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The Whole Spiel

Museum-Building from Home

July 27, 2020

I have to admit, I was skeptical. It was March 13, and the world was shutting down around us. After nearly a decade of work, we had planned to distribute our construction documents to general contractors on March 16, soliciting bids to build the new museum. But schools and offices were closing, gatherings were forbidden, and the status of construction work in the city was one more big question mark. What to do? Our building committee met and decided to press forward — we would stay the course, offer plenty of time for responses, and keep flexible for curve balls that might come our way. Just as bids were coming back in from contractors, we sent out a request for proposals to banks to get a loan to cover the pledges to our capital campaign.

And now, four months later, the stars have aligned, and we’re ready to sign on the dotted line – this week, we officially take ownership of our museum site from the neighborhood developer. And next week, we will finalize our bank loan and award construction of the new museum to Consigli Construction to get started on site in September. We’re also reinventing our long-planned construction kick-off block party, launching week-long program of truly groundbreaking groundbreaking events beginning on September 12 with an exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour of the project. More info to come! 

But planning what will happen inside the museum is undoubtedly our most important work, and we’ve spent these past months selecting stories for our exhibitions and soliciting key objects that will help us tell those stories. In the historic synagogue, we plan to use the first-floor exhibition gallery to tell the city’s story through the lens of our resilient historic building, from its inception as a synagogue to its reinvention as a soap store, barber shop and BBQ restaurant and more. We’ll invite visitors to explore models of the building from different time periods — they’ll open, twist, and let you peer inside to reveal the stories of its many lives alongside the history of our cityOn the second floor of the synagogue, in the sanctuary, we plan to work with film producers to create a transformative multimedia experience that will bring the city’s early history to life through touchable objectssnippets of oral histories, and photos and archival film projected onto every surface in a 360-degree immersive theater experience.  

For the core exhibition, were featuring Washington, DC’s enduring connection to civic engagement as the heart of what makes this city and the Jewish community here special. We’ll introduce the key faces and neighborhoods of Jewish Washington, and then bring them to life by showcasing the different ways Jews in DC have made change — as insiders and outsiders, through civil service, public discourse, and protest as they aspire to shape their communities, city and nation. Visitors will try their hand at lawyering and lobbying, voting, reporting, and running for office, and learn how Jewish Washingtonians took on these roles over time. We’ll explore how productive debate, both a very-Jewish and very-Washington activity, has served the national dialogue about issues both Jewish and secular. We’ll invite conversations about some of the most difficult moments in our city’s life — and find their relevance to issues in the news today. And, of course, action-oriented programming in our Community Lab for families and school groups, and interactive programs with key thought-leaders in the community, will bring our content and its relevance to life. 

After 18 months of construction and exhibition installation, we’re planning to open our doors to the public in spring 2022. So much to do before then! We still need to lock in our inaugural changing exhibition for our special exhibit gallery on the third floor. And we’re hard at work developing an operating plan that facilitates community events and family simchasfulfills required security and cleaning protocols, and accommodates both school groups hailing from down the street and visitors from the around the worldStay tuned as we move forward‚ and join us for our groundbreaking groundbreaking in September!