Jewish Museum “Steels” Spotlight

 Thanks to Ilana Blumenthal, Public Relations Associate at NMAJH for this guest blog post.    

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With the sun in our eyes, frostbite nearly setting in, and huge grins on our faces, the staff and board members of the National Museum of American Jewish History watched as the final 31-foot steel beam was placed on the northwest corner of the 121-foot and six-inch high, 100,000-square-foot, five story new Museum building. This traditional steel workers “topping off” ceremony took place on a 20-degree day on January 21, completing a significant milestone for the building being constructed on Independence Mall in Philadelphia that will serve as a cornerstone of the modern-day Jewish community.

Designed by Polshek Partnership Architects of New York, the new Museum will be in the heart of historic Philadelphia and will join Independence Hall, the National Constitution Center, the Liberty Bell and other landmarks at the site of America’s birth. The new Museum will open in 2010.

Prior to being hoisted with banners from the Museum, Ironworkers Local Union 401, and INTECH Construction Inc., the Museum’s contractor, ironworkers, staff, board, and INTECH employees signed their names on the beam as a sign of pride, accomplishment, and ownership. Atop the beam sits an American flag and evergreen tree (not to be confused with a Christmas tree), traditional symbols of the ironworkers’ceremony.

With the steel structure finished, the next steps for the building will be pouring its concrete floors and the construction of the north and west walls. The west wall facing Independence Mall will be a glass prism, expressing the accessibility of the museum and the openness of America, as well as the perennial fragility of democracy. The north wall will be constructed of terra cotta, expressing the strength of Jewish survival and the protective shelter of American freedom.

“With this phase of the construction complete, and as the Museum takes shape on Independence Mall, I think it becomes clear that there could not be a more fitting place for a museum that will explore the promise and challenges of liberty through the lens of the American Jewish experience,” said Gwen Goodman, the NMAJH’s Executive Director/CEO.

The new National Museum of American Jewish History will be the first and only major museum dedicated to chronicling the American Jewish experience. It will explore the challenges of identity and assimilation they faced and celebrate the contributions they have made to every facet of American life. The Museum is dedicated to telling the still unfolding story of Jews in America – who embraced freedom with its choices and challenges as they shaped, and were shaped by, our nation. The Museum envisions its new home as a place that welcomes all people, inviting them to discover what they have in common with the Jewish experience in America, and to explore the features that make this history distinctive.

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Our Journeys Our Stories in New York

Our Journeys at LIM Many thanks to Joshua Ruff, History Curator and Betsy Radecki, Educator, from the Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages in Stony Brook, NY for this post.  This is the first of what we hope will be many! guest authored posts from Affiliates about Smithsonian experiences at their sites.

                                          The Long Island Museum is thrilled to be hosting the SITES exhibit Our Journeys/Our Stories:  Portraits of Latino Achievement, through June 8.  We opened the exhibit with a gala reception attended by guests from the Smithsonian and sponsor Ford Motor Company along with museum members and local political and social leaders.  Guests toured the exhibit, feasted on fantastic ethnic food and listened to a Uruguayan musical ensemble. 

One of the things we often try to do with traveling exhibits is to add a local dimension or theme.  In Our Journeys, we have added three Long Island Latino achievers and attempted to mirror all of the technical features of the rest of the exhibit – the same graphic design, same framing/matting – to make our section seem to fit seamlessly into the larger whole.  This can be a little more difficult than it seems at first – the colors and finish of the panels from different graphic designers are subtly different, for example – but it came out great and SITES helped us with all the translations.

Latino teacher workshopOn March 18, 40 teachers attended a staff development      workshop and brainstormed lesson plans to use both in the classroom and at the exhibit.   During the coming months the teachers will be bringing nearly 2000 students to the exhibit.  We are very excited about the May 4 free family festival, which will include Latino foods, music, stories and dance, all provided by artists and vendors from the local community. In order to promote the festival, we are partnering with a local library to make April “Hispanic Heritage Month” and are sponsoring both a morning storytelling session for children and an evening music      program for families at the library. To make it easier for visitors to get to the museum, we have arranged to provide buses from area libraries and service organizations.  The festival will also include tours of the exhibit and a chance for families to record their own journeys through videotaped interviews.

I had the pleasure of attending the opening, and was also so impressed upon meeting the many members of the Museum’s “Local Committee of Honor.” Latinos from all sectors of the community including nonprofit health organizations, foreign language teachers, businesspeople and more, celebrated with the Museum and brought the show’s message to the community at large.  Congratulations all!

If you have a Smithsonian experience you’d like to share with other Affiliates, let us know!! 

Report from the Road: Huntsville, Alabama

as reported by Caroline Mah, coordinator for the southeast:

Happy 50th Anniversary!

Saturn V     Davidson Center

Not only does January 31, 2008 mark the 50th Anniversary of America in space, but it also celebrates the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s (Hunstviille, AL) official opening of their new Davidson Center for Space Exploration, home to the recently-restored Saturn V rocket.  This spectacular $22 million facility was named after Julian and Dorothy Davidson, who contributed $2 million. When you first enter the building, you have to walk up a flight of stairs to actually enter the space that holds the Saturn V rocket. Once you enter the space, it’s difficult to describe the enormity of the rocket.  After many failed attempts at getting a shot of the whole rocket, I just settled for the best angle I could find. Harold Closter and I had the great honor of attending U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s VIP reception, which was attended by some 1400 guests. Just the massive size and space of the building seemed to drown out the sounds of conversation amongst the 1400 guests. With everyone gathered under one roof (68,200 sq. ft) and under one rocket, which stands ten feet above the ground, the highlights of the evening began with a gala dinner, an awards ceremony, and grand opening of the imposing Davidson Center for Space Exploration.The speakers themselves were awe-inspiring, mostly ranging from retired astronauts Buzz Aldrin, second man to step on the moon; Jim Lovell, Apollo 13 Commander; John Hendricks, CEO of the Discovery Channel; and Konrad Dannenberg, believed to be the eldest of the surviving members of the von Braun rocket Team.   Walter Kronkite, legendary CBS journalist and receipient of the Center’s  Lifetime Achievement Award along with Konrad Dannenberg, sent a speech which closed by declaring, “[Hunstville] is and always will be; the Rocket City. And that’s the way it is, Thursday, January 31, 2008. Fifty years to the hour [that America entered space]. This is Walter Cronkite. Good night.”
Spaceflight engineers
Former spaceflight engineers toast the 50th anniversary of Sputnik at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration in Huntsville, Ala. Left to right: Von Braun team engineer Konrad Dannenburg, author and former NASA engineer Homer Hickam, former Marshall Space Flight Center director Bill Lucas, Von Braun team engineer Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger and Davidson Technologies founder Dr. Julian Davidson.

Report from the Road: New York City

I just returned from a whirlwind tour, visiting 8 Affiliates and 2 SI units in New York City and Newark, NJ.  What exciting things are happening there!

The New Jersey Historical Society opened SITES’ Our Journeys Our Stories, welcoming a strong turnout from media, local officials and a Latino public that, while prominent in the city, has never before been represented in an exhibition at NJH.  Congratulations!

The Way we Worked  Also opening, SITES’ The Way We Worked at Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island.  What a beautiful installation of this exhibition.  Snug Harbor had a double opening as well, and also opened Holiday Pop Ups an exhibition on moveable books on loan from the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum library. 

What a fun way to celebrate the holidays!   Holiday Pop Ups

American Finance Museum  Another highlight was a hard hat tour of the Museum of American Finance‘s new home at 48 Wall Street.  They have transformed the former Bank of New York into a top-rate Museum devoted to financial literacy, with interactive exhibits, a theater and multi-purpose education space, all just steps away from the New York Stock Exchange. 

Finally, I was able to celebrate with the staff of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.  Just announced to the press, the Museum was chosen as the main cultural component in the redevelopment of the Victoria Theater on 125th street, right next to the Apollo.  While the Museum enjoys enormous community support with its many ingenious programs (also available to Affiliates!), it can now look forward to a permanent home with galleries for its collections and exhibitions (and hopefully, some of the Smithsonian’s too.) 

Loren and the JMIH sign Co-director Loren Schoenberg looks on as the Museum’s first (in a long line I’m sure) piece of signage gets installed. 

No doubt 2008 promises more such exciting developments from Affiliates nationwide.  We certainly hope the Smithsonian, in its many manifestations, can be right there with you to celebrate.

Breaking Ground!

Congratulations to two Affiliates who have reached milestones in their development – groundbreaking on new museums that promise to be stellar contributions to America’s cultural landscape.

philly 030.jpg   On September 30 in Philadelphia, the National Museum of American Jewish History broke ground on its phenomenal new space at 5th and Market streets, directly across Independence Mall from the Liberty Bell.  On hand to make comments and celebrate with NMAJH staff were Senator Arlen Specter, Governor Edward Rendell, Mayor John Street and several other members of the City Council and state government.  The Museum, designed by renowed architect James Polshek, will showcase the history of Jews in America, from the 17th century to the present.  Click here for more pictures of this event.

hh groundbreaking 018.jpg  On November 8, the long-awaited Heritage Harbor Museum in Providence, Rhode Island celebrated the start of its renovation of the South Street power plant (appropriately renamed “Dynamo House”).  The Museum will ultimately share this huge historical site with a Starwood hotel and restaurant.  Shown here are Mayor David Cicilline and the developer, Bill Struever, opening the gate for confetti to fly, marking the beginning of the renovation project.  Heritage Harbor will share the history of Rhode Island through interactive exhibits.

Both projects plan to open by summer 2010.  I’m sure we all can’t wait to visit!

Artists rendering of the new National Museum of American Jewish History     Model of Heritage Harbor Museum
the new NMAJH         the new Heritage Harbor