Berkeley, CA—The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life (The Magnes) and the Division of the Arts & Humanities at UC Berkeley are pleased to announce the appointment of Hannah Weisman as its first Executive Director.
Weisman’s appointment is the result of a landmark partnership between Taube Philanthropies, the Magnes Museum Foundation, and UC Berkeley. The first four years of the position are generously funded by a pledge from the Magnes Museum Foundation and Taube Philanthropies.
Weisman is a museum professional who brings to The Magnes more than 20 years of experience in museum education and administration, including programming, fundraising, and inclusive community collaboration. She assumes the role on December 12, following outgoing Interim Faculty Director John Efron. Efron graciously led The Magnes during a time of transition, advocating for the new leadership role that Weisman steps into.
Weisman most recently served as the Director of Education at the Boston Athenæum, where she spearheaded the organization’s participation in two statewide initiatives, designed digital resources to expand the reach of the library’s archives, developed and managed academic programs, and increased university access and partnerships regionally. Previous to her work with the Athenæum, Weisman worked at cultural institutions in the northeast, including Historic Newton, the Shelburne Museum, and the Fenimore Art Museum.
“We are incredibly lucky to have Hannah Weisman lead The Magnes, the largest collection of Judaica on the West Coast, and an institution that has the potential to transform our understanding of Jewish heritage and diasporic cultures,” said Sara Guyer, Dean of the Division of Arts & Humanities and chair of the search committee. “Weisman brings decades of experience in established museums and has the ability to bring the complex and rich story of The Magnes to both the Berkeley campus and the world. Her understanding of digital collections, innovation around community engagement, and her ability to tap into an expansive museum and library network will usher this magnificent institution into a visionary future.”
Having worked extensively with large collections, Weisman brings a deep understanding of the preservation, digitization, and interpretive needs of a collection such as The Magnes. As The Magnes’ collection continues to grow with new acquisitions including the Taube Family Arthur Szyk Collection and the Roman Vishniac Archive, Weisman plans to expand its access and visibility internationally.
“It is always the Magnes Museum Foundation’s goal to see the Collection promoted and preserved with enthusiasm and intense energy.” said Barry Cohn, Foundation President. “We are very much looking forward to Weisman’s arrival as Executive Director. We know she will bring her museum knowledge, high level competence and energy to help bring the Collection to the next level of interaction with the campus and general community. Weisman’s efforts will certainly enhance the community's ability to learn from and enjoy this amazing collection of Jewish life and art.”
As the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, Weisman is personally committed to inclusion, equity and belonging, which sits at the heart of The Magnes’s mission to preserve histories of diasporic communities around the world. At the Boston Athenæum, Weisman elevated the forgotten histories buried in the institution’s collections, notably creating an educational guide to the photograph albums once owned by anti-slavery activist Harriet Bell Hayden.
“I am thrilled to welcome Hannah Weisman to the Berkeley campus community. I am confident that her experience, skills, and values will help advance and strengthen The Magnes’s mission and contributions,” said Chancellor Carol Christ, “The university’s partnership with The Magnes is an essential part of our academic ecosystem, and an inseparable part of all that we do to support Jewish studies and the Jewish community on our campus and far beyond.”
Originally founded in 1962 by Seymour and Rebecca Fromer with a focus on preserving the legacy of vanishing Jewish communities around the world, Berkeley’s Judah L. Magnes Museum became The Magnes Collection in 2010. As one of the world’s preeminent Jewish collections in a university setting, its remarkably diverse archive, library, and museum holdings include art, objects, texts, music, and historical documents about the Jews in the global diaspora and the American West.
“I can’t imagine a better visionary to lead The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art & Life at the University of California Berkeley through its next chapter,” said Elizabeth Barker, Executive Director of The Frick Pittsburgh, and Ms. Weisman’s former supervisor at the Boston Athenaeum. “Hannah is bringing to Berkeley not only extensive museum experience, academic interest in Jewish cultural history, and a thoughtful approach to mentoring teams, but also a truly exceptional skill at developing public programs that appeal to broad non-specialist audiences without sacrificing intellectual rigor.”
As Weisman prepares to join The Magnes next month, she looks forward to future opportunities to engage with existing and new audiences.
"The Magnes Collection is truly special in that it has the opportunity to connect people with stories that are relevant and timely. Stories play a powerful role in how we engage with the world and make meaning for ourselves. This collection has the power to support research, teaching and learning, and informal inquiry,” said Weisman. "Whether we're fostering community locally or providing access to international scholars, The Magnes provides unparalleled views of the Jewish diaspora."
Weisman plans to prioritize programs that will renew and expand relationships between The Magnes and local communities, while at the same time benefiting from the international reach of UC Berkeley.
"The distinctive placement of The Magnes, on the border of the University, physically places us both in the community and in the University. I look forward to engaging in the public humanities by providing the collaborative crossover that only a public institution like UC Berkeley can provide."
As for what types of programming and exhibitions Weisman is interested in facilitating, we can expect them to be multifaceted and engaging, guiding unlikely collaborations to tell new stories and pique new interests.
“The Magnes has infinite possibilities to facilitate research and be a vibrant public gathering space, functions that are not mutually exclusive. I especially look forward to collaborating with the other museums on campus. There is such a rich network of people and materials to engage with. As a generalist without a specialty, I think that gives me a lot of creativity and flexibility to create interdisciplinary opportunities for discourse, partnership, and public engagement,” Weisman said, "I don't know what dinosaurs have to do with judaica, yet, but we're going to find out!"