Photos from Amnon Weinstein's violin restoration workshop in Tel Aviv will be on display in the Bay Area as part of "Violins of Hope." (Courtesy Amnon Weinstein)
Photos from Amnon Weinstein's violin restoration workshop in Tel Aviv will be on display in the Bay Area as part of "Violins of Hope." (Courtesy Amnon Weinstein)

Exhibit of Holocaust violins tells story of music as protest

Curator Lisa Coscino isn’t taking anything for granted.

She’s aware that people who stop by her Violins of Hope exhibit at the War Memorial Veterans Building in San Francisco might not know much about the Holocaust. They may not understand what the instruments on display went through, or why they are symbols of resilience.

That’s why she’s tying the story of these violins to a larger story: Music as protest. The exhibit and an associated app will help visitors learn more about the Holocaust as well as the role music plays as a catalyst and messenger for hope.

“A Journey of Heroism, Healing and Humanity” will run Jan. 17–March 13 at the War Memorial building in a free, public space, the Veterans Gallery.

It’s one of three exhibits being held in conjunction with the eight-week visit to the Bay Area of the traveling production Violins of Hope.

The gallery will display 24 of the 51 string instruments coming to the Bay Area, along with their stories, and Coscino has created an app that will guide visitors through the exhibit and expand on those stories through music, visuals and text.

Lisa Coscino, curator of “A Journey of Heroism, Healing and Humanity.”
Lisa Coscino, curator of “A Journey of Heroism, Healing and Humanity.”

Of the more than 20 locations that have hosted Violins of Hope since its 2008 debut, only the Bay Area has created such an app, according to Coscino.

“It’s filled with all sorts of supplemental information that we didn’t have room to put in the exhibit,” she said.

The free app is already available in the App Store for the iPhone and soon will be available for Android devices through Google Play.

Coscino said the idea of taking the exhibit beyond the walls of the real and into the virtual was born of both physical constraints — the gallery is small — and the reality of who will be coming through to see the violins.

“We’re in such a public building and people aren’t necessarily choosing to come to that exhibit, like you would in a museum,” she said. That meant the exhibit had to be relevant and interesting to people who might not know much about the Holocaust.

Screenshot from "Violins of Hope" app
Screenshot from “Violins of Hope” app

To that end, it offers people a chance to learn more about the stories of the violins, with links to music that was played on the instruments in concentration camps or to music of the European Jewish world.

The app also provides information about the history of protest music in the United States and invites interaction by asking visitors about the music that has moved them to acts of resistance. It also prompts users to think about how they respond to hate.

Unlike the physical exhibit, the app can come home with visitors. It will also link to an exhibit at the New Museum (NuMu) in Los Gatos on the workshop of Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein, the father-son duo who restore the violins.

In the Artists’ Studio,” which will run from Jan. 24 through April 26, is also curated by Coscino, executive director of the Pacific Art League in Palo Alto and former head of NuMu. Among other things, the exhibit will re-create the Weinsteins’ studio and highlight one historic instrument from the Violins of Hope collection.

A third exhibit — not curated by Coscino — is currently up and running at the Peninsula JCC in Foster City through Feb. 24. “The Weinsteins’ Workshop” presents Daniel Levin’s photography series documenting the details of the father and son’s restoration work in their Tel Aviv studio.

As a longtime curator and former art gallery owner, Coscino is a major proponent of the event exhibits, but even she has to admit that the heart of the story is the violins themselves.

“Despite our great storytelling, and the app, it’s the violins that will really be the best part,” Coscino said.

She said it’s incredibly moving to see instruments that, though built with fragile wood and glue, have nonetheless survived war and abuse to give voice to the stories of those who died and suffered in the Holocaust.

“The violins, we hope, will be the vehicle, the literal instrument, to keep these stories alive,” she said.

J. is a media sponsor of Violins of Hope SFBA.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.