The Board of Trustees of The Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) just announced a $3 million grant from the Helen Diller Family Foundation for the creation of the Helen Diller Institute, a collaborative space where distinguished visiting scholars and CJM exhibitions and education staff will work together to create dynamic Jewish content and programs for the museum’s diverse audiences. The grant is the single largest one since The CJM opened its new building in 2008.
Lori Starr, Executive Director comments, “This transformative gift allows us to build a space for innovation where we can engage a wide variety of intellectual and creative thought-leaders in our work to conceptualize and create new exhibitions and related programs. We envision a leading center of scholarship that engenders dialogue, collaboration, and creativity as we consider all that is new in Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas.”
Wendy Kesser Yanowitch, Chair of the Board of Trustees cites the growing impact of the CJM in originating and traveling new exhibitions, writing catalogs and related publications, and developing robust education programs, and comments, “The CJM’s innovative work will be further sparked by having the Helen Diller Institute. The gift ensures that the museum can continue on its trajectory of engaging emerging and established scholars from a variety of fields to be in residence here on site and in collaboration with the talented CJM team of curators, exhibition designers, and educators.”
The CJM has increasingly sought out the expertise of local, national, and international Jewish content educators, art and history curators, art practitioners, and more in order to tell new compelling stories, engage new audiences, and have an even greater impact on the community as a whole.
Over the last two years, the CJM has hosted more than 25 scholars who have engaged in research and teaching around exhibition concepts in development; written catalog essays for the CJM website, and given presentations —particularly around Jewish content in exhibitions such as “Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism, “ “Arnold Newman: Masterclass,” “In that Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art,” and “Letters to Afar” —and have improved the training of educators and docents who engage with visitors in the museum’s galleries.
The Helen Diller Institute gives the CJM the opportunity to deepen and expand these relationships, providing a venue where Museum educators, curators, and public program and marketing staff can work in more sustained and meaningful collaboration with top experts from the field.
Chief Curator Renny Pritikin states, “The essence of Judaism, the engine that drives it through the millennia, is scholarly debate. The CJM has always participated in this tradition. The Helen Diller Institute is the culmination of years of institutional practice that has seen dozens of the greatest Jewish and other scholars come to the museum to help the staff educate itself about exhibitions being developed, to afford scholars the chance to work in private within a public museum setting, and to elucidate the content of our exhibitions for the public. This amazing gift will allow these disparate and occasional efforts to be coherently systematized, with a physical site dedicated to scholarly research, and a regular schedule of both internal and external events.”
The gift will allow the CJM to transform a 2,700 square foot unfinished space on administrative floor into the new Helen Diller Institute. The highlight of the Institute will be a Beit Midrash (study room in Hebrew) that will hold thirty or more people for behind the scenes colloquia, symposia, and communal gatherings. This is where visiting scholars will engage with CJM staff and others by invitation on topics related to the museum’s exhibitions and programs. The convening space will also be used for docent and gallery guide training, as well as programs for CJM partnering organizations such as the Wexner Fellows, Shalom Hartman Institute, and others.
The Beit Midrash will hold the expanding library of the CJM and its archives from its founding years to the present. State of the art teleconferencing, digital writing boards, and other elements will ensure that the work that takes place in the Beit Midrash can be shared in real time with others in various locations. The Institute will also design an unique workspace for visiting scholars, academic interns, artists in residence, which will co-mingle with an open plan workspace for the content and creative teams on the staff. The space will emphasize collaboration and dialogue and will include project-based nooks where each exhibition in development will have its own distinct prototyping area.
Jackie Safier, speaking for the Helen Diller Family Foundation, states, “My mother in her lifetime wished to make a significant gift to the CJM and the establishment of the Helen Diller Institute fulfills this aspiration. The CJM’s work with new Jewish ideas applied to compelling and engaging exhibitions and related programs for adults and children alike is a great asset to the future of Jewish life and to the Bay Area. The Foundation is proud that we could make this gift.”