When Aaron Berger was appointed executive director of the William Breman Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum last year, his board of directors wanted him to orchestrate a move to a larger standalone facility.
Berger told them he first needed to boost attendance at ts longtime Midtown home, the Selig Center, which the museum shares with the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.
The Breman Museum was to take a significant step in that direction on Monday night when it was to announce the Molly Blank Jewish Concert Series.
The debut season of the concert series will be presented in partnership with and feature The Atlanta Opera. The Breman hopes to make the series an annual presentation.
On its face, the creation of a concert series celebrating the role Jews have played in different music forms would seem business as usual for a Jewish heritage presenter. But since the Breman’s opening in 1996, the belated outgrowth of a 1983 exhibition on Jews in Georgia that suggested the need for an institution to interpret the Jewish experience in the capital of the South, it has largely focused on history and culture exhibits.
These shows have included, most notably, “Zap, Pow, Bam! The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books, 1938-1950” as well as ones focusing on Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss. Between the attendance peaks of these popular exhibits, however, it has been Holocaust education tours that have boosted annual attendance to an average of 20,000.
By partnering on programming with various Atlanta cultural institutions — such as the Alliance Theatre, the source of Monday night’s sold-out presentation featuring Barry Manilow and others creators of the musical “Harmony” — Berger believes he can extend the Breman’s reach. That would make it a more vital cultural resource and build attendance, which he believes would make a more persuasive case for the museum to grow into its own facility.
“A new beginning” is how Berger termed the Molly Blank Jewish Concert Series, which launches Nov. 9, made possible by a grant of an undisclosed amount from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and named for the opera-loving mother of the Falcons owner.
The Breman executive director is reluctant to project how attendance might increase via such collaborations, but said he hopes to attract at least 20,000 during the six-month run of the special exhibit “Return to Rich’s: The Story Behind the Store,” opening Nov. 17.
Chronicling the Jewish family-founded department store, the largest exhibit ever presented by the Breman will command two galleries and 5,000 square feet, and will include extensive loans from partners including the Atlanta History Center. Among many other objects and artifacts, the History Center is lending Percival, the 17-foot-long Pink Pig that flew generations of Atlanta kids above the Rich’s toy department downtown.
To make room for a show that should stir fond memories for Jews and non-Jews alike, the Breman took down the nearly 20-year-old exhibit “Creating Community: The Jews of Atlanta from 1845 to the Present.” It will return in an updated form after the “Rich’s” run.
The Breman is operating with a budget of $1.4 million, up about $200,000 from fiscal ‘13, to make “Rich’s” and the growing slate of presentations possible. The museum also will present a screening of the documentary “The Ritchie Boys” in collaboration with the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival on Oct. 2.
Atlanta History Center president and CEO Sheffield Hale said Berger’s move to join forces with other cultural groups is smart.
“I think he’s doing the right thing,” Hale said. “To survive as a non-profit, you’re going to have to be more collaborative, more entrepreneurial and more willing to break down barriers to work with each other — and share audiences. It’s not like any of us have a claim on any particular audience. We’re all out there trying to reach everybody. All of us need to experiment and reach out and try different things.”
Though there is no time frame, Berger believes a move is still in the offing.
“It is definitely still in the forefront of everyone’s mind, but now we’re starting to think a little more strategically about defining what we are as an organization,” he said. “And making sure when we do make that move that we’re doing it in a way that will produce the best possible outcome for the community.”
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