A Trip to Museum of Jewish Heritage

After hearing about going to the Museum of Jewish Heritage, I was not that excited because I know what they might have been exhibiting in there – a history about the most cruel, heartbreaking and unforgettable event in the human history. I didn’t set my expectation bar to be so high, the museum of this type often offer nothing but ordinary pictures and facts with no surprises for the audience. In Falk’s study, what matters to museum the most, is how audience engage outside of the four walls, thus the experience outside of it. I was once outside of the this museum before I did any research. As a student, standing before the concierge knowing that the museum will close in 30 minute was painful. Even the stuff would not suggest us to go in. We were actually there with a single goal that had already been decided before our visit, and that was mentioned by Falk’s as in the definition of pre-visit. Looking at their old-fashioned website, it does what is should does, however, with less of interesting points and obviously no opening time. I would say it made me feels like the museum experience should be solid and heavy, serving a single purpose of showing history in a decent way. It turned out to be I was wrong. Our expectation was came from websites, teacher, friends and our own understanding of it, and this is why I was amazed how good this place was and marked it as one

There's not so much people going to this museum
There’s not so much people going to this museum

of my most memorable museum visit. If didn’t came here visit the same motivation, the result of how I describe the experience would be dramatically different because there’s was a great chance that I couldn’t even make it to the third floor.

I was there twice. First time I wasn’t able to get into the museum because of the time. On friday afternoon the museum will close at 3PM and I was there at 2:30PM. The second time it actually took me more than two hours for the entire visit. I entered at 1PM and finished at 3:20PM. Both times while I was at the gate, sadly I didn’t see anybody else other than us at the concierge. The people there was helpful and gave us extra informations of opening time and navigation. It is interesting that the had a shift between working at the concierge and the bag check, I saw the same person from concierge when I checked out.

People came in groups. I saw no individuals. Most of them looks like they are in their 20s – 30s. I saw some old people there but no so much. I was expecting more middle-age people but it turns out that the majority of people there were students and families. According to the traditional demographic categorization, the audience there should fall to the certain races or ages etc. However, there’s was no way to predict how was clearly Jewish, which was an important fact of my focus during the visit. I thought that a museum about a specific culture should draw tension from that ethnic. The people there came from different culture and showed a strong family relationship. I would say that it is kind of different from the Falk’s “typical” museum audience that is identity related. This was more likely similar to his saying of “what the they wanted to be” audience . Parents wanted to to let their children know more about their own history; Art students seeking answer with the guidance of their professor. There were more Experience Seekers and Rechargers than other categories. If I could, I would like add an additional category called “force comers”, they seems like distracted and talk about nothing related to anything about the museum.

People came from families seemed engaged to the exhibitions, students looked not. People were amazed and moved by the narrative of the museum, but clearly not having fun because of its topic. I saw people board and lying on the bench for video watching since there was no extra places for people to rest. Whoever was not engaged must be someone not interested in the topic. However, checking phone can’t show if people are distracted or not. A smart phone is a great tool to either keep track of everything or destroy everything.

This place used too many words to describe everything as detailed as possible. It was just like a exploding interpretation, due to many of the objects had foreign language on it (Jewish or German), it is even more hard to understand everything in the tag. When there’s too much information, I might just lost control of it. Sometimes a well designed info graphic or image can do a way much better job. I was guided by the narrative which museum set up by assigning topic to floors and let audience follow a single linear route. I didn’t take a self guided tour, but I saw the icon for guided tour was frustrating. The numbers doesn’t have a fixed position on every label, and the order of it was not linear as if something was removed and added into the place and the museum was too lazy to reorganize it.

The experience for me was like a roller coaster. First floor was about the culture of Jewish people, which didn’t have anything really drew our attention. It is interesting that a lot of museum tend to like CRT monitors, that gives a retro touch to the experience. Although the museum had a decent number of monitors, the display windows didn’t really fit for the monitors (even for flat panels).

The monitor doesn't fit into this window at all
The monitor doesn’t fit into this window at all

The second floor focused on the holocaust and didn’t have too many videos, but it was very memorable indeed. I was deeply touched by how brave was Jewish people to overcame this tragedy. Pictures are better than words. Some of the parents brought their kids, I wondered if they have some warning for parental guidance before they walked to the area with these shocking photos. There was a boy that deeply terrified by the content of the image and ran for his mother. Third floor of the museum suddenly transitioned from a old museum to a shiny contemporary one. There was this art installation typically focusing on pixelating the view of the Hudson river, which was fun but doesn’t really stand for anything. Photo taking was encouraged throughout the entire museum but particularly not for this one. I was astonished by how much effort and how great the presentation was for their “against the odds” special exhibition. They used projection and tablets in this well arranged space, divided by hanged papers from a certain stack of a file(and they really have text on it). Whole space gave us the feeling like the time they are demonstrating – a war that gave birth to tremendous painful tragedies to many family, the street was filled with flying papers and people are in desperation, in a very calm way. Unfortunately I don’t think there was much for me to interact with, the iPad seemed broken or malfunctioning; a kiosk seems like a good place to interact with only two external headphones; the simulated book experience that can be better interpreted by a picture wall. Although I can see that they are struggling to build a more interacting experience but failed to make it more engaging than a passive one, the “Against the Odd” special exhibition did a really good job but putting everything into a context and let people to feel the power beneath it, and I was deeply moved.

In Samis’ ideas, the technologies that are being used in a museum is not always about forcing people to learn what they have, however, to make then think of it and starting to contribute to it. His theory of this is similar to how world wide web turned into 2.0. The participation of the audience gives feedback and new possibility to explore the experience and it is also contributing to improve the quality of a typical visit. A museum is not only about learning, it is also for discover new things. Like Falk’s research showed that despite of the short time people spending looking at attractions in a museum, most of their time are spent engaged in conversations with other members of his/her social group or general observations of the sitting. And I think the Museum of Jewish Heritage sort of achieved this.

The museum preserved their best in the last part.
The museum preserved their best in the last part.

The technologies was outdated but did a really solid job and make me a better person with more cultural knowledge about this country. But nothing more for me since its merely telling stories and facts.The only window they have now on the web is their official site is just a guidebook, no need to interact before or even after the visit. A new possibility for this museum is by adding more chance for people to interact with museum and other audience like Samis mentioned in “Making Connections”. I think it is a new type of narrative method for museum to jump out of the box and make use of continuity – a seamless experience for audience not only to get more information but keep contribute through digging and communicating.  I found myself currently experiencing the “identity feedback loop” by the attitude of how I treat this particular museum. I was here for my homework. But after I came here, not only I finished my homework, I started to love this place. So I started to recommended this place and more excited to my next experience. And this is just getting started!

A Trip to Museum of Jewish Heritage