Traveling art museum hits Israeli streets for third year

“We believe that art belongs to everyone,” Adiram declares. “We don’t have the right to charge money for it.”

August 17, 2019 15:24
Traveling art museum hits Israeli streets for third year

THE JORDAN Valley Dance Company moves to the music in the ZUMU space.. (photo credit: JUDY HERSHTEIN)

Do you remember your first visit to an art museum? I look back in anger at mine: a fifth grade field trip to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts; a convoy of yellow school buses snaking slowly through midmorning traffic; lining up by class behind screaming, harried teachers; shuffling through long galleries festooned with portrait after portrait of old men in white powdered wigs; being shushed by teachers and glowered at by museum guards who regarded us with evident dislike; being barked at by teachers and guards whenever one of us seemed almost to touch something; sore feet; thirsty; needing a bathroom; then filing out of the museum back to the buses for the long slow ride back to school.

Now imagine a museum of art that picks itself up once or twice a year, comes to you, is happy to see you when you arrive, engages with you, and even encourages you to touch things. No shushing, no unfriendly glances, just art, education, entertainment, activities for all ages and a museum that seems to be as interested in its visitors as much as it hopes its visitors will be interested in the museum. And everything free of charge.

Such a museum actually exists, and it is called ZUMU, an acronym made from the Hebrew words zuz (move) and muzei’on (museum) – a moving museum. ZUMU’s stated mission is “to give communities in Israel’s periphery access to high-quality arts and culture. Its vision is an Israeli society where everyone has access to the arts, regardless of their background or circumstance. its aim is to reach every community in Israel; to initiate a long-term commitment to the arts by demonstrating their powerful and tangible impact.”

Now in its third year, ZUMU has thus far hit the road to three cities. Its maiden voyage, so to speak, was to Yeroham in 2017. There, in that industrial Negev city, comprised largely of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, North Africa and Ethiopia, the museum set up in an abandoned field school with a multi-week art exhibition. Upward of 10,000 people came, close to the entire population of Yeroham, as well as visitors from nearby villages and kibbutzim. The theme of the exhibition revolved around issues of identity, which resonated intensely with members of this ethnically and culturally diverse area.

Equally successful was ZUMU’s arrival to Arad in 2018, setting up in the abandoned factory of a textile company whose departure from the city devastated the local economy. The exhibition, with a theme focused loosely on power, was presented in a space created with materials salvaged from the disused factory. Among the 10,000 attendees of the show and evening activities were more than 4,000 children, as well as visitors from all over Israel.

This year, the “portable museum” headed north to Hatzor Haglilit with an exhibition titled Ceremony/Forms/Place that ran from May 24 to June 28 featuring works by some 50 artists. In addition to the paintings, sculptures and installations, nightly activities included everything from Lego workshops to appearances by entertainers such as Kobi Oz, lead singer of the popular musical group Teapacks. This year’s exhibition featured an expanded interaction with community members, even to the point of deciding its theme.

“It’s a traveling museum,” says ZUMU spokeswoman Sara Edelman, “and it’s very unique in Israel in that it not only features famous Israeli artists but also tries to highlight local artists from different communities and gives them a chance to show their work, which they may not get to do otherwise.

“The second part of it is that they are trying to inspire social change through art. A lot of the art ZUMU features is very educational. It’s not just flowers in vases. It’s the artist trying to convey a particular message.

“The third part of it is that the creators really want to make this a global initiative. Now it’s only in Israel, but the idea is to take this concept of a traveling museum that highlights the art of local communities and bring it to the US, to Europe and other places.”
For now, however, the focus is Israel, and ZUMU’s goal is to bring art to places everywhere in Israel, to people who don’t normally have any exposure to it.

Communications manager Ariel Adiram – who by the way is married to ZUMU founder and director Milana Adiram – says, “We are a group of eight people. Some of us are artists, some in education, some in communications, and we are all doing it together. This is something we’re doing for Israel, particularly for the children of Israel, to make the communities in Israel talk to each other.”

This core staff of the museum, Adiram says, works largely on a volunteer basis as a labor of love driven by one primary goal. “We want everyone to know that art and culture is a common language. Art creates a common background for people who don’t usually meet to communicate with each other. For example, if a guy from Tel Aviv comes to Hatzor Haglilit, they might talk about lifestyles, politics or whatever, and it will lead to conflict immediately. These people are from different backgrounds. But when we present art, when we create art together, we can create something deeper and way more important.”

Each year, this movable feast of a museum has attempted to reach out to all sectors of Israeli society, including working people of all varieties: Arabs, recent immigrants from everywhere, academics, artists, curators, gallery owners and others from the art world, and especially people who have never been to a museum, gallery or any kind of art show in their lives.

Adiram says, “I can’t tell you that the numbers of these groups are equal. There’s still work to be done.” He notes that the catalogue, for example, is in Hebrew, Arabic and English, “because we want to invite everybody.”

And once visitors arrive at ZUMU, they are pleased to discover that everything – art shows, seminars, hands-on workshops, entertainment, etc. – is completely free.

“We believe that art belongs to everyone,” Adiram declares. “We don’t have the right to charge money for it.”

AS FOR this year’s exhibition in Hatzor Haglilit, curator Ruth Oppenheim explains, “It developed not only from research by the staff, but also from extensive conversations with members of the local community, all aware of the area’s history and spiritual past.”

The show, originally planned for an unused wedding hall, ended up in a large industrial building.

Oppenheim said during the exhibition, “The exhibition space doesn’t look like any sort of museum. It’s a big industrial space, and the work is very inviting. A lot of the work you can literally touch and interact with. There are no guards, no one there to shush people. I think that answers the point that we bring art to people who are not normally exposed to art. And we want them to feel welcome as soon as they enter the space. The first thing they see and get is a sitting area with tea and cookies. We want them to come and not feel intimidated, which I think is the case with many museums.”

As with the previous two exhibitions, in Yeroham and Arad, Oppenheim and the rest of ZUMU’s movers were more than satisfied with the response. She says, “I think the best kind of feedback we get is that children who come to the exhibition in the morning in a school group bring their families back in the afternoon. For us, that’s most interesting and really what we wanted to do – to give local people in the area the feeling that there is a place and there are events that have something to do with art, that the kids know it exists and drag their families there. It’s all free, and it’s something they want to revisit several times during the five weeks. And also, [we enjoy] just people’s responses, comments about how much they’re enjoying the show.”

The show will go on. Adiram says they are 99% certain where ZUMU will be headed next, and that the caravan will be stopping in two places each year from now on. He urges everyone in Israel to stay tuned.

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