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Jewish Museum of Australia reopens with a new look

A new children’s space, a refreshed public library and an updated curation of more than 25,000 works: the Melbourne museum celebrating Jewish life, culture and tradition is back open to the public.
Ruby Kraner-Tucci
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Large ceramic artwork of a mother holding her baby

A sneak peek of the installation of Nina Sanadze’s Hana and Child exhibition, which will feature throughout JMA’s permanent collection. (Image: Ruby Kraner-Tucci/The Jewish Independent)

Published: 29 February 2024

Last updated: 21 March 2024

A new children’s space, a refreshed public library and an updated curation of more than 25,000 works: the Melbourne museum celebrating Jewish life, culture and tradition is back open to the public.

After three months of much-anticipated renovation, the Jewish Museum of Australia (JMA) is today welcoming visitors back to tour its new spaces and refreshed collection.

The East St Kilda museum officially closed in December to complete the works, which came off the back of securing a multicultural infrastructure grant from the Victorian government and months of planning.

Head of collections and interpretation Esther Gyorki says consultations with the public, volunteers, staff, Australian Jewish artists and neighbouring community groups such as the St Kilda synagogue helped inform the changes to the museum.

“The whole museum has been completely refreshed,” Gyorki told The Jewish Independent on an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour ahead of the launch.

Head of collections and interpretation Esther Gyorki in the refreshed public library. (Image: Ruby Kraner-Tucci/The Jewish Independent)
Head of collections and interpretation Esther Gyorki in the refreshed public library. (Image: Ruby Kraner-Tucci/The Jewish Independent)

“We have an incredible collection, with over 25,000 objects, and we really wanted the opportunity to share those with the public," Gyorki continued.

“This revamp has given us the ability to put more works out in the permanent spaces and rotate them – some pieces that have been out for years are now having a rest, and we’ve put out new works that have never been seen before or that we’ve acquired recently. It’s a wonderful challenge to have to decide what we want to show.”

The museum opens with new exhibitions from two Australian Jewish artists that will run until June: Photographer Harry Nankin’s Instructions for Mending the World reflects on Jewish mysticism and the call for Tikkun Olam, while ceramicist Nina Sanadze’s Hana and Child sculptures encapsulate the relationship between a mother and child in times of terror.

A large-scale collection focused on music called “A Secret Chord”; an exhibition from a yet-to-be-revealed famous Australian artist; and a diverse program featuring high-profile speakers are to come.

"I just want the museum to be a space for everybody.”

Esther Gyorki

Despite the success of yearly blockbusters Mirka Mora, Marc Chagall and Helmut Newton, Gyorki says “the time was right” for the museum to move away from a traditional annual program to one that is more responsive to the needs and interests of its community.

“We are trying to be flexible with programming,” Gyorki explained. “We want to be open to opportunities. It’s nice for us to be able to showcase and connect with more Jewish artists.”

An annual theme will instead be used to help guide the museum's curation. This year it is “music, rhythm and movement”, which Gyorki believes aligns well with the museum's mission to “make you feel and think, bring you joy and be a space for reflection”.

The children's space’s inaugural exhibition, <em>Head to Toe</em>, is a deep-dive into the museum’s collection of garments, headwear, socks and shoes. (Image: Ruby Kraner-Tucci/The Jewish Independent)
The children's space’s inaugural exhibition, Head to Toe, is a deep-dive into the museum’s collection of garments, headwear, socks and shoes. (Image: Ruby Kraner-Tucci/The Jewish Independent)

The new children’s space is a noticeable feature, complete with books and beanbags, rotating exhibitions and a “JMA Minis” program of activities and events specifically designed for kids and families. Upstairs, a free public library is an inviting space to work or study and to explore an impressive, donated coin collection and rare book display.

Much of the permanent collection has also had a makeover, with the well-known lifecycle and Jewish calendar sections upgraded with more contemporary content and interactive stations.

Other less-noticeable yet critical upgrades include new lighting and a better air conditioning system which is essential in preserving the museum’s vast collection.

JMA will celebrate its refurbishment with an open day on Sunday 17 March, with free entry, guided tours, live music and sing-a-longs and meditation and jewellery-making workshops.

While Gyorki has her favourite pieces, she is confident there is something for all ages and backgrounds at the museum. Most of all, she wants the renovation to leave visitors feeling inspired.

“I want the public to have had an enriching experience, whether that’s learning something new or reflecting or feeling an emotion. I just want the museum to be a space for everybody.”

The Jewish Museum of Australia reopens to the public today, Thursday 29 February.

RELATED STORY

Seven new things to see at the revamped Jewish Museum (The Jewish Independent)

About the author

Ruby Kraner-Tucci

Ruby Kraner-Tucci is a journalist and Assistant Editor of TJI. She previously reported on the charity sector as a journalist for Pro Bono News and undertook a cadetship at The Australian Jewish News. Her writing has appeared in diverse publications including Time Out, Broadsheet, Law Society Journal and Dumbo Feather Magazine.

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The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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