I interviewed Elana Samuels who is Director of Volunteer Services at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Elana recruits, trains, and works with volunteers. She supervises a wide range of age groups at the museum. She works with youth in a program called MOTivating Teens/ Youth, college interns, adults, and Holocaust survivors. Elana attended multiple trainings for staff which discussed the Anne exhibit and highlighted the artifacts in the exhibit. She facilitated trainings for volunteers in preparation for the new exhibit. Elana provided insightful context about the new Anne exhibit. She shares her idea of visitors as active participants and how this new exhibit engages visitors.
Margarete: Why the story of Anne Frank? And why a separate exhibition within the museum?
Elana: I think that makes a lot of sense. The story of the Holocaust is a very part of who we are and what we do. We use the history as a way to introduce some important concepts of respect for diversity, understanding when sadly a government decides to identify and annihilate a population. The history of the Holocaust and those lessons I think are very relevant and what we do as a museum is we take those historical lesson and try to apply them to our contemporary world but through personal stories. And so for me, the story of Anne Frank is a very unique way actually continuing this important process. Anne is probably the most well-known victims of during WWII of the Holocaust. She was a Jewish child and I think that was important for the Museum of Tolerance and the Simon Wiesenthal Center to ensure in telling her story we give that context because for many people. Anne and her diary take on of a more universal perspective and we wanted our guests to understand was the only reason Anne and her family and the other people in the Annex were forced into hiding and ultimately captured, betrayed, sent on to the concentration camps was because they were Jewish. So, the Jewish part of her story was something we felt we needed to be an honest presentation within a larger context.
M: Who is the museum’s audience? I find that teenagers could really relate to the topics highlighted from Anne’s story.
E: Most of the museum’s audience is young people. So, they welcome approximately 140,000 youth to the museum each year for their core, tolerance center, holocaust exhibits. The museum feels that Anne is a voice that speaks to young people and can connect with her. Many of the issues a young teenager and being a daddy’s girl and conflict and stress with mom is very normal, budding attractions and awareness of sexuality: all so relevant to a young person maturing and growing. I hope she speaks to young people but also to adults, in a way that we should listen to children. Otto Frank, when he read Anne’s diary he said this was an Anne he didn’t know, and perhaps parents don’t really know their children in the exhibit. This is a message that maybe we need to listen more, and ask more questions and respect those answers.
M: I noticed the virtual tour of the Anne Frank House within the exhibit. Can you tell me more about your relationship with the Anne Frank House?
E: The museum developed a relationship with the Anne Frank House and a partnership has involved. The Anne Frank House have been supportive and cooperative in developing the exhibit for the museum by lending primary artifacts, creating incredible handmade facsimiles of Anne’s diary and her pages (who not just wrote in diary, but wrote in over two hundred loose leaf pages) can see how that Anne edited her writings. Her hope was that it would one day be published. Also, the Family Foundation, Anne Frank Fond out of Basel, Switzerland, is the family foundation that has ownership over Anne’s legacy. They have also been a partner in this exhibition.
Elana did not work directly with the development with the interactives in the exhibit but she provided some thoughts about having interactives in the exhibit.
E: Creating an interactive, educational experience is perfectly consistent with the museum’s message and methodology because we are a museum that we believe the visitor needs to go on a journey and needs to personalize the story and be involved in this process of learning. With Anne’s journey, you get to listen (i.e. the voice-overs) you get to look at artifacts and you learn more about who she was.
She would like for visitors to use the interactives as a type of reflection as they either write in their answers to questions on the screen and/or when typing in a pledge. She hopes Anne’s legacy will continue with them when they make a pledge and after walking through the exhibit. Through the Anne’s own words and encouragement of the pledges, the visitor can hold on and perpetuate those themes and messages.
M: I talked to Elana more about the pledges people can share through social media. I addressed the fact that when a person submits a pledge online (i.e. respect nature), other people cannot see the pledge online.
M: I asked her about how then a visitor can continue this action after their visit. Also, if there are plans to monitor if the visitor is carrying out their pledges.
Elana said the museum’s website and use of social media is still evolving. She hopes the visitors will continue with the pledge and Anne’s legacy. She explained to me there is an “interactive corner” that connects to the pledges called the “Action Lab.” It does not directly mention the Anne exhibit but there is a place for visitors to answer questions and suggestions to become involved connecting to the overall theme of tolerance.
Elana shared maybe in the future it will be possible to add the pledges to the website but as of right now there are no plans to do so.
M: There are videos playing throughout the exhibit to tell Anne’s story and voice-overs of Anne’s diary narrated by actress Hailee Steinfield. I asked her why the museum wanted to integrate the videos and audio in the exhibit.
Elana said the videos and voice-overs lead the path. Anne, in her own words, is the propelling force which is important. The visitor is led by diary and writings, in other words the “work.” Many of the objects in the exhibit are facsimiles of Anne’s diary and other writings on loose-leaf paper. By the audio, the exhibit comes alive through Anne’s own words. The videos played in the exhibit gives the visitor insight of more of the stories from the people involved in Anne’s life, like her last living relative, her first cousin Buddy Elias, and her father, Otto Frank. Documentary footage and interviews give an honest and complete way to share Anne’s story. Also, they reveal elements of stories not told before to add to Anne’s story.
M: I asked about the interactive screen with the styluses that visitors can write their own responses. I asked why that was placed in the exhibit, why does the museum want to know answers about people’s personal likes and dislikes.
Elana said the museum wants to be sure the visitors have the opportunity to engage in multimedia exhibit. She thinks this makes Anne more personal. Anne was an ordinary young person with hobbies and she liked to eat ice cream, she was like other young girls. Elana hopes the visitor makes their own connection. For example, visitors learn about Anne’s passion for writing and ice skating. The visitor can relate to hobbies but the interactive allows the visitor to add their personal responses. They have the opportunity to say, “But I like to do this….” and share their response.
Elana adds, as the visitors listen to the voice of Anne and contribute their own responses, they are not passive listeners but active participants. Hopefully, the exhibit conveys to the visitor that they can carry on her story, carry on her legacy.
A big thank you to Elana for her time and thoughtful responses.