After more than a year in transition with most of its artifacts, artwork and library either boxed up or in climate-controlled storage, the Holocaust Center of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh is moving closer to making the decisions that will define its future.
The center has already hired Paul Rosenblatt, a principal of Pittsburgh-based Springboard Design, to shepherd a public comment process through which the Jewish community, and also non-Jews, may offer their own thoughts on what the newly transformed center should look like — physically and virtually.
Rosenblatt, in turn, has put together two methods for garnering public feedback:
• A survey, which is downloadable from the Holocaust Center website, holocaustcenterpgh.org; and
• Two stakeholders meetings slated for Thursday, Nov. 21 — one session for staff of the center, the Federation and related agencies; the other for community volunteers invited to participate.
According to Rosenblatt, three different scenarios for the new center will be discussed at the stakeholders meetings:
• Distributed off-sight scenario — a decentralized solution in which office space will be at one location and programing held at another;
• Centralized stand-alone scenario — the museum-institution model in which offices and programs are at the same location; and
• Centralized strategic relationship scenario — a central location co-located with another institution or institutions sharing space and infrastructure.
“Each of these scenarios offers different pros and cons,” said Rosenblatt, whose father was the founding director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. “What I see as pros for one may be cons to you and vice versa, so what’s important for us in this programming process for the Holocaust Center is for us to understand which groups feel they would benefit most from the different scenarios and determine where the majority of advantages begin to cluster.”
After the feedback has been parsed, Rosenblatt will compile a report that summarizes what he’s heard and present it to the center’s board as early as December.
Rosenblatt said his job is not to recommend one scenario over another.
“I don’t know that we’re making recommendations as well as facilitating an understanding of the parties that would be involved in running or using this organization,” he said. “We’d rather not impose our unique perspective on the direction of the institute. Rather, let the institute tell us where they want to go.”
He warned that no model for the reconfigured center would be ideal.
“Like anything else, there isn’t a perfect solution to any problem,” he said, “but there are some best or better solutions we can develop. Those solutions will be guided by the input of these sessions.”
He said his firm is “benchmarking” the physical and online presences of Holocaust centers around the country, noting that Pittsburgh’s process may also provide valuable information to cities looking at their own centers’ operations.
Springboard Design does architecture and exhibit planning for area museums and institutes. Among its best-known projects is the Carnegie Museum of Art exhibit for the work of famed Pittsburgh photographer Teenie Harris. Many of its clients are nonprofit organizations as well as individuals.
Holocaust Center Director Joy Braunstein stressed that the center’s Internet presence would be key to its reconfiguration.
“Paul suggested an approach that looks not only at our physical space needs,” Braunstein said, “but looks at our online space needs, our virtual needs, so its really out of the box.”
Some 300 volunteers — Jew and non-Jew alike — were invited to participate in the stakeholder session for community volunteers. Approximately 15 professionals will take part in the smaller staff session.
The Holocaust Center is at a crossroads, according to Braunstein.
“The Holocaust Center is going through the process of figuring out what our space needs are — physical and online configurations — that should best meet the needs of the community and best meet our mission.”
That process actually began before she came on board last year.
The Holocaust Center moved out of its Jewish Community Center offices on July 1, 2012, and took up space in the McKee Place facility the Rudolph family purchased for the center years ago.
Since then, the center has realized a significant cost savings, which it has reinvested into its programming, Braunstein said.
Meanwhile, most of its artwork and artifacts are being kept in climate-controlled storage lockers in the Strip District per the advice of a professional art handler.
Its library collection is boxed and held at the center’s McKee Place office.
Its artifacts collection includes hundreds of photos, letters, documents, pistols, uniforms, flags and money used inside the ghettos — all catalogued.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)