From TV journalist to museum executive: Dr. Danielle Spera

For some people the transition from TV celebrity to a museum board room would be daunting; others would believe the transition to be impossible.

From TV journalist to museum executive: Dr. Danielle Spera

For some people the transition from TV celebrity to a museum board room would be daunting; others would believe the transition to be impossible. Dr Danielle Spera makes the shift sound as easy as a walk-in-the park. In an exclusive interview with the CEO of the Jewish Museum Vienna, Dr. Spera discussed the past and present mission of the Museum and her vision for its future.

Smart and Savvy

The former darling of Austrian television she has covered most of the world as a global news reporter, journalist and managing editor. She is also the co-founder of NU, a Jewish magazine for politics and culture. In her current c-suite position with the Jewish Museum Vienna, Spera searches the globe for what is new and noteworthy in Jewish arts and society and brings her international perspective to enhancing the experience of the Museum visitor.

Religious Beliefs vs. Military Strategy

There are few European cities with a history as closely connected with Jewish history as Vienna. At the beginning of the 20th century, the city included a Jewish population of approximately 190,000 people; as of May 1945 one-third were no longer alive.

Before 1938 the Austrian Jewish community had a visible presence and made significant contributions to the society. In Vienna there were 22 synagogues, over 50 houses of prayer, a Jewish museum, libraries, schools, hospitals, medical clinics, orphanages, sports clubs, Yiddish theatres, kosher kitchens, Zionist organizations, political associations, newspapers, journals and charitable organizations. However, by mid-March 1938, the Nazis and their supporters entered the country and expropriated all Austrian Jewish property, attacking anyone identified as Jewish. It was not until the war ended (1945), that the Austrian Jews were able to restart a viable life in the country. Today Austria is a thriving economic engine and the Jewish population is estimated between 7,400 and 9,000.

The Past as Prologue

The public and private sectors of Austrian society are keenly aware of its Jewish heritage and history and are actively engaged in chronicling the past while embracing the present of the Austrian Jewish population domestically and internationally.

Toward this end, the Jewish Museum Vienna (a company of Wien Holding) recently appointed Dr. Danielle Spera as Chief Executive Officer (November 15, 2013). The mission of the Museum is to promote a healthy communication between Jews and non-Jews on issues that are related to Jewish present and past. In her role as CEO, Dr. Spera calls upon her communication skills and personal charisma to present contemporary Jewish life against a historical landscape and share it with domestic and global visitors and scholars. Recognizing the significance of the Museums’ message, she is differentiating her target markets and developing new and creative programs and projects that are attracting both a younger audience as well as multi-cultural visitors to the Museums exhibits, lectures and programs.

Because of the global importance of her work she is connecting with other Jewish museums and memorials nationally and internationally as she seeks to broaden the message through a variety of distribution channels. In addition to the historical and cultural value of the Museum, she also views her programs and projects as a vehicle for increasing tourism to Vienna.

Getting to the Beginning

History has determined that the Jewish population moves from place-to-place, from city-to-city, first one country to another. The history of the Jewish Museum in Vienna reflects the itinerant nature of its focus. Vienna was the first city to open a museum dedicated to the study of the history of the Jewish people (1896). It was funded by the Society for the Collection and Preservation of Artistic and Historical Memorial of Jewry. The collection emphasized the history of Jews from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and included objects from Palestine. In 1938 the Anschluss by Nazi Germany forced the closure of the doors of the Talmud-Thora School/ Museum at its Leopoldstadt location. A small Jewish museum opened in 1964 and quickly closed three years later, due to lack of interest.

Finally in 1986, Mayor Helmut Zilk established the new Jewish Museum Vienna. The Foundation committee included representatives from the Austrian state, the City of Vienna, the Jewish Community in Vienna, the Vienna Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein. Under the management of Christian Cap, the museum was given the Max Berger and the IKG Collection.

The Judaica objects from Max Berger are considered to be world renown. Born in 1924 in Poland, Berger was the only member of his family to survive the holocaust. He arrived in Vienna in the 1950s and in memory of his family collected Judaica objects, primarily from Austria and the Austrio-Hungarian area. The IKG Collection is the largest preserved archive of any Jewish community. It comprises numerous sources on Shoah research on the history and development of the Jewish community in Vienna reaches back to the 17th century. In 1993 the Austrian collector Martin Schlaff presented his group of antisemitica to the Museum and it included 5000 objects from 1490 to 1946.

Exhibits

With the objective of presenting the past and present a 2011 exhibition focused on the Jewish Austrian contribution to the U.S. film industry. Current exhibits include Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait; Jewish Life and Death in World War I and Fabrics and Stories – Textiles from the Jewish Museum Collection.

The Jewish Museum Vienna is open Sunday – Friday (closed on Saturday). Dorotheergasse 11, 1010 Vienna, Austria. [email protected]

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