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Photo by Bebe Jacobs

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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

Hanukkah Family Festival through a Photographer’s Lens

Come rain, come shine, the Skirball’s annual Hanukkah family festival always draws a crowd of diverse generations, backgrounds, and smiles. Photographer and first-time festival attendee BeBe Jacobs was impressed with this year’s Hanukkah festival, Americana Hanukkah, which took inspiration from our campus-wide “Democracy Matters” initiative to celebrate the Jewish holiday. “No matter what activity [people] were doing,” she told me, as we looked over the images she shot that day, “the fact that families were spending time together made all the difference.”

For both of us, the Hanukkah festival not only brought families together but also brought out creativity that visitors did not realize they had. There was plenty to do all day, like watch Marcus Shelby and his quintet perform beautiful freedom songs… or hear Story Pirates act out original Hanukkah tales on stage… or join a tour focusing on the Skirball’s collection of Hanukkah lamps (the last couple of these Lights of Hanukkah Family Tours take place today and tomorrow, so be sure to swing by this weekend). But it was at the hands-on art workshops where people got a chance to create something themselves.

Here, BeBe shares ten of her favorite photos from that fun-filled day with reflections on the people and moments that made them so special.

BeBe was amazed at how each visitor could create beautiful art pieces out of plain materials. Here, a visitor displays a menorah he made out of plastic tubes, colorful tape, and stickers.

BeBe was amazed at how each visitor could create beautiful art pieces out of plain materials. Here, a young visitor displays a menorah he made out of plastic tubes, colorful tape, and stickers.

BeBe found this young girl patiently waiting as her brother worked on an art project of his own. BeBe placed a tiny menorah on the glue stick in front of the girl. Immediately she looked down and started to blow out the “candles” in the menorah.

This young girl patiently waited as her brother finished his art project. In a moment of silliness, Bebe placed a tiny menorah on the glue stick in front of the girl. Immediately she looked down and started to blow out the “candles”.

According to BeBe, this young visitor was very proud of the Hanukkah pin she crafted. Her glee shines through in this photo!

This young visitor was very proud of the Hanukkah pin she crafted. The glee that shines through in this photo makes it an easy favorite!

Continue reading

Step Right Up for Family Fun

I can’t believe it’s Labor Day Weekend! There hasn’t been a dull moment here in Family Programs all summer long. What has been so wonderful is to see families come in for one of our Family Amphitheater Performances, check out the Family Art Studio, pop over to our archaeological dig site, and play games as part of our Game On! program….all in one afternoon. One day, there was a family from Miami who had never been to the Skirball. When they arrived at the art studio, their eldest daughter (there were three kids total, and I’m guessing the eldest was around eleven) was feeling a bit grumpy. She just didn’t want to be there (there was even some tears). But by the time they left, the whole family was all smiles. The mom let me know how grateful she was that they had visited such a wonderful and special place. That’s music to my ears!

Just one more weekend to enjoy summer family fun at the Skirball. To get you excited about coming over, check out some highlights that I (along with a few from photographer friends) captured from the past few weeks.

“Yay, puppets!” squeals one toddler named Azalea, who came to see marionette artist Scott Land perform in the amphitheater!

“Yay, puppets!” proclaims one toddler named Azalea, who came to see marionette artist Scott Land perform in the amphitheater!

Scott Land's traditional marionettes wait patiently before taking center stage.

Scott Land's traditional marionettes wait patiently before taking center stage.

Scott Land does a synchronized dance using a pair of matching skeleton puppets, which leaves the crowd in stitches!

Scott Land does a synchronized dance using a pair of matching skeleton puppets, which leaves the crowd in stitches!

How’d he do that? Scott Land's clown puppet blows up a balloon before everyone’s eyes.

How’d he do that? Scott Land's clown puppet blows up a balloon before everyone’s eyes.

Filipino dance and music ensemble Kayamanan Ng Lahi captivates audiences with graceful moves and colorful costumes.

Filipino dance and music ensemble Kayamanan Ng Lahi captivates audiences with graceful moves and colorful costumes.

Kayamanan Ng Lahi features more than a dozen children, who were all crowd favorites.

Kayamanan Ng Lahi features more than a dozen children, who were all crowd favorites.

Volunteer teen Carla helps a young visitor create a shadow puppet. Throughout the summer, these dedicated teens have been a fixture in our Family Art Studio, working one on one with children.

Volunteer teen Carla helps a young visitor create a shadow puppet. Throughout the summer, these dedicated teens have been a fixture in our Family Art Studio, working one on one with children.

Kids and grown-ups delighted in seeing their creations come to life. Many families who didn't know each other performed little plays for one another.

Kids and grown-ups delighted in seeing their creations come to life. Many families who didn't know each other performed little plays for one another.

All summer long, visitors could play oversized board games as part of our “Game On!” family program. These teens invented their own version of giant checkers.

All summer long, visitors could play oversized board games as part of our “Game On!” family program. These teens invented their own version of giant checkers.

Connect Four is a board game classic. Better yet if it’s a jumbo version like this one!

Connect Four is a board game classic. Better yet if it’s a jumbo version like this one!

This little visitor was proud of her skills in the toss game. She wanted me to see how well she could toss.

This little visitor was proud of her skills in the toss game. She wanted me to see how well she could toss.

A dad and his daughters spend a relaxing afternoon doing this puzzle at the Skirball’s archaeological dig site.

A dad and his daughters spend a relaxing afternoon doing this puzzle at the Skirball’s archaeological dig site.

Young archaeologists discover something hidden in the sand… and wonder what it is!

Young archaeologists discover something hidden in the sand… and wonder what it is!

Happy visitors grooves to the folk tunes of musician Melissa Green.

Happy visitors grooves to the folk tunes of musician Melissa Green.

This music fan couldn’t help but get up and dance to Melissa Green

This music fan couldn’t help but get up and dance to Melissa Green.

Melissa Green performs a rousing rendition of “Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”… this little visitor bumps her head every time!

And when Melissa Green performs a rousing rendition of “Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”… this little visitor bumps her head every time!

Between songs—“Jewish music with a twist”—the ensemble Mostly Kosher cracked up the audience with their family-friendly jokes. They also taught a few Yiddish phrases!

Between songs—“Jewish music with a twist”—the ensemble Mostly Kosher cracked up the audience with their family-friendly jokes. They also taught a few Yiddish phrases!

Mostly Kosher’s lively songs featured wonderful strings.

Mostly Kosher’s lively songs featured wonderful strings.

In between their comedic interludes, Mostly Kosher's female vocalist sang a gorgeous song in Hebrew

In between their comedic interludes, Mostly Kosher's female vocalist sang a gorgeous song in Hebrew.

Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam band had no trouble getting kids to jam right along with them.

Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam band had no trouble getting kids to jam right along with them.

It’s been a hot summer, so our rainbow mist arbor was a popular attraction. These kids even brought their own swimsuits!

It’s been a hot summer, so our rainbow mist arbor was a popular attraction. These kids even brought their own swimsuits! Photo by Peter Turman.

A little girl named Astrid gets a lift from her dad. This was her first venture into the rainbow mist and won’t be her last!

A little girl named Astrid gets a lift from her dad. This was her first venture into the rainbow mist and won’t be her last! Photo by Bonnie Perkinson.

“Yay, puppets!” squeals one toddler named Azalea, who came to see marionette artist Scott Land perform in the amphitheater!Scott Land's traditional marionettes wait patiently before taking center stage.Scott Land does a synchronized dance using a pair of matching skeleton puppets, which leaves the crowd in stitches!How’d he do that? Scott Land's clown puppet blows up a balloon before everyone’s eyes.Filipino dance and music ensemble Kayamanan Ng Lahi captivates audiences with graceful moves and colorful costumes.Kayamanan Ng Lahi features more than a dozen children, who were all crowd favorites.Volunteer teen Carla helps a young visitor create a shadow puppet. Throughout the summer, these dedicated teens have been a fixture in our Family Art Studio, working one on one with children.Kids and grown-ups delighted in seeing their creations come to life. Many families who didn't know each other performed little plays for one another.All summer long, visitors could play oversized board games as part of our “Game On!” family program. These teens invented their own version of giant checkers.Connect Four is a board game classic. Better yet if it’s a jumbo version like this one!This little visitor was proud of her skills in the toss game. She wanted me to see how well she could toss.A dad and his daughters spend a relaxing afternoon doing this puzzle at the Skirball’s archaeological dig site.Young archaeologists discover something hidden in the sand… and wonder what it is!Happy visitors grooves to the folk tunes of musician Melissa Green.This music fan couldn’t help but get up and dance to Melissa GreenMelissa Green performs a rousing rendition of “Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”… this little visitor bumps her head every time!Between songs—“Jewish music with a twist”—the ensemble Mostly Kosher cracked up the audience with their family-friendly jokes. They also taught a few Yiddish phrases!Mostly Kosher’s lively songs featured wonderful strings.In between their comedic interludes, Mostly Kosher's female vocalist sang a gorgeous song in HebrewLucky Diaz and the Family Jam band had no trouble getting kids to jam right along with them.It’s been a hot summer, so our rainbow mist arbor was a popular attraction. These kids even brought their own swimsuits!A little girl named Astrid gets a lift from her dad. This was her first venture into the rainbow mist and won’t be her last!

A Special Place for Everyone: A Summer Intern’s Perspective

A simple biblical passage that transformed into an unforgettable lesson for me this summer.

A simple biblical passage that transformed into an unforgettable lesson for me this summer.

It was a Tuesday morning and a group of summer interns and new hires were gathered in the lobby. We were waiting to tour the Skirball’s permanent exhibition Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America guided by the extremely knowledgeable Museum Director, Dr. Robert Kirschner. As one of only two Multicultural Undergraduate Interns, funded by the Getty Foundation, lucky enough to work at the Skirball this summer, I had the pleasure of going on this exclusive walkthrough. The tour began with Dr. Kirschner’s passionate remarks about the Skirball’s beginnings, the Skirball’s President and CEO, Uri Herscher (with whom I’ve met on multiple occasions and who is absolutely wonderful!), and Dr. Kirschner’s personal dedication to the museum.

Most importantly, he spoke of the Skirball mission as a Jewish institution that welcomes both Jews and non-Jews. As I enter the final days of my Skirball internship, I am more and more convinced that everyone is welcome here regardless of a person’s culture, religion, or race.

Here is a photo of the beautiful handsewn “Proclaim Liberty” Torah mantle. It was made by Peachy Levy in Santa Monica in 1991. Wool, embroidered and appliquéd with cotton and metallic thread. HUCSM 60.138.

Here is a photo of the beautiful handsewn “Proclaim Liberty” Torah mantle. It was made by Peachy Levy in Santa Monica in 1991. Wool, embroidered and appliquéd with cotton and metallic thread. HUCSM 60.138.

When Dr. Kirschner guided us to the entrance of the exhibition, I stood face-to-face with a simple yet powerful statement: “Go forth…and be a blessing” [The writer of this LA Times article about the opening of the Skirball in 1996 took note of this detail as well.] He urged us to look beyond the biblical context of the passage (it’s from the Book of Genesis) and to view it as a philosophy about inclusivity and universality—a philosophy by which all of us should aspire to live, one that encourages people of all cultures to be a blessing in the world and to all humankind. What I loved most was that this message is physically and philosophically ingrained into the Skirball’s foundations.

We walked a few steps ahead and there I saw one of the Skirball’s most prized possessions. A beautifully sewn object displayed behind glass beckoned me to take a closer look. Dr. Kirschner explained that it was a Torah case. When I was close enough to read what’s embroidered in the fabric, I became even more fascinated. Similar to the passage engraved in stone at the entrance, this object carried a biblical passage (this time from Leviticus) with a universal message: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land.” These words, it turns out, are also written on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, a truly American treasure.

Recently I had the opportunity to learn more about this Torah case when I spoke with Adele Lander Burke, VP of Learning for Life, who oversees the Skirball docent program. She told me that in place of the object currently on view, there used to be a Torah scroll open to the exact same verse. But the Skirball decided that the Torah case, with its red, white, and blue motif and message about freedom, was more symbolic of the American values and ideals that are central to the Skirball mission. I also learned that the light tan color of the scroll image was meant to represent the lyrics “amber waves of grain” from “America the Beautiful.” All of these details underscored the Skirball’s deep interest in the American story, which brings me to my favorite part of the exhibition: the Liberty Gallery. Continue reading

My Haimishe Menschen (In Other Words, My Warm, Caring People)

the Shriers

Joan and Joel Schrier

It’s National Volunteer Week, an annual celebration established in 1974 “to inspire, recognize, and encourage people to engage in their communities.” Year after year, it earns no less than a Presidential Proclamation.

The Skirball has more than 300 active volunteers and docents, who together contribute in excess of 30,000 hours a year. I get to work most directly with the volunteers who staff the lobby, welcoming guests, selling Skirball Memberships, and offering information. I’ve gotten to know many of them personally. They regularly ask about the status of my love life (don’t ask!), how my apartment search is going, which race I’m running next, and the latest on my bagpiping lessons. I’m even learning some Yiddish phrases, which are great fun to weave into conversations. My fave is “aroys gevorfen de gelt,” which loosely translates to “throwing the money out the window.” I also like “it vet gornisht helfen,” which means “it won’t help one bit!” Continue reading

People, Let Me Tell You ‘Bout My Best Friends

A little storytelling and impromptu drumming with Noah’s Ark fans Griffin and Zoe.

A little storytelling and impromptu drumming with Noah’s Ark fans Griffin and Zoe.

I have the best job. Ever. My job title is something like Retail Sales Associate at Audrey’s Museum Store, which means I sell toys and books to people visiting Noah’s Ark at the Skirball. But really I like to call myself the Toddler Whisperer because I spend my days interacting with very young children. My measure of a good day isn’t how many sales I’ve had, but rather, how many of my “regulars” have come to visit. I have a whole pocketful of friends:

Jasper, my animal expert, knows everything there is to know about the wild kingdom. At four years old, he can identify a Xenops or a vole as readily as a pig and a cow (the latter two being alike because, as Jasper informed me recently, “they are both farm animals”). On one of his visits, he brought his most special animal book to share with me. I was expecting a small board book or a thin paperback. Out of his backpack came a heavy animal encyclopedia that must have taken quite a bit of effort for him to lug around. I was so happy that he wanted to share it with me. Together we sat and looked through it.

You can always tell when Aidan and his younger brother Connor are approaching the store. You hear the calls of “Shaaarrrooonnn! It’s my friend!” as Aidan enters the store and gives me a hug. Aidan likes to sit at our little “touch table,” where kids can feel free to play with select store goodies, and try out the toys. He often comes up with creative names for them. Continue reading

I Wanna Hear Your Story!

That's me (in blue on the left) along with my colleague Jackie Herod at the Skirball Admissions Desk. We're the smiling faces that greet visitors as they walk through the door. Be sure to say hello next time you visit!

One of my favorite parts of my job as Visitor Services Director at the Skirball is to talk with our guests and to hear their stories. I’ve always been a seeker of stories. I grew up in a big family with lots of interesting characters sharing their tales. I caught the journalism bug early, at Floyd Central High School in New Albany, Indiana, where I preferred feature assignments to the news, because that’s where you get the real scoops. Even now, I think, What’s his/her/their story?—sometimes to myself and sometimes out loud to others—when I meet someone. I’m always looking for one’s unique experience and perspective in order to make a connection.

With 2011 about to wrap up, I think back to all the fascinating people I’ve come across and the things I’ve had the chance to talk with them about.

There was the young father who came to visit Noah’s Ark at the Skirball with his wife and three children. When I asked if he’d ever visited before, he revealed that he hadn’t been to the Skirball since his prom was held here ten years ago. (I kick myself that I didn’t ask if his wife was his date that night!). Kindergarteners, meanwhile, love to tell me that Noah’s Ark is their “favorite place.” But who said Noah’s Ark is just for kids? I met a gentleman who brought his mother and their extended family–eighteen in total hailing from four generations–to celebrate her ninetieth birthday! Continue reading