What the Elimination of the NEA and NEH Means to Us

On March 16, President Donald J. Trump put forth his budget proposal and it calls for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), among other governmental agencies. These vital government programs have been pillars of cultural and intellectual production throughout our nation. Thousands of museums, libraries, and cultural institutions will be significantly impacted if these programs are eliminated.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act. This important piece of legislation established both the NEA and the NEH. Since their inception, these Endowments have played an essential role in helping cultural institutions make the arts and the humanities more accessible to all Americans. This includes giving voice and visibility to marginalized and underrepresented communities throughout our nation. The Arab American National Museum (AANM), our nation’s singular museum dedicated to the Arab American experience, has been one of the thousands of museums, libraries, and cultural institutions to benefit from this support.

Since its founding in May 2005, the AANM has been able to shine light on Arab Americans and their presence in our nation through multiple NEA and NEH grants. For example, support from the NEA has enabled the museum to present its biennial DIWAN: A Forum for the Arts. DIWAN is a national convening that has provided hundreds of artists and scholars a safe, welcoming environment in which to connect, exchange ideas, and document emerging trends in the creation of art. What’s more, DIWAN has played a pivotal role in the Museum’s effort to build community through the performing and visual arts. In addition to shedding light on the creative output of Arab Americans, DIWAN has fostered relationships that have led to new research, collaborations, exhibitions, and public programs.

The NEA has also been a supporter of the museum’s award-winning SURA Arts Academy. SURA helps middle school and high school students learn to interact with an increasingly diverse world through professional photography instruction. More importantly, it affords youth from low-income and immigrant communities the opportunity to engage with high-quality mentorship in an enriching environment outside the classroom, which is vital given the cuts to arts programs in our schools. In fact, this award-winning program has been so successful that it received a prestigious Coming Up Taller Award in 2008 for best after-school program from the President’s Committee on Arts and the Humanities.

Most recently, the AANM was awarded a planning grant from the NEH. This grant supports research to update the museum’s permanent exhibits. Specifically, this project is examining recent patterns of migration to the U.S. from the Arab world for the purpose of current and inclusive representation in the museum’s public programs, collections, and permanent exhibits. Museum staff are partnering with leading scholars to conduct community-based research with a representative selection of recent immigrant and refugee communities from across the country. Collectively, we will produce a compelling and inclusive portrait of Arab immigration to the U.S. from the 9/11 era until today.

These are but a few ways the NEA and NEH have impacted the Arab American National Museum’s programs, research, and exhibitions. Through this support, we have been fortunate to give voice to Arab Americans while placing our community’s stories in context with the larger American historical narrative. In short, the NEA and NEH have played a critical role in helping our institution provide accurate and reliable information on Arab Americans while working to build greater connectivity among all Americans.
Elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities would have a profound impact on not just Arab Americans, but thousands of communities big and small, urban and rural, throughout our nation. We urge Congress to take bold and immediate action to preserve both of these American institutions. We are a more vibrant and democratic society with their support.

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We Believe in America

A Joint Statement By The Arab American National Museum And Shangri La: A Museum Of Islamic Art, Culture & Design

We are American institutions of history, art, culture and conscience. Our collective missions speak broadly of the beautiful heritage and experiences of myriad and diverse peoples at home and abroad.

Our work aims to deepen our understanding of one another and our common humanity.

We believe that policies targeting refugees, immigrants, women, Native peoples, people of color, Arabs and Muslims do not reflect the moral courage and generosity of America – or its greatness. The true strength of our character is defined by our capacity for love and inclusivity, empathy and kinship.

We believe in America.

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Little Syria, NY at the Ellis Island Museum of Immigration

On October 1, 2016, the Arab American National Museum proudly opened the exhibition Little Syria, NY: An Immigrant Community’s Life & Legacy at our nation’s most storied institution on immigration, the Ellis Island Museum of Immigration. This exhibition presents the rich history of the earliest concentrated Arab immigrant community in the USA, placing the Arab American experience in context with the greater American immigrant narrative. I cannot think of a better time, or a better location, for this exhibition.

Nothing tells the “American story” like Ellis Island, and nothing tells the Arab immigrant story like Little Syria. At the time the Little Syria neighborhood was thriving in New York, “Greater Syria” itself consisted of modern-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine – and newly arrived Arab immigrants to New York exemplified this diversity. Choosing to exhibit Little Syria, NY in New York City, on the island where so many Arab immigrants first stepped foot on American soil, demonstrates a commitment and appreciation to our rich and contributory heritage.

At the same time, this exhibit embraces the American values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness despite one’s place of origin, beliefs, race or reasons for making the courageous decision to embark on a new journey and way of life.

This exhibition would not have been possible without the generous support of Arab Americans from across our nation. Many served as advisors, object donors, and financial donors. We are most grateful for their unwavering support.

Little Syria, NY will be on display through January 9, 2016. Over the course of the next three months, we anticipate over 300,000 visitors to the exhibit. We hope you will get a chance to visit.

For more on the exhibit, check out this wonderful article written by Associated Press journalist Jeff Karoub.

Through documents, artifacts and photos, the exhibition tells the story of a Middle Eastern community that once flourished in Lower Manhattan. The show is on view through Jan. 9 in the building where some 12 million immigrants from around the world first set foot in America. And it documents the vanished neighborhood of Little Syria in ways that still resonate, at a time when Syrian refugees and immigrant rights are making headlines.

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Museums and Libraries As Community Catalysts

How do museums and libraries catalyze communities? More specifically, how do they serve as “enablers of community vitality and co-creators of positive community change?” These are fundamental questions the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) is asking as part of the Community Catalyst Initiative. IMLS launched the initiative, in partnership with the William Penn Foundation and the Reinvestment Fund, in July 2016. On September 8–9, IMLS hosted around 70 museum and library professionals for a two-day Community Catalysts Town Hall in Philadelphia. The program invited attendees to reflect on how cultural institutions respond to challenges in their community, and how they work to improve the well-being of residents and the community at large.

Many topics were explored during the convening, including types of community well-being (e.g. economic, social connection, ethnic diversity), types of collaborations (leading vs. contributing vs. facilitating), and ways in which institutions understand the various needs of the communities they represent. However, what most piqued my interest was a discussion on institutional mindset; the philosophical underpinnings that make certain institutions better at implementing this type of community-based work.

It was mentioned repeatedly that museums and libraries are often perceived as trusted and neutral institutions. On one hand, trust in the foundation of all relationships. Trust between a cultural institution and its constituents is core to effective collaboration, especially those seeking to benefit a community. However, on the other hand, I question how an institution can truly catalyze a community if its intent on remaining neutral. To catalyze requires action and neutrality, by definition, affords inaction.

If cultural institutions are to become more effective catalysts, then staff must work to be more rooted in, and responsive to, the communities they serve. This is tough work. It requires working beyond the standard hours of operation. It requires knowing the needs of the community and how institutional assets can be leveraged to address the various needs. It requires continuous learning and improvement through both iterative and incremental approaches to program delivery.

I believe that our friends at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience in Seattle best articulate what is required to be successful through their institutional values:

People give us meaning and purpose.
Relationships are our foundation.
We desire community empowerment and ownership.

To do this, we have found the following:

The work is labor intensive.
The work requires flexibility.
We willingly relinquish control.

This is an incredibly bold philosophy for a cultural institution. It shifts the institutional mindset, disrupting traditional power imbalances, and is both empowering and responsive. It roots community at the center of the institution’s work. I wonder how more traditional cultural institutions can adapt to incorporate such an approach; one that is connected with community and reciprocating in terms of benefits.

Cultural institutions that seek to become greater catalysts could learn a lot from community organizers. In many ways, becoming a catalysts requires a community building mindset. We should learn from the grassroots approaches of these organizers to further our work.

I’m optimistic about the direction museums and libraries are heading. And, I’m grateful that funding agencies like the IMLS are pushing the field to think about the evolving positions of cultural institutions in their respective communities. I look forward to seeing what emerges from the Community Catalysts Initiative and I encourage IMLS to put forth greater resources to enable cultural institutions to explore this approach to their work.

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Featured in Hour Detroit Magazine

The Arab American National Museum was featured in the June 2015 edition of Hour Detroit. There’s a nice article on the museum’s tenth anniversary.

Creating Conversations: For 10 years, Dearborn’s Arab American National Museum has been telling the community’s unique stories

“It makes you optimistic about the future for this institution, no matter who is here,” Akmon says. “It’s our goal to continue to contribute and to continue to mold it to that next shape.”

An image of an article in Hour Detroit
AANM featured in Hour Detroit
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2015 Arab Film Festival + Cinetopia

The Arab American National Museum is excited to be presenting the 2015 Arab Film Festival as part of the award-winning Cinetopia International Film Festival. That’s right, a film festival within a film festival. We’re awfully creative. The 2015 Arab Film Festival is also an important program within the Arab American National Museum’s tenth anniversary year programming schedule.

Cinetopia began on June 5 at the Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit. We were pleased that one of our Arab Film Festival features served to kick off the festival program. That film was Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. Produced by Selma Hayek and featuring top talent such as Liam Neeson, this major film premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Our screening in Detroit is one of the first public screenings in the US. In fact, the opening night screening took place on the north lawn of the Detroit Institute of Arts. This animated film will have its official US debut in August. In addition to the screening at the DIA, we will also showing The Prophet in the Museum’s new Annex and at the historic Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor.

In sum, there are eight films as part of the Arab Film Festival. Other titles include the award-winning Wadjda – the first feature film from a female in Saudi Arabia – and Cherien Dabis’ May in the Summer.

There are five days left in the festival. Score yourself some tickets!

2015 Arab Film Festival Schedule
2015 Arab Film Festival Schedule

Extended media coverage:

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AANM’s Anniversary Featured in Metromode

Thanks to Aaron Mondry and Metromode Media for the coverage of the Arab American National Museum’s upcoming tenth anniversary.

Dearborn, Mich. has the highest concentration of Arab Americans in the United States. The Arab American News, the largest and oldest Arab American newspaper in the country, is published there. The city’s police chief, Ronald Haddad, is Arab American.

Without question, Dearborn is the center of Arab American culture.

It’s no surprise, then, that the preeminent museum dedicated to documenting and preserving the Arab American story is located in Dearborn. The Arab American National Museum (AANM), the only Smithsonian Affiliate in Southeast Michigan, will celebrate its ten year anniversary this May. As part of the milestone, the museum will roll out a year-long series of events and renovations.

Here is a link to the full article.

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Art X Detroit

The third biennial Art X Detroit returns on April 9. For the uninitiated:

Art X Detroit: Kresge Arts Experience (AXD) is a 10-day festival of dance, literary, musical & theatrical performances, film screenings, visual arts installations, workshops, panel discussions & interactive experiences. AXD presents works created by the 2013-2014 Kresge Eminent Artists and Artist Fellows. AXD will be hosted at multiple venues throughout Midtown Detroit’s Cultural Center over a three-week period in April & is FREE to the public.

AXD is presented by The Kresge Foundation and produced by Midtown Detroit, Inc. AXD partners include: Kresge Arts in Detroit, College for Creative Studies, Creative Many, and MOCAD.

Dates: April 9-12, 16-19, and 25-26.

The Arab American National Museum is proud to sponsor two events as part of AXD. We’ll be supporting the sessions Rola Nashef, The Director’s Cut on April 16 at the Detroit Film Theatre, and Poetry and Music from Iraq (featuring Dunya Mikhail) on April 25 at MOCAD. Both Rola and Dunya are amazing artists. Further, they are both involved with several Arab American National Museum programs, including DIWAN6: A Forum for the Arts, which will take place on May 8-9, 2015.

Flyer for Rola Nashef, The Director's Cut- AXD
Rola Nashef, The Director’s Cut- AXD
Flyer for Poetry and Music - AXD
Poetry and Music – AXD
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