The Israel Postcard Mural at Park Avenue Synagogue:
Art Stimulates a Congregational Conversation
By Ellen Alt
As Artist in Residence at Park Avenue Synagogue, my job is to promote Jewish Visual Literacy through dynamic art experiences. I work with all departments to engage our multigeneration congregation in quality art opportunities in order to expand their creative experience and visual understanding.
During the course of 2018, Park Avenue Synagogue explored the theme “Telling Israel’s Story” through speakers, study, celebration, song and prayer. As a grand finale, 452 congregants participated in a multigenerational trip to Israel. Senior Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove attributed the enthusiastic response to the trip as signaling “the strong connection the congregation has to Israel, the vitality of the synagogue itself and the feeling that people want to experience Israel with other members” of Park Avenue, adding “You express your support – and your concern – by showing up.”
A number of questions arose in the planning and formation of the mural project:
- How do we celebrate such a dynamic and notable trip to Israel while including all members of the congregation?
- How can the artwork of all ages and abilities of participants come together into a high-quality art piece?
- How can we capitalize on Israel educational opportunities in order to create a multifaceted celebratory portrait of the country?
Our community built the mural like a mosaic. The modules were 4” x 6” postcards which were an inviting start and easy to transport. Workshops were run through each and every department, ensuring representative participation across the board.
Each department chose an aspect of Israel to learn about and was given resource pictures and specific art materials for their workshops. This ensured that postcards would vary in subject matter and artistic approach. This was also important so that groups engaged with age appropriate learning about Israel before creating their cards.
To unify the mural, the color palette was limited to blues, whites and silvers. This included the postcards themselves which were printed in six options: Israeli flag on white and blue, large 70 on white and blue and plain white and blue cards. Even though the colors were limited, the wide range of materials added to the rich textural quality.
Creating the mural was just the first phase of work. Once the mural was up, all congregants were invited to take selfie/photos and send them to communications to be posted on the Park Avenue Synagogue Facebook page. The selfie phase made sure that there was a second opportunity to participate in the project, and through social media the impact of this initiative reached a wider audience.
Themes and Materials:
Early Childhood Learning Center chose recycle as their theme and used sustainable materials, Young Family Education picked Israel symbols and used stickers, stencils and paint dots, Gan worked on the Israeli flag and used markers, First and Second grade chose food and animals and used markers and oil pastels. Third grade, trees with oil pastels, Fourth grade water sources and watercolor paint, Fifth grade picked places and used collage. Sixth grade chose the Army and collage, Seventh grade, cities and collage, High School chose popular culture and the High-Tech industry and used sharpies and Hebrew stencils. Families chose symbols and used stickers, and adults explored prayer and text and used printed quote labels and colored pencils.
The postcards were intentionally arranged in a mixed way (not by age or topic) to visually show the community as a whole and to emphasize the importance of our multigenerational celebration of Israel. The mural was displayed during a two-month period in a number of locations including the Educational Center, the sanctuary and the gym. This gave congregants the opportunity to encounter the mural several times through a variety of programming. The project was deemed a success by the enthusiasm of all the participating departments and congregants, by the positive comments from viewers and by the large number of selfies sent into the communications department. Due to the positive experience of this project, we are working on a plan for a photography project with the Jewish Lens that will also involve the whole congregation.
In 2004, the Park Avenue Synagogue established internationally known artist Ellen Alt as its artist-in-residence. Ms. Alt is both an exhibiting artist and experienced educator www.ellenalt.com, www.ellenaltjudaic.com, www.ellenaltcommunity.com. She works directly with the Young Family Education, Early Childhood Center, Congregational School, High School and the Adult Lifelong Learning Department to develop and institute dynamic, educational, creative and high-quality art programs.