Jewish Arts and Culture Highlights of 2021

CANVAS Staff

Detail of Marisa Baggett’s, “Are You Jewish,” Acrylic on canvas, 2021

We’ve heard lots of people bidding 2021 a not-so-fond farewell lately, and for many good reasons. But last year had highlights, and we should remind ourselves of all the remarkable creativity we witnessed. Despite the tumultuousness and uncertainty, the creative community kept us engaged, entertained, and hopeful. 
 
So we asked the directors of North America’s Jewish arts and culture networks (and CANVAS grantees) what they found most exciting in 2021. What follows is by no means comprehensive or conclusive; it’s merely our way of highlighting Jewish arts and culture projects you may have missed. 
 
At CANVAS, our premise has always been that the Jewish arts and culture space is exploding with creativity. We saw it in 2021, and we want you to see it too. We can’t wait to see what 2022 brings. And if you’re part of a Jewish arts and culture network, or an artists or writer inspired by Jewish themes, let us know what you’re up to!


Film

From “A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff.”

There were so many interesting Jewish-themed films in 2021. We particularly enjoyed the weird and wonderful A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff and the hilariously cringe-inducing Shiva Baby
 
Two more cool developments: the Jewish Film Institute launched its residency program and completion grants. And Jewish Story Partners continues its support for high-quality independent films with funding for feature-length docs on the Jewish experience. 


Multimedia

Noa Yekutieli. Behind the Front Yard, 2021. Manual paper-cutting, graphite, collage, embroidery.

Our friends at Asylum Arts facilitated Made in Contact: Collaboration in Times of Social Distancing, in which 30 Asylum alumni formed trios to exchange ideas and make new art—visual works, poetry, and short films. The result is an inspiring exploration of the Jewish concept of mutual responsibility, as well as demonstrating the CANVAS ideal of the power of networks.
 
Another inspiring project: Periphery, from the Ontario Jewish Archives and No Silence on Race, which invited Jews of color to share their stories. The project combines photography, documentary, and storytelling to explore their experience and identity. The exhibition is up in Toronto until March 20th.


Museums

Rosabel Rosalind. God Full of Compassion, 2019. Colored pencil, conte, and charcoal on paper.

With many CANVAS grantees as curators, The Jewish Museum of Maryland launched A Fence Around the Torah: Safety and Unsafety in Jewish Life, exploring how Jewish communities navigate the concepts. Compendium readers were also excited about the return of Experience Leonard Cohen, at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum until February 13, and the Jewish Museum’s The Hare with Amber Eyes, based on Edmund de Waal’s memoir of the same name.
 
One of the biggest Jewish arts and culture stories of 2021 has to be Philadelphia’s Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History. Generous supporters like Mitchell Morgan and Stuart Weitzman helped the institution emerge from Chapter 11; we’re looking forward to seeing what the WNMAJH does next.


Music

From The Golem.

The past year brought an abundance of music with Jewish motifs. One notable example is from our friends at Reboot, who brought us The Golem Rescored—new music for this fascinating silent film from Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips, and jazz drumming legend Scott Amendola. 
 
We also love Jeremiah Lockwood’s virtuosic Guitar Soli Chanukah Record and Nathan Salsburg’s Psalms (watch Salsburg in conversation with Reboot’s David Katznelson here). And check out Rabbi Ariel Root Wolpe’s uplifting Ruach Neshama, produced by new CANVAS grantee Rising Song.


Visual Art

David Chaim Smith’s Fountain of Wisdom

With fellow members of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), artists Rachel Schragis and Rebecca Katz created Unraveling Antisemitism, a clever flow chart that can serve as a tool for education, discussion, and organizing.

This year we were charmed by Jacqueline Kott-Wolle’s painting series Growing Up Jewish – Art & Storytelling, tracing the story of her North American Jewish family through five generations. Of course, the indomitable Gillian Laub delved into her own family history—and the current political turmoil—with her photography, collected in Family Matters.

Two notable projects from LABA fellows: Ava Sayaka Rosen is creating a Torah- and ecology-inspired Tarot deck. Maya Ciarrocchi’s haunting images were displayed all over New York City, including Times Square!

Finally, David Chaim Smith’s Fountain of Wisdom can also be considered a literary work: it combines a new English translation of the 13th century kabbalistic text with Chaim Smith’s own commentary and his intense, gorgeous illustrations.

Speaking of literary works: Our friends at the Jewish Book Council compiled their list of Jewish literary highlights from 2021.

With thanks to: 
Naomi Firestone-Teeter of Jewish Book Council
Josh Fleet of Hadar’s Rising Song Institute
Rebecca Guber of Asylum Arts
David Katznelson of Reboot.
Adam Langer of The Forward
Sam Mogelonsky of The Kultura Collective
Ronit Muszkatblit of LABA
Rotem Rozental of The Institute for Jewish Creativity of AJU
Chloe Sarbib of Alma.
Yona Verwer of Jewish Art Salon
Melissa Yaverbaum of Council of American Jewish Museums

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