By Victor Crosetti
Editor’s Note: L’shanah tovah tikatevu! To mark the Jewish New Year, this week we bring you an essay by USF museum studies graduate student Victor Crosetti about his summer internship at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
This summer I interned at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM), currently recognized as the “Best Museum of San Francisco” by SF Weekly. At first glance, this award may seem like an incredible feat for an institution without a permanent collection to receive over other amazing local cultural organizations. So, how does The CJM go about earning this kind of recognition in such a vibrant arts community? Interning at The CJM in the development department since early January of this year, I am proud to say that I discovered the answer. For the Bay Area residents reading this post, the answer may come as no surprise but rather affirmation of SF Weekly’s recognition.
Since 1984, The CJM has been achieving tremendous success in realizing its mission of making “the diversity of the Jewish experience relevant for a 21st century audience” with its all-inclusive and engaging public programs and exhibitions. My classmates and I were introduced to The CJM through Paula Birnbaum’s Museums: History and Theory course in the fall of 2014 when we met CJM’s staff during a class site visit. We were all impressed after Cecile Puretz, the Education and Access Manager, told us about the unique offerings at The CJM. My classmates and I learned that CJM’s programs—including First Free Tuesdays, Family Access Days, The Alzheimer’s Arts Café, and more—are constantly striving to remove barriers of entry into the museum and helping it evolve into a home for audiences of all ages and abilities. Immediately, my classmates and I fell in love with the energy we felt radiating through The CJM’s staff, mission and its supporters. It was then that I was drawn to support The CJM, its values, and its extensive community.
Shortly after our site visit that fall, The CJM staff warmly welcomed me as an intern. My summer project involved helping Ari Breakstone, Institutional Giving Manager, and the curatorial department create a competitive National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant application. The grant seeks funds for a one-of-a-kind exhibition planned for the fall of 2016. Generally, this may seem like a daunting summer task for an intern, but our grant writing experience at USF and the collaborative nature of The CJM’s staff made my work as an intern go on without a hitch. How lucky am I!
By participating in this grant project, I was able to share in the entire staff’s creativity, dedication, and passion towards using the museum as a platform to benefit from and tell the stories about its surrounding communities—it has truly become a testament to their success as a premiere cultural institution in the Bay Area. One of the most important aspects that I take away from my internship through working with Ari and the other talented members of the development department is the value of efficient communication. The CJM’s staff have all become experts at communicating both with their community of supporters and with their own institutional colleagues. As an emerging museum professional, I found that both my verbal and written communication styles needed constant refinement during my internship, but I was lucky enough to be offered opportunities to consistently strengthen these skills through their amazing leadership.
Along with the inspiration I received from learning how The CJM engaged with its community of supporters, the staff empowered me to take action in a variety of projects. I felt that my voice was heard! Some of my most memorable moments involved the informal interactions I had with staff. My supervisor Ari; Kerry King, Chief Operations Officer; and Lori Starr, Executive Director offered amazing advice that helped my professional and personal development. What I thought was most impressive was that Lori Starr made time in her busy schedule to seek feedback from me and other interns on how to improve the Museum. Immediately, I was reminded of how The CJM made an effort to listen to the many voices of the community through its diverse programs and exhibitions, and I now have seen these efforts also reflected in their internship program.
It is now plain to see why The CJM stood out this year as “The Best Museum of San Francisco.” I personally felt supported during my time at the museum: my opinions mattered, my growth was important to the staff, and the museum was invested in my success. A similar kind of support can be witnessed by how the museum consistently embraces its visitors and the different communities they represent. The CJM’s Executive Director, Lori Starr said to me that The CJM is a “teaching institution,” and I can say that I agree wholeheartedly with her statement. I hope that others will have the opportunity to learn from and engage with the knowledge offered at the museum.
For more information on USF’s Museum Studies program, click here.