Making Change: 100 Artists Interpret the Tzedakah Box


November 14, 1999 - January 23, 2000


Images, left to right: Nance O'Banion: House of Gifts, 1999; wood, wire and filon; Gayle Tanaka: Inside/Outside of the Box, 1999; mixed media.


The Contemporary Jewish Museum continued its fifteen year tradition of inviting contemporary artists to re-examine Jewish ritual objects with the exhibition Making Change: 100 Artists Interpret the Tzedakah Box. The subject of this invitational, the tzedakah box (or pushke in Yiddish) was a traditionally humble container found in synagogues, Jewish homes and institutions in which charitable donations are deposited. This ritual object was chosen because it represents a tradition which embodies community outreach, service and empowerment to others. Hebrew for "righteousness," tzedakah is the act of charity in Jewish culture and faith.

For Making Change, the CJM invited a diverse group of artists from all over the country - from a variety of cultural backgrounds, states of residence, perspectives and media - on one common criterion: their demonstrated commitment to work on community empowerment. The goal was to find artists who reveal the meaning and relevance of tzedakah today - not just for Jews, but for all people. Each artist was given the same directions, background information, and dimensional requirements. But the results were extraordinarily diverse: wooden boxes that can't be opened; precious silver wrapped as gifts; containers made of drinking straws, subway lamps, or rice; objects that rewarded you for making a deposit; and others you couldn't put money into if you tried. Although each work reflected an individualized concept, three fundamental approaches could be distilled. The first situated the tzedakah box as a site of memory, a marker of a specific time in a Jewish past. The second championed tzedakah itself, but also questioned its contemporary relevance. The last offered the box as a kinetic site of doing and acting - a catalyst for change. No box, however, could be limited to a single category; as with tzedakah, there is a great deal of conceptual intersection and fluidity. These works were not passive objects, but enlisted us to consider our part in the act of tzedakah, and mobilized us to make change. In the imagination of these artists, the ancient concept of tzedakah was put into action for a new millennium.

This exhibition was a fundraiser for the Museum's education programs and each tzedakah box was available for purchase. A special catalogue accompanied the exhibition, and was also available for purchase.


Making Change: 100 Artists Interpret the Tzedakah Box was organized by the Contemporary Jewish Museum. The exhibition was made possible by generous grants from the Richard N. & Rhoda H. Goldman Philanthropic Fund, the Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation, and Walter and Elise Haas Fund, with additional support from the Koret Foundation and OFFITBANK. The catalogue was made possible by a generous grant from The Frances K. and Theodore H. Geballe Supporting Foundation of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund. The Contemporary Jewish Museum is sponsored in part by a grant from Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund and is a beneficiary of the California Arts Council, Miriam and Peter Haas Fund, and the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties.


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