Since its founding in 1984 as the Joseph Gallery under the leadership of Reva Godlove Kirschberg, z”l, the museum expanded to become the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum and was dedicated as the Dr. Bernard Heller Museum on September 6, 2018 with a naming gift from the Dr. Bernard Heller Foundation. The Museum has mounted over 150 exhibitions at our New York campus including seminal shows for emerging artists; surveys of leading mid-career and elder artists; cutting-edge exhibitions illuminating Jewish issues, including contemporary artistic responses to the Holocaust, the history of African-American and Jewish relations, the impact of family violence reflected in the works of contemporary Israeli and American women artists, the sexuality spectrum, home and homelessness, and the current environmental crisis; landmark exhibitions establishing new directions for contemporary Jewish ceremonial art; group exhibitions reflecting new interpretations of Biblical text; and exhibitions of significant private collections, reflecting Jewish identity and consciousness, which have advanced the definition of Jewish art in the 20th century.
It has published scores of exhibition catalogs that are accessible online and preserved in major art museums and university libraries worldwide. The Museum has organized more than thirty traveling exhibitions that are presented in Jewish museums, university art galleries, synagogues, and community centers that reach communities throughout North America and beyond each year. The Museum has developed an art collection of over 2,500 works spanning the 20th and 21st centuries. Docents lead adult and school groups throughout the year, and an internship program mentors highly qualified high school, college, and graduate students. During the course of the past 38 years, the Museum has offered powerful learning experiences for over a million visitors to our museum and to our traveling exhibitions.
The Museum’s exhibitions and publications are supported by George, z”l, and Mildred Weissman and presented by the Irma L. and Abram S. Croll Center for Jewish Learning and Culture.
The Museum is committed to educating the general public as well as the faculty, students, and staff of the College-Institute. It presents an array of cultural and educational programs, organized in conjunction with exhibitions, which disseminate Jewish history, culture, contemporary creativity, and foster interfaith and multicultural understanding. The Museum welcomes students and instructors from a broad spectrum of Jewish, public, and parochial schools, who benefit from customized docent-led tours of the Museum, as well as opportunities to meet with HUC-JIR faculty and students, attend student recitals, and visit the College-Institute’s Petrie Synagogue and Klau Library. The Museum seeks to strengthen audience development and attract diverse visitors, including school and adult groups, Jewish lay and professional leaders, interseminary students, the arts community, and the general public.