The Daily Record of Baltimore
BALTIMORE - When Marvin D. Pinkert tells friends from the area about his new job as executive director of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, he says they often ask, "When are they building a Jewish Museum in Baltimore?" or sometimes, "There's a museum by Attman's Deli?"
The museum's outgoing director, Avi Decter, said that the site is better known nationally than locally by the Jewish community, but Pinkert aims to create "a major public attraction."
The Jewish Museum of Maryland grew in programming, staff and collections in recent years, despite the financial challenges it and many other museums have faced. It also completed a $1 million restoration project on the Lloyd Street Synagogue next door, the oldest synagogue in Maryland.
With less government money to go around, grants and other funding sources have been difficult to come by for museums.
Just last month, the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore suspended operations because of economic challenges. When the Edgar Allan Poe House lost its city funding in 2011, it faced the possibility of closing.
"The challenges that Jewish museums face would reflect the challenges that all nonprofit organizations are facing right now," said Joanne Marks Kauvar, executive director of the Council of American Jewish Museums, saying that most have survived by reducing their budgets, staffs and programming.
That was not the choice of the Jewish Museum of Maryland.
Decter said they nearly exhausted their reserves working to grow the museum in recent years, but had decided that "saving money. keeping it in the bank, wasn't the most important thing."
The museum's most recent acquisition is a large photo collection from the Baltimore Jewish Times.
The president of the Jewish Museum, Larry Caplan, said that the museum board is working on a plan to "chart a course of fiscal stability."
Part of this plan is reaching more people in the Jewish community and in the art community.
The museum itself gets 10,000 to 12,000 visitors in an average year, said Decter, many of whom come from throughout the U.S. and from Israel.
"Jews travel more than anyone else," said Decter. "They like to see the oldest synagogue in town."
Pinkert, who started his new job Friday, said he intends to use the museum's collection to grow its audience, both national and local, by taking advantage of online outreach. He said he plans to use the museum's website, which Decter said gets about 45,000 direct visits per year, to "complement the collections and physical museum."
As the director of the National Archives Experience for the past 11 years, Pinkert worked in developing the Archives' first permanent interactive exhibit hall in 2004 and its Digital Vaults online exhibition in 2008. Before that, he was the vice president for programs at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago for 10 years, until he left in 1999 to be a consultant in the Washington, D.C., area.
This experience, said Caplan, has given Pinkert the knowledge and skills to reach the museum's goals.
"The challenge now is for (Jewish) museums to remain dynamic and to move forward toward robust visions of what they might do in the future," said Kauvar.
Pinkert's vision includes the creation of a family environment at the museum, hoping to catch the interest of younger generations.
"Successful museums . they figure out a way to reach families," said Pinkert. "Jewish Baltimore literally began here. . If people really understood what is on this site, they would be here."
Information from: The Daily Record of Baltimore, http://www.mddailyrecord.com
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