Women of Valor


Life Not Death in Venice

Barbara Myerhoff, 1935 - 1985

In 1980 Myerhoff organized the 'Life not Death in Venice' art and cultural festival at USC, "where the elderly and their art works, and scholars and artists who had worked in the same Eastern European cultural traditions, were brought togehter. The older people served as docents to their art works, and their life histories, collected by students, were presented along with the art."

With the attraction of the festival's "rather glamorous" evening events that included celebrities like Isaac Bashevis Singer, audiences viewing the art were "large, enthusiastic, and heterogeneous. Many were young people who were astonished at finding themselves for the first time among so many old people. 'I never dreamt they had so much energy!' was a commonly heard remark....' Grandma, you never told me you could draw!' 'You never asked', was the reply....

"The visibility we had hoped for allowed us to present the exhibition and celebration as a model, adaptable to people of any cultural group. There is no doubt that there are ethnic elderly people all over America, waiting to be asked, to be discovered, whose art works sit on boxes in the cellar, in trunks, in the attic, whose poems are jammed in drawers, whose reminiscences need to find a witness, a receiver, so that they may complete the interchage that is requisite to all cultural transmission."

  1. First paragraph quote from Barbara, Myerhoff, "‘Life Not Death in Venice’: Its Second Life," Remembered Lives: the Work of Ritual, Storytelling, and Growing Older, ed. Marc Kaminsky (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992) 262.
  2. Second and third paragraph quotes from Barbara, Myerhoff, "Surviving Stories," Remembered Lives: the Work of Ritual, Storytelling, and Growing Older, 300.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Barbara Myerhoff - Life Not Death in Venice." (Viewed on April 24, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/myerhoff/life-not-death-in-venice>.