December 14, 2018

Homage to Democracy

Who would have thought, muses Dr. Uri D. Herscher, that the Skirball Cultural Center would reach such prominence in so short a time.

The center’s president and CEO was talking about the rare artifacts of Americana, which in earlier years would have surely been donated to the Huntington Library or LACMA, but which their owners have now entrusted to the Skirball.

In a larger perspective, Herscher’s sense of wonderment applies to the entire institution he founded three-and-a-half years ago, and whose enlarged and enriched embodiment was rededicated last Sunday.

The statistics tell part of the story. Before the Skirball’s April 1996 opening, Herscher and his colleagues optimistically anticipated 60,000 visitors a year. Instead, the hilltop complex along the Sepulveda Pass has welcomed 1.1 million visitors to date.

Among them have been 150,000 school kids, predominantly gentile, and even among the general visitors, Herscher estimates that nearly one-third are not Jewish.

Herscher and his program director, Dr. Robert Kirschner, acknowledge that they not only underestimated the center’s popularity, but also the durability of their museum exhibits.

“We thought that our core exhibit, which takes up the bulk of the museum space, would remain unchanged for eight to ten years,” says Herscher.

Instead, for the last three months, curators and carpenters have worked frantically expanding and renovating the galleries and installing new exhibits, all with an eye toward giving visitors a deeper and more user-friendly experience.

The theme of the museum’s core exhibit is “Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America,” and almost every gallery, depicting the landmarks along that long journey, has undergone some changes and additions.