Ashkenaz: Interpretive Projects
Through the themes of music, education, community and history of political activism, this plan is aimed towards improving sustainability and outreach to all types of visitors and stakeholders, whether they are longtime supporters or visiting for the very first time. Ashkenaz already has a firm hold on plans for the future and enables visitors to interact through music and dance from cultures around the world incorporating these themes. But there are more opportunities to upgrade conservation efforts and to draw new people in and keep them coming back, lengthening the viability of the establishment and the heritage it shares.
It’s the music!
The music is what keeps everything afloat and the dancing afoot. People from far and wide who recognize Ashkenaz as “home” are coming for its yard stompin’ roots revival, whether it be local music fans and dancers or the travelling musicians themselves. Though home is also the backbone to a family when the hard times hit, so it is home where world music can still exist. If it were not for venues like Ashkenaz that celebrate the people’s music, the symbolic art to whom the music represents would not reach to inspire the desperate souls of either folk or kin. But being a home means to those that other places are not home, by definition, so Ashkenaz must embrace its role to educate and distribute notes for a cooperative musical compilation.
Nothing screams music history like the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; in fact, they are the leading pioneers for music education in the digital age, bringing in a new concept called the digital classroom. Upon clicking open the digital classroom doors it becomes apparent that teachers are encouraged to share the information, as noticeable by the infographics and explicit texts to save the pictures for lesson plans.
Users navigate through music genres and are brought into a list of monthly musicians within that genre. From there, after selecting a specific musician group, the user can play music recordings of popular songs and/or have a chance to see a music tutorial about their specific notation. Inside each musician group’s page provides a detailed bio and a lesson plan of objectives. The user interacts with these objectives in a visual-auditory combination to become more familiar and intimate with musicians for an appreciation of their uniqueness they bring.
The implications of appearing more transparent about music education affords Ashkenaz more web traffic in which internet surfers would be continually redrawn back into their website for information regarding the next month’s artist lineup, since those lineups would be organized
into music education classroom objectives. Teachers of all grade levels will be on the lookout especially, and depending on popularity Ashkenaz may even get more international recognition. In this cause for music education and online availability, Ashkenaz can pair up with other organizations worldwide to create a digital folk music classroom. Taking cue from the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, these digital classrooms may involve video conferencing special events to further open the availability of folk music back to its origins in which physical distance is the only obstacle of reaching larger audiences.
Ashkenaz does an excellent job of sharing cultural diversity through a variety of experiences, but slightly hidden behind the main focus is the heritage of Ashkenaz itself, which lies in its inception and legacy. Although it is spilling over with symbols of this, the meaning may not be apparent to all. This tour allows people to experience the richness of the place in addition to the culture it encourages. The focus incorporates music, but showcases the other themes of education, community and history of political activism.
Beginning the tour outside shows how the building was remodeled based on synagogues in Europe so the founder, David Nadel, could show his connection to his Jewish ancestry. The name “Ashkenaz” has the same origin and visitors are able to read David’s handwritten notes about this as they enter the building.
Moving into the venue guests experience the energy and passion behind the political activism in Berkeley during the 1970s, following David’s journey promoting peace and human rights. The original protest posters covering the walls recall many events, including his tireless presence in People’s Park advocating for the homeless. These actions in the name of peace resulted in multiple arrests and a lawsuit filed against him by the University of California. But they also resulted in great honors; David was gifted a flag from Cesar Chavez’s coffin and later the Cesar Chavez Legacy Award. Including background noise from protests, jail doors slamming shut, or hammering of judges’ gavels all help visitors grasp the power of these moments.
Throughout the tour, references showcasing impact on the community are present in the memorabilia, including documents dedicating Ashkenaz an official landmark, designating David Nadel Week and multiple magazine covers awarding Ashkenaz. Adding audio excerpts from dance classes and musicians intensify personal feelings and augment the community involvement that has always occurred here.
Beyond the main room, visitors may enter the band room if it is open to explore photographs and personal marks left by countless musicians. As they loop back, guests learn the dance floor is made of discarded pencils from a local lumber company and multiple gifts from artists show sentiments from the community. Heading towards the exit, the café provides food and drinks. The menu is always vegetarian, but everyone should be warned the culturally diverse homemade cuisine changes frequently.
Caution is advised in mentioning David’s death; visitors must be assured safety but also informed of this important moment. Overall, an interactive self-guided audio tour enhances experiences by educating history, political activism, and community involvement through our five senses. Additional visitation to the café will increase income as will the purchase of the tour, likely paying for itself at a download cost of one dollar. It affords Ashkenaz a wider audience, offering a multi-sensorial experience to those who may not want to dance and appealing to those intrigued by history. Finally, this tour should be offered as a simple audio file, requiring no specific device, making it more appealing to audiences not savvy with technology.
As a result of Ashkenaz’s drive for cultural variation and a sense of community, the venue has become popular with people from many different backgrounds, ethnicities and ages. In order to further their efforts in community development and education, a large pin board wall inside the venue would give space for the visitors to express their insight, memories and stories of their time at Ashkenaz with each other and the staff.
Behind the main stage there is a hallway lined with old newspaper articles and maps, a space which could also incorporate an interactive installation in the form of a community memory pin board. Large panels of thick corkboard would create an area for visitors to respond to a weekly question or prompt pinned to the top of the board to initiate discussion. Each week would provide guests the opportunity to share a new piece of information about a range of topics posed; for example, positive changes at Ashkenaz, favorite memories of events, interesting information about the guest’s culture, or what they appreciate about the community that the venue has established. A table with note cards, pens and thumbtacks placed near the couch already situated towards the back wall will allow people an opportunity to sit and be creative about their responses. By the end of each week, the community would have created a wall together filled with stories and feedback from regular and new customers, hoping that the next week’s topic may interest them enough to come back to discover what else they can contribute or read from others.
This feature may appeal especially to long time visitors who can reminisce about their memories at Ashkenaz. The power of remembering special occasions cultivates a feeling of happiness for those who have been veteran visitors. Because Ashkenaz is particularly family friendly, this pin board will also give children an expressive project to even further enhance the family atmosphere.
The wall would also serve the managers of Ashkenaz as they would have an additional way for customers to provide feedback and maybe even obtain some new ideas for how the patrons envision Ashkenaz going forward. Staff would have an opportunity to elicit feedback from their visitors on any specific topics that seem pertinent to them.
Although this installation mainly engages the visual sense, there is also a sense of touch within the active writing and drawing process, connecting visitors to their expressive sides. The project can enhance the sustainability of Ashkenaz by attracting returning customers who now have the chance to feel more involved in the location, and with this renewed sense of belonging they will be able to feel more connected to its history by learning about old memories. This perception of social inclusion would aid in bringing patrons together within the community Ashkenaz is attempting to create. The information can enable changes that would increase the number of return visitors by further catering to their interests.
This interpretive project focuses on activities for children who visit Ashkenaz. The venue already hosts Sunday matinees geared towards children, but the creation of more pervasive and accessible games and activities would make
Ashkenaz a more enticing and accessible place
for young people in the Bay Area. These would,
out of necessity, be cost-effective and low-
maintenance to ensure sustainability, but could
still have a significant impact on children’s
cultural and affective development. This
interpretive project encompasses all four of our
themes of education, community, political
history, and music in various and intersectional ways: Through education and music, the plan seeks to create a passionate future for stakeholders by exposing them to Ashkenaz’s political history and engaging them with its present community.
Cost is a major factor for any and all projects Ashkenaz seeks to implement; as a nonprofit, Ashkenaz depends heavily on donations, especially from well-heeled “angel benefactors” to meet its expenses. Therefore, “analog” or technology-free ways to engage and educate children are not only the most financially feasible for Ashkenaz to implement but are also most in line with its ethos of embodied community. Activity sheets—incorporating word searches, coloring pages, and games centering around the venue and its political and artistic history—are cheap to reproduce in plentiful quantities and can be displayed in easy-to-reach places. These same sheets can include instructions for scavenger hunts to acquaint children with the venue, including tasks such as counting stained glass fixtures, finding the “Tofu Records” poster, or signing the visitor pin board. These activities require a minimum of adult supervision depending on the age of the child, and very little upkeep, making them sustainable in spite of any financial or bureaucratic challenges the venue faces.
Depending on volunteer availability and willingness, more involved, structured, and supervised activities for children could take place in Ashkenaz’s back studio during performances. These activities could include dance lessons and instruction about the kinds of music played at Ashkenaz but would not necessarily have to be limited to pure didacticism; merely having local children interact within Ashkenaz—which is, after all, a community center—would foster strong bonds between local children and the venue, even if they are just playing duck-duck-goose in the back room. Walking into Ashkenaz itself, one feels transported into a different age, and these activities seek to strengthen and elaborate on that embodied sensation. Education on the venue’s historical significance provide a context into which children can situate; playing games, enjoying music, and meeting friends provides them with a present and embodied connection that will allow the continued creation of historical significance.