Mizel Museum Celebrates 30 Years
Constant Reinvention Has Led To Longevity And Success
by Laura Lieff
What started in a display case at BMH-BJ Congregation in Denver has become a Cherry Creek Valley landmark. A three-site institution, the Mizel Museum features exhibits, events and educational programs for people of all ages, backgrounds and diversities.
Founded by Rabbi Stanley Wagner and local philanthropists Carol and Larry A. Mizel, the Mizel Museum of Judaica has given people in the community the opportunity to learn about Jewish culture and explore Jewish life in Colorado.
According to Executive Director Ellen Premack, when the museum’s doors opened, it dedicated itself to the broad diversity of Jewish life through art, architecture, archaeology, ritual and customers through the Diaspora.
Premack estimates that the exhibits, educational programs and community events at the museum impacted several thousand people last year alone and museum staff have seen Jewish and non-Jewish visitors from Colorado, around the country and the world.
“People are hearing about us,” she said. “I’m almost to the point where I can feel comfortable calling us the pre-eminent Jewish destination in Denver.”
Displaying Jewish art and artifacts from 1982 to 2002, the museum consisted of a single room at BMH. Then the need for space grew as the number and size of exhibitions and its reputation grew.
In 1994, the museum developed Bridges of Understanding, an exhibit that showcased Native American, Muslim, African American, Hispanic, Asian and Jewish cultures. The exhibit brought communities and students together, teaching tolerance, understanding, ancestry and the idea that people aren’t that different.
“It was viewed as a giant leap forward for a museum because it initiated and welcomed community involvement and inclusivity,” Premack explained. “The Mizel Museum of Judaica needed to grow into the community and into a facility that could reach everyone. The essence of community changed as it stepped into the future, reaching large multicultural audiences, and a fresh, new excitement permeated its exhibitions.”
In 2004 the word “Judaica” was dropped when it relocated to the original Rodef Shalom synagogue. The name change allowed the museum to proceed in new directions, while at the same time not sacrificing its Jewish character. Once again the museum took on a new existence in three forms: The Mizel Museum, The Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab (The CELL) and as a steward of Babi Yar Park.
The CELL is a nonpartisan center whose mission is to empower citizens to help combat the threat of terrorism located in the downtown cultural district. The CELL seeks to promote personal and community activism in order to help shape a better, safer world. Babi Yar Park is an open-air memorial to those lost in the Ukraine and elsewhere during the Holocaust.
Added Premack, “The missions of each site complement each other and give Mizel Museum the ability to ground itself in salient 21st century issues, including the Holocaust, immigration and multiculturalism.”
Celebrating A Milestone
The museum recently launched its first permanent exhibit which Premack says embodies the museum’s reinvention. 4,000 Year Road Trip: Gathering Sparks opened in February 2012 and will remain the museum’s centerpiece for the next two years.
“The exhibit is a dynamic journey through art, artifacts and digital media that narrates and illuminates Jewish history and culture,” she explained. “Museum programs stem from the 17 subjects that are encompassed in Gathering Sparks and new and varied approaches to teaching the Holocaust, immigration, Jewish life and culture and global issues have been devised.”
To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the museum is featuring special exhibitions, events, performances, camps, artist talks and community gatherings. This year the museum will also unveil its newest traveling exhibit, a collaborative effort called Stories Matter.
The CELL will soon reopen with a redesign built around the eight signs of terrorism and Babi Yar Park will add the September 11 Memorial to its landscape, incorporating steel from the former site of the World Trade Center.
“We look forward to many more years and perhaps a new home where we can create even more enriching and engaging experiences for the community and the world,” said Executive Director Ellen Premack.
“I derive a lot of personal satisfaction from seeing the museum grow the way it has over 30 years, but I can’t take credit,” said Mr. Mizel. “I believed there was a need to bring the Jewish and non-Jewish communities together, and the museum staff does exactly that. By using art they bring people of different faiths, beliefs and religions together and I’m just glad I can play a small part of it.”
On May 23 the museum will honor Glenn R. Jones with its 2012 Community Enrichment Award which will be presented to Jones at the 22nd Gala Dinner at 6 p.m. at the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum located at 7711 E. Academy Blvd.
The Mizel Museum is located at 400 S. Kearney Street. For more information visit www.mizelmuseum.org or www.thecell .org or call 303-394-9993.獵