worked by the detainees. “The winds here are fierce,” she says. “They can reach 100 miles on mountain crests. The dust penetrated the barracks through holes in the roofs and gaps in the walls.”

We were greeted by Park Ranger Patricia Biggs.

We were greeted by Park Ranger Patricia Biggs.

Continue reading

Choose Your Path, Change the World



Bob, hope all is going well. Thanks as always for your work on the Half the Sky exhibit. Sheryl and I have a new book coming out this year, a bit of a follow-up to Half the Sky. Essentially it’s a book about how to make a difference, and how to donate, volunteer or advocate more effectively. It’s a look more broadly at what works and doesn’t work to expand opportunity in the US and abroad. I just thought I would mention it in the off chance that that might again work for an exhibit—a glimpse at the emerging science of making a difference in the world.

all the best, nick

This e-mail from Nicholas D. Kristof, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist, arrived some eighteen months ago, in February 2014. It was the moment the Skirball’s newest exhibition, A Path Appears: Actions for a Better World, was born.

The Skirball’s first collaboration with Kristof was the exhibition Women Hold Up Half the Sky in 2011, Continue reading

President’s Greeting: Nov/Dec 2015

This family enjoyed to quiet time at last year's Hanukkah Family Festival. coloring and reading a book about the Maccabees.

This family enjoyed some quiet time at last year’s Hanukkah Family Festival,
coloring and reading a book about the Maccabees.

This December, the Skirball presents its twentieth annual Hanukkah Family Festival, a joyous and inclusive occasion for Angelenos of all backgrounds. Over the years, the daylong event has welcomed tens of thousands of families to share in a communal experience—and to feel inspired by the ancient tale of a small band of Jews known as the Maccabees, who battled against tyranny in 165 BCE and prevailed against all odds.

In commemoration of this ancient victory, this year’s Hanukkah Family Festival places special emphasis on the values of courage and fortitude. Just as the greatly outnumbered Maccabees prevailed against their oppressors, so too, in our own day, are we called upon to defend the freedoms we cherish with determination and resolve. Continue reading

My Pilgrimage to Manzanar

­­­Over a year ago, I began conducting research for the exhibition Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs of Ansel Adams, which features photographs and other artifacts that depict the treatment of Japanese Americans at the incarceration camp in Manzanar, California, during World War II. Soon after I started, I realized that, in order to gain a true understanding of the material, I had to visit the camp itself.

Photo by Thomas Schirtz.

Photo by Thomas Schirtz.

Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of ten remote camps where approximately 120,000 Japanese American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were incarcerated following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada in eastern California’s Owens Valley, about 220 miles northeast of Los Angeles, the town of Manzanar—the Spanish word for “apple orchard”—developed as an agricultural settlement beginning in 1910. Continue reading

You Say Sriracha, I Say Harissa

Local chili pepper mavens duke it out for savory sauce supremacy!

Local chili pepper mavens duke it out for savory sauce supremacy!

It’s been a very warm summer at the Skirball, and it’s heating up even more around here this fall. I’m not just talking about the kind of heat that makes me cranky for a very unpleasant six minutes while I walk from the air conditioned lobby to my car in the Skirball parking lot. I’m talking about the hot competition—between sriracha and harissa—for my go-to spicy condiment.

Chili pepper–based sauces are now a really big deal, thanks to many influences including Food Network shows, foodie blogs, and the incredible expansion of hometown fave Huy Fong Foods sriracha sauce. In fact, just weeks ago, my husband and I took a tour of the massive Huy Fong facility in the eastern San Gabriel Valley, Continue reading

Orly Olivier’s Pandora’s Box

SkirBlog_Petit Takett recipe box

Photo by Orly Olivier.

Years after her father’s passing, Orly Olivier, the artist behind Petit Takett, opened a small wooden box. This neat little box contained handwritten notes with small drawings by her father Sylvain Olivier, who had scribbled down some of his favorite recipes in a mix of English, French, and Arabic. Unlike published recipes, which carefully list all the ingredients and instructions for a dish’s preparation, these notes were cryptic, with only enough information to remind Sylvain of his favorite dishes. Finding these recipes brought back memories to Orly Olivier of large Shabbat dinners with her Sephardic father, Ashkenazi mother, and sister in Los Angeles. It reminded her of intricate smells, flavors, and colors, and joyful feelings of sharing delicious food and good company.

Olivier needed to open this box, not only for memory’s sake but also for the sake of her artistic practice: it was the spark that launched her project Petit Takett (“little Takett,” named in honor of her grandmother’s restaurant, Takett’s, in Tunisia).

The artist explains, Continue reading

Floored at the Skirball: The Severan Synagogue Mosaic Replica



As her Communications and Marketing internship comes to a close, Jenna Lomeli reflects on a defining moment during her time at the Skirball.

I don’t recall exactly what I was expecting when I went on a staff tour of the Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America exhibition earlier this summer. I’m sure I went into it hoping to learn some things about Jewish history (and given my rather sparse knowledge about the subject, there was a lot to learn). I may have even expected to connect with the latter sixteenth of the 4,000 years that the Skirball’s core exhibition covers. I definitely did not foresee being emotionally invested in a replica of an approximately 1,600-year-old mosaic on the floor of the Severan Synagogue in Hamat Tiberias, Israel. But then, who does?

The door leading to the mosaic replica at the Skirball looks like the sort of door visitors aren’t supposed to go through. I didn’t realize it led to another section of the exhibition until Museum Director Dr. Robert Kirschner opened it and led our tour group outside. After exiting the gallery, I found myself looking at a very large tile mosaic set into the ground, with mock ruins above it. A handful of times in my life I have had the happy experience of seeing a painting or sculpture and being completely swept up by it. This was not one of those times. My initial reaction was about as blasé as anyone would expect, considering I was looking at the floor. But then Dr. Kirschner, who has been with the Skirball Cultural Center since its beginning and who led the development of Visions and Values, began to explain the mosaic and its greater significance to the exhibition. Continue reading

Rosh Hashanah Recipes from Petit Takett Creator Orly Olivier

Rosh Hashanah at my relatives’ house in Israel, 2005

Rosh Hashanah at my relatives’ house in Israel, 2005

Just in time for Rosh Hashanah, Orly Olivier of Petit Takett: Love, Legacy, and Recipes from the Maghreb  muses upon the holiday she learned to love in Israel.

Growing up at home with my parents in Los Angeles, the High Holidays meant going to synagogue in the evening, and again the next morning, followed by a big dinner. I mostly remember the services never quite grabbing my attention the way the Tic Tacs and gum my mother provided to keep me quiet did. But I do remember those services being very important to her. It wasn’t until, at the age of sixteen, I moved to Israel that I began to fully understand the High Holidays and what kind of wonderful experience they could be.

I gained an understanding of Jewish culture by living in the land upon which it was created. My experience wasn’t particularly religious; I attended services once during the three years I lived there. But I discovered a profound personal connection to the rich traditions of the Jewish people that changed me forever.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are my favorite examples of this connection. During Rosh Hashanah, Israel’s cities are decorated with signs and banners wishing people a “sweet and happy New Year!” Decorative photos and pictures of apples, honey, and pomegranates are everywhere. People send cards and gifts, and it’s actually a much bigger deal than Hanukkah. Dinners are bountiful, with fruits and flowers everywhere. It’s a truly joyous occasion.

I have three Israeli aunties, each of whom has had three or more children. Those children now have children of their own, which means the High Holiday family dinners are often twenty or more at the table! The cooking is divided amongst my aunties, and each year they take turns hosting from house to house. The men also have their roles as sous chefs, dishwashers, and expert grocery shoppers. There’s a lot of coordination involved, Continue reading

President’s Greeting: Sep/Oct 2015

We must be certain that, as the rights of the individual are the most sacred elements of our society, we will not allow passion, vengeance, or hatred to cloud the principles of universal justice and mercy. 

These words were written in 1944 by the renowned photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams in Born Free and Equal, his volume of photographs of the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans in Manzanar, California. This lamentable episode, for which the United States Congress officially apologized in 1988, has much to teach us about the essential value of civil rights, then and now.

On October 8, the Skirball opens an exhibition of Adams’s striking images, which call us to recommit ourselves to this nation’s highest democratic ideals.

Uri Herscher_SkirBlog_Ansel_Adams5_crop

Many years ago I had the privilege of meeting Ansel Adams (captured in the photo above). Jack Skirball, namesake of the Skirball Cultural Center, had introduced us. I found Ansel to be a thoughtful and humble person. Accustomed to capturing mountains and rivers with his lens, he said that portraying the human condition at Manzanar was a challenge for him, Continue reading