You don’t have to be the next Sandy Koufax — or even a Major League Baseball player — to make it into an upcoming exhibition related to Jews and America’s pastime at the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH).
A public collecting initiative, which was launched by the Philadelphia-based museum the week of April 1, invites fans of all ages and backgrounds to submit artifacts, photos and memorabilia that illustrate their passion for baseball. It’s all part of the development of the exhibition “Chasing Dreams: Baseball and Jews in America.”
“This is an opportunity for us to cast a net broad and wide and give people an opportunity to potentially contribute to what will be a major national exhibition,” said Josh Perelman, NMAJH’s chief curator.
“This exhibition is about the experience of baseball in our lives — both the experience of watching baseball, living vicariously through heroes and superstars but also about finding the meaning of baseball,” he said. “[It looks at] how we shape our identities, how we transmit American values and how we relate across generations.”
Dedicated to connecting Jews more closely to their heritage, the museum has set up a microblogging platform and social networking Web site (chasingdreamsbaseball.tumblr.com) where people from all over the world can post images of their memorabilia and share them with the museum’s curatorial staff and baseball aficionados. Visitors to the site are able to comment on each other’s posts and communicate with the museum exhibition’s development team.
“Chasing Dreams” is not the first example of a Jewish museum undertaking a public collecting project, although it could be the biggest. In 2012, the Skirball Cultural Center teamed up with the University of Southern California to collect submissions of everyday home movies, which were eventually displayed in an exhibition that illustrated the personal experiences of California Jews. Similarly, the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco turned to the Bay Area Jewish community to source content for its exhibition, “California Dreaming: Jewish Life in the Bay Area From the Gold Rush to the Present,” which runs through April 28.
Perelman said there are compelling reasons for getting the public involved.
“There is the stereotype of the curator who sits in a crusty collection and thinks about stuff and makes the exhibition. … [On the other hand, this] lets us curatorial staff be in dialogue with folks who are potential visitors, lets us really understand what is the meaning of this experience to them and provides us with information and inspiration as we move forward in developing the exhibition.”
The exhibition itself — which opens in March 2014 — is set to include celebrations of Jewish baseball legends such as Koufax and Hank Greenberg, but it will also focus on the fans. Items specific to the Jewish experience might include baseball-themed b’nai mitzvah memorabilia, Jewish summer camp baseball artifacts and relics, Jewish heritage night giveaways, custom Little League jerseys sponsored by Jewish businesses and more, according to the exhibition’s Tumblr site.
Additionally, the exhibitions will tell the stories of other minority groups, including Latinos, African-Americans, Italian-Americans and Japanese-Americans. To that end, the impact of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson and the New York Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio will be explored as well.