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Come and try our tasty chicken soup I would like to respond to Sara Selwood’s review of the new Jewish …
Museums Association
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Come and try our tasty chicken soup

I would like to respond to Sara Selwood’s review of the new Jewish Museum.  Judging from her comments, she visited the museum soon after we opened, when there was an exceptionally high volume of visitors due to the tremendous positive media coverage ranging from the Times, Independent and International Herald Tribune to BBC TV’s The Culture Show and BBC Radio’s Front Row and Saturday Review programmes.

We are aware that there were some problems with our front-of-house in this initial opening period; our basebuild was significantly delayed and, as other colleagues in museums with capital projects may have experienced, our planned soft opening period was eroded, so that our official opening in fact took place the day after the builders left.

This meant that we had little opportunity to trial visitor facilities and this led to a delay in the cafe installation. In these challenging circumstances, we are proud of the way our volunteer front-of-house team responded to the large number of visitors attracted by the widespread press interest.

Our visitor services are now fully operational with professional front-of-house staff, supported by 130 trained volunteers, and tasty chicken soup served by the cafe!

The new museum is succeeding well in its aim to serve visitors of varied ages and from diverse backgrounds. For example, recent visits include an Islamic school, Muslim and Christian groups as well as a wide range of individual visitors.

The positive media reviews are backed up by the enthusiastic responses on comment cards, with 98 per cent of visitors rating the museum as excellent or good.

The response to our interactive displays is also positive, with visitors welcoming the different layers of interpretation, which are proving effective in engaging young people and adults.

Selwood’s comment that “there is little that either questions or is critical of Judaism today” is perplexing. As other reviewers have noted, the museum integrates into its interpretation a diversity of viewpoints, and contemporary issues are further explored through our wide-ranging events programme.

In the interactive exhibit Ask the Rabbi, visitors can hear rabbis from across the spectrum discuss their different approaches to Judaism and contemporary ethical issues.

Similarly, the Welcome Gallery, which features ten British Jews talking about their lives and experiences, demonstrates the diversity of the community and the different ways in which people construct their identities in Britain today.

It also acts as a reminder to visitors, both on their way in and as they leave, that this is a museum not just about the past, but about a living community, with a variety of opinions and beliefs.

Rickie Burman, director, Jewish Museum, London

Museums Journal June 2010, p48

MLA gripes

Sharon Heal warns us that the cultural budget is going to be cut by £61m – a sum which is not far off the annual budget of the Museum, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). The coincidence is striking.

Surely the answer to these cuts is to make the MLA into a membership organisation like the admirable Association of Independent Museums, or the Museums Association itself.

People who feel that they have received value for money from the MLA over the last 10 years will gladly pay to get more of it. Those who feel otherwise will at least have the money to spend on something else – which is not the case at present.

Jeremy Harte, curator, Bourne Hall Museum, Epsom

Museums Journal June 2010, p4

Support local museums

I do feel that the Museums Journal misses an opportunity with the vast majority of its reviews focusing on yet more high-production costs, money-no-object-funded exhibitions.

As the Museums Association occasionally brings to the fore, the majority of the museums in this country are small and local-authority run and yet how often is this reflected within your glossy pages?

How about the occasional review of a high-quality exhibition that has been produced with minimal resources and yet is imaginative and successfully engages the public?

Perhaps, God forbid, it could actually be within a location that is not in London or some other major metropolis – or would that just be too radical?

A frustrated local-authority curator

Bias against reburial

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s guidance for the care of human remains in museums reveals itself through its own processes and the revelation is one of unintentional institutional bias to the detriment of those requesting reburial.

Bias is deeply embedded within advice that is not law, permitting alternative views to be disregarded. The whole process may be likened to an unfair contract that is not lawfully binding. A future museum and ancestral reburial committee may ensure similar standards for both museum and requester are more evenly applied.

The consultation has revealed areas of agreement between the National Trust, English Heritage and the British Order of Druids, suggesting positive ways in which we can all work together to resolve conflicts of opinion.

The whole text of our objection may be viewed at http://www.druidry.co.uk/death&reburial.html

Paul Davies, archaeology BA, social anthropology MA

Ouch!

I realise that organisations need to save money, but the Chelmsford approach – “Chelmsford Museums Service axes two curators” – seems extreme. Surely they could have considered redundancies instead?

Maggie Gibbons, freelance museum consultant

Museums Journal June 2010, p9

Write to: the editor, Museums Journal, 24 Calvin Street, London E1 6NW email: journal@museumsassociation.org Museums Journal reserves the right to edit letters


In August’s Museums Journal

- A walk in the park: how sculpture gardens are transforming outdoor spaces
- Interview with Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund
- Reviews: Burton Ceramics Collection, Florence Nightingale Museum, Galleries of Modern London, Hertford Museum

Museum Practice online

- Museums and mobile phone apps
www.museumpractice.org

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