The Breman Gets New Director
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The Breman Gets New Director

After a nationwide search, the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum has tapped an Atlantan as its next executive director.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Photograph by Judy Ondrey
The Breman's new Director, Leslie Gordon
Photograph by Judy Ondrey The Breman's new Director, Leslie Gordon

After a nationwide search, the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum has tapped an Atlantan as its next executive director. Leslie Gordon, the director of the Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State University since 2003, will assume the top post at The Breman on Feb. 4.

She succeeds Ghila Sanders, who has served as the Breman’s acting executive director since June 2017, following the resignation of Aaron Berger, who held the post for 5 1/2 years.

“I hope to build on the great foundation that’s already been laid” at The Breman, Gordon told the Atlanta Jewish Times.

Breman board chair Lori Shapiro said in a statement: “We are excited about Leslie’s proven leadership, her dynamism and her passion for the mission of The Breman. We were seeking an inspiring leader to bring the vision of a Jewish cultural center to life. Leslie deeply understands the potential of The Breman, and she has the vision and proven ability to lead us into the future.”

The Breman is home to a permanent exhibit on the Holocaust and the Weinberg Center for Holocaust Education, as well as the Cuba Family Archives for Southern Jewish History. In the past year, The Breman has hosted temporary exhibits on topics as diverse as the role of baseball in Jewish and minority communities and Iraqi Jewish heritage. The museum’s programming ranges from Jewish history tours of Atlanta to the Molly Blank Jewish Concert Series.

According to its annual report, the Breman Museum received 28,100 visitors in fiscal year 2018, an increase of 9.3 percent from the previous year.

Gordon takes the helm several months after the board approved a five-year strategic plan that calls for The Breman “to transition into a role as a cultural center and gathering place for the community, while retaining its primary role as the Southeast’s repository, caretaker, and storyteller of Jewish history, including the Holocaust.”

She said that she would like to see The Breman reach into corners of the Jewish community that may not utilize the museum and also attract non-Jewish Atlantans.

“I want to work with the board and staff to figure out how to make the most of the existing space while drawing in a broad cross section of the entire Atlanta population,” she said.

The challenges are evident from the 2016 Jewish community survey conducted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta in which 30 percent of respondents described themselves as being very familiar with The Breman, while 46 percent were somewhat familiar, and 19 percent not at all familiar.

Asked to rate The Breman, 41 percent gave it an excellent mark, 49 percent good, 7 percent fair, and 3 percent poor.

Gordon’s background fits with the desire to expand the museum’s cultural offerings.

She is a native of Savannah and grew up attending Congregation Bnai Brith Jacob, then led by Rabbi A.I. Rosenberg.

Gordon’s career in arts management began in 1985 as director of cultural affairs for the city of Savannah. She moved to Atlanta in 1992 as a producer of the Cultural Olympiad, four years of arts and cultural programming that preceded the 1996 Olympic Games.

Gordon was artistic director for the 1997 Arts Festival of Atlanta and served as manager of humanities and education for the National Black Arts Festival, developing programming for its 2000 and 2002 events.

“Under her leadership, the Rialto has evolved into a thriving international cultural center and a hub of multi-cultural activity,” The Breman’s statement said.

“It’s very hard to leave a place like Georgia State, where there’s so much innovation going on and a staff, many of whom you’ve worked with the entire time you’ve been there,” Gordon said.

Among the goals in the museum’s five-year plan is to “cultivate the community to financially invest in The Breman.”

The Breman’s operating budget for fiscal year 2018 was $1.385 million, according to its annual report.

On the revenue side, grants provided 39 percent of its funds, contributions and memberships 37 percent, endowment and restricted funds 16 percent, admissions and programs 7 percent, and other income 1 percent.

Archives and exhibitions accounted for 38 percent of The Breman’s expenses, education and programming 22 percent, administration 17 percent, rent and facility maintenance 14 percent, and development 9 percent.

The Breman is the largest tenant in the facility owned by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.

Having decided to maintain its headquarters in Midtown Atlanta, the Federation is considering options for the future of the three-acre site at Spring and 18th streets in terms of both renovation of the existing building and possible new construction.

The Breman would be a partner in any development project, said Federation president and CEO Eric Robbins.

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