By Randi Benesch
Managing Director of Arts & Culture
Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore
Two years ago the Jewish Community Center (JCC) leadership set out to examine their arts and cultural programming. After surveying the community, they concluded it was time to re-position their focus on arts programming. I took on the role as Managing Director of Arts and Culture in July 2012 to help lead this new, exciting endeavor.
The arts can help strengthen and unite our community and give a voice to our Jewish identity, I want to create a warm and welcoming home to celebrate Jewish art and culture, both on our stages and in our classrooms; to connect us as a Jewish community, to encourage lifelong learning, to explore big ideas, stimulate conversation and, of course, to celebrate! As we grow, we will continue to make sure we are serving our diverse Jewish community, all ages and ethnic groups.
As we get started on this journey, a major focus is partnerships and collaborations, both internally within our JCC departments, and externally with the many Jewish organizations, synagogues and local arts organizations.
We kicked off the season with a wonderful program with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO). BSO Director Marin Alsop joined us, along with Chazzan Perlman from Chizuk Amuno Congregation, for a panel discussion on Leonard Bernstein’s Kaddish.
In January, we will partner with Center Stage to celebrate their 50th anniversary with an evening of snippets from one play in each of the five decades. Also in January, we are partnering with Maryland Public Television to present the season three premiere of the popular Downton Abbey show the night before it airs on PBS. Both programs will be held at The Gordon Center.
This fall, we kicked off a partnership with Pumpkin Theater to lead acting classes for teens and will continue this class in the spring. In March, STOOP Storytelling will come to the Gordon Center to lead a one day storytelling workshop. Collaborating and partnering with all of these wonderful local arts organizations means bringing their great programming out to our JCCs.
Community engagement is another key piece to our vision, both with our audiences and our local artists. Connecting with local artists and giving them opportunities to create new art here at the JCC is crucial. We want to build a community, a network, of local Jewish artists who will start to consider the JCC as one of their artistic homes.
We started this fall in the lobby of the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC. In the days leading up to Sukkot, a local visual artist painted on silk fabrics which soon became the walls of the Sukkah. It was a wonderful experience for our members to see the process take shape.
In November, we presented Sheldon Low, one of the leaders on the Jewish rock scene, here at the Gordon Center, for a beautiful havdalah service followed by a rockin’ concert for all ages. We collaborated with local synagogues, camps and groups to give them an opportunity to perform live on-stage with Sheldon Low. It was a wonderful community event.
We will continue to engage our community in fun holiday celebrations, challah baking workshops, Hanukah candle making workshops, Tot Shabbats and more. With every professional artist we present in the Gordon, we also want to make sure we give the community a chance to interact and learn from these artists through master classes, workshops or panel discussions.
Of course, we will continue to nurture and grow our existing arts and cultural programs. These include the popular Jewish Film Festival and annual Cinefest, Hazamir (our Jewish teen choir), Jewish Theater Workshop (our community theater group) arts classes for all ages in a variety of disciplines, art gallery exhibits in both Park Heights and Owings Mills, Arts Camp, ArtsFest and of course the wonderful multi-disciplinary presenting series in the Gordon Center with professional local and national artists.
As schools continue to cut back their arts programming, the Jewish Community Center can help fill the void. With the expansion of the Early Childhood Center and the new space for Jewish Community Services, the third floor of that space is a 10,000 square foot area that will be designated as new educational space for Arts and Culture. It’s an incredible opportunity as we embark on this campaign to raise the necessary funds to create this new space. We want to engage the next generation of arts lovers and give them a gateway to connect, create and learn. This new state-of-the-art center will allow us to do that!
The arts are a part of who we are as Jews. We want the JCC to truly be a place for everyone. We are looking forward to having you join us on this journey.
For suggestions on artists you’d like to see us present, programs you think we should create, or other organizations or individuals we should be partnering with, email Randi Benesch at firstname.lastname@example.org.