Are you a museum professional?
In the wake of COVID-19, museums are striving to implement new systems, create online programs, and stay relevant. If your new way of working might inspire others, consider sharing your methods and ideas with wider museum networks.
Are you a museum supporter?
Fundraising is an urgent challenge and will remain so for the foreseeable future. If you are able to financially support your favorite museums, make a personal giving plan. Consider the possibility of not only emergency gifts, but also monthly contributions.
Do you love museums?
As museums offer more and more online programs, it’s a great time to help family and friends discover the best of what they have to offer. Each time you share a museum’s online content, you give it a boost. Spread the word!
Michael S. Glickman
November 1, 2022
November 5, 2021
Michael S. Glickman
August 3, 2020
Months into the global pandemic, it is clear that Jewish cultural life in North America faces an unprecedented crisis. What is less clear is how we intend to empower Jewish cultural institutions to emerge from this crisis in a position of strength.
Over the past two decades, I have had the privilege of leading, supporting, and advancing Jewish museums—where diverse audiences of all ages are invited to discover and explore Jewish history, celebrate culture, and remember the Holocaust. It is painful to picture the locked doors, darkened galleries, and empty classrooms of our current moment. Whether we are lay leaders, philanthropists, professionals, or community members, our collective challenge is to envision what comes next.
Though the organized Jewish communal world is banding together in remarkable ways—including through the creation of the Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund—Jewish museums’ needs remain staggering. Important Jewish cultural institutions have long struggled to innovate, raise funds, and remain relevant. The challenges Jewish museums faced in the best of times were formidable. The present emergency has exacerbated those problems.
After all, “this pandemic is the remover of all illusions. It is a sudden opening-up of the windows and seeing what really is” (as noted by Jessica Orkin when discussing the future of business). At this moment, we need to have the guts to take a close look; it is the first step toward exerting positive change.
Many Jewish museums went into this emergency already teetering on the cliff of financial ruin and shouldering the twin burdens of dysfunctional governance and ineffectual management. The drastic effects of the current crisis are shaking the entire field, and they will topple the institutions that have repeatedly failed to address foundational problems.
The American Alliance of Museums, UNESCO, and the International Council of Museums have sounded the alarm that COVID-19 may push a number of museums into permanent closure. Those that make it through will have to find pathways that transcend pre-pandemic “business as usual.” They must strive to establish and maintain good governance, close widening innovation gaps, produce high-quality digital content for an increasingly global audience, engage younger Jewish Americans, and confront a resurgence of antisemitism—in the dangerous context of weakening global norms, widening national and sectarian wars, and increasing instability worldwide.
How can museums dedicated to Jewish history and culture, American Jewish experience, and Holocaust education navigate the present crisis so that they emerge ready for the future? To begin to answer this question, we must seek the input of a highly qualified but often unsung group—the hidden innovators. These museum professionals, at all levels of their careers, have a proven track record of big ideas, insightful thinking, inventive systems, and impactful programs.
Museums are making difficult decisions to cut staff and reduce salaries. But we need talented innovators more than ever. In re-imagining museum professionals’ work—and giving them what they need to build the future—we can at once support our professional community and get started on meaningful change.
Jewish museums' educational missions impart not only knowledge but also responsibility. They are not merely students of history; they are history-makers. These museums present struggle and achievement, preserve and protect the physical embodiments of thousands of years of history—and serve both local and global communities not only to engage with history, but also to consider its relevance to the present.
Leveraging innovative ideas in the Jewish museum space is both urgent in the short term and necessary for the long-term development of the field. The goal is not only for museums to make it through, but also to emerge better able to engage, educate, and inspire. This will require organizing around audiences and pivoting to new program ideas (with a focus on connecting people across greater distance), developing visionary strategies, and facilitating collaborations and partnerships across institutions to push the boundaries of “what’s possible.”
Now is also the time for Jewish museums to recommit themselves to our unwavering determination to promote tolerance and understanding—especially in times of violence and loss. Together we must shoulder the burden of memory and ensure that future generations will have an opportunity to gather together to remember, to reflect, and to learn.
If we approach this intense disruption as an opportunity to re-evaluate the norm and set a new standard, we will give our Jewish museums and cultural institutions a fighting chance.
Michael S. Glickman
American Alliance of Museums and Wilkening Consulting
David Brownlee and Eric Nelson for TRG Arts and Purple Seven
The Wallace Foundation and AEA Consulting
Slover Linett Audience Research and LaPlaca Cohen
2020, Zannie Voss and Jill Robinson, SMU DataArts and TRG Arts
2020, Abigail Savitch-Lew, Eli Dvorkin, and Laird Gallagher, Center for an Urban Future
2020, IMPACTS is tracking how the pandemic is influencing perceptions and intentions
2020, Resources for museums from the Institute of Museum and Library Services
2020, Survey results from the Network of European Museum Organisations
2020, JFN sector by sector resource hub to help coordinate the philanthropic response
2020, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, The UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies
2019, Debra Nussbaum, Inside Philanthropy
2018, Aaron Paley and Nick Underwood, Jewish Funders Network
2016, Brigitte Sion, The Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe
2016, Lou Cove and Rachel Levin, Jewish Funders Network
2016, Ed Rothstein, Mosaic