Jenny Kagan is an artist, friend of Holocaust Centre North and our new Chair. Her mother is Margaret Kagan, whose story is told in our permanent exhibition: Through Our Eyes, which Jen helped curate back in 2018. Earlier in the year we were lucky enough to travel to Kaunas in Lithuania, to see Jenny’s exhibition, Out of Darkness and witness Kauno Kantata, an immersive musical experience. Jenny’s interactive installations tell stories, with much of her work focusing on her parents’ survival in the Kaunas Ghetto during the Holocaust. Jenny realises the importance of telling these stories given their contemporary relevance and we are thrilled to have her on board, so we asked her a few questions about her new role.
Anna: You have been instrumental from the very beginning, with you being on the original curation team, how do you envision the space and organisation developing?
Jenny: “This really isn’t a question for me alone, but for the whole team. We have an exciting and eclectic mix of influences and experience both within the staff team and on the board. I see my role as chair in drawing those people together around our shared vision and finding the path forward that best fulfils our aims as an organisation and continues to develop the conversation about how the history of the holocaust can best feed into the lived experience of the community we serve. We have the huge benefit now of having the opportunity to learn from our visitors. I think there is a job of work to be done in assessing what works best in the current exhibition and where the gaps are in the experience and then we can explore the best way to fill those gaps. Our aim always must be to engage the audience emotionally – because it’s in engaging with people on that level that we can best hope to effect change.”
“On that note, we had aspirations when we first installed the exhibition for a series of more interactive elements in the exhibition. Time and resources meant that we were never able to develop these elements in the way that we’d hoped, and it would be great to have the opportunity to revisit that element of the exhibition. It’s also worth noting that in the 4 short years since the exhibition opened technology has moved on – and with it visitors expectations. It’s important to consider what that means and how we might be able to exploit the developments and respond to audiences changing relationship with technology in an exhibition environment.”
A: Your new position begins at the start of a new chapter for HCN (formerly The Holocaust Exhibition and Learning Centre, and forever rooted in the HSFA), what do you think this rebrand will offer?
J: “It certainly gives us an opening to be more ambitious, both in terms of reach and in terms of our activities. The more expansive branding is a clearer reflection of our activities now and our ambitions for the future. And the fact that the name is simpler to understand and easier to remember should make us more accessible to a greater audience. But despite the name change the heart of the mission remains the same.”
A: Your parents were both survivors, with your mother’s story being told in the exhibition. How do you think we can make connections between the Holocaust and contemporary genocides, displacement and conflicts?
J: “I think if we talk of the key issues that lie at the heart of the Holocaust story then the connections are intrinsically clear and vital. When we focus on the underpinning concerns it is impossible to miss the connections with our contemporary concerns. Horrifyingly Anti-semitism is on the rise. Increased polarisation, oppression of minorities, intolerance towards the other are not consigned to history as my parents hoped. By using these histories we can speak of the big issues we still face in the world today. For wide scale atrocities to take place it requires the invisibility of the personal experience. By putting our survivor’s stories front and centre we bring the personal into the sphere of the political and hopefully can encourage our audiences to view contemporary concerns through a different lens.”
A: Our living survivors provide tangible and unparalleled lived experience, a direct connection to the Holocaust. Organisations are thinking ahead, of how to maintain this level of intimacy, when survivors are no longer with us, is this something you have grappled with?
J: “It is. I believe the descendants of those survivors who founded this extraordinary organisation have a key role to play – which is why I’ve taken on this role. Among other activities I hope I can encourage other second, third and fourth generation members of the HSFA family to become more active in our mission and continue to keep the link to those founder members.”
A: Why is this resource important now?
J: “We are living in terrifyingly fragile times. The work we do – the stories we tell – the difference we can make, has never been more vital. If we can play a small part in keeping the stories alive, finding new audiences, developing new voices, then I hope we can be a force for good in a world desperately in need of one.”
A: What would you like people to reach out to HCN for? Are there areas you would like to establish or build upon, connections you’d like to make?
J: “I hope our intention to open the centre on a Sunday in the new year will open us up to whole new audiences. And as we talked about earlier, the work we do on the exhibition going forwards should be with a view to making it easier for people to really connect to the stories and to find the links to our lives today. I hope we will develop deeper connections with our future generations of survivor families, but I also hope we’ll find new ways to connect with this vibrant community we’re lucky enough to be a part of – both the wonderful multicultural community of West Yorkshire and the centre of learning excellence that is Huddersfield University. If we can truly connect to those three communities then that will give us a firm and vibrant base to build on our work and continue the conversation about what we can learn from the suffering endured and inflicted during the Holocaust.”
We would like to thank you for your dedicated and continued work and look forward to working together.