TAKREEM Award for Cultural Excellence

On Saturday, November 25, 2017, the Arab American National Museum was honored with a TAKREEM award for Cultural Excellence in Amman, Jordan. TAKREEM, founded in 2009, aims to “honor Arab’s accomplishments and bring Arab achievers to the forefront of the globe stage, defying the negative perceptions that have plagued the region and becoming a source of inspiration to the Arab youth in their search for role models.” We are honored and humbled to be a TAKREEM 2017 laureate. This prestigious award for cultural excellence is a testament to the hard work and vast contributions of all those who support the mission of AANM. It’s incredibly inspiring to know our work is being recognized abroad and across the Arab diaspora.

TAKREEM Awardees with HM Queen Noor
TAKREEM Awardees with HM Queen Noor
Accepting the award for Cultural Excellence
Accepting the award for Cultural Excellence

In attendance for the award ceremony at The Crystal Palace was HM Queen Noor Al Hussein, members of The Hashemite Royal Family, and more than 1000 invites from different parts of the world. (Read more about the event at The Jordan Times: Arab success stories celebrated at TAKREEM awards). In addition to AANM, the following laureates were recognized for their achievements:

  • Mr. Ghanim Al-Muftah – Qatar for the Young Entrepreneur Award
  • Jusoor – Syria for the Humanitarian and Civic Services Award
  • Mrs. Maali Alasousi – Kuwait for the Outstanding Arab Woman Award
  • Dr. Nahla Hwalla – Lebanon for the Excellence in Education Award
  • Ms. Sarah Toumi – Tunisia for the Environmental Development and Sustainability Award
  • Dr. Zohair Al Halees – KSA for the Scientific and Technological Achievement Award
  • Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture – USA for the International Contribution to Arab Society Award
  • Mr. Raymond Debbané – Lebanon for the Corporate Leadership Award
TAKREEM 2017 Award Ceremony in Amman, Jordan
TAKREEM 2017 Award Ceremony in Amman, Jordan

Additionally, HRH Prince Sultan bin Salman (KSA) and Mrs. Melek El Nimer (Turkey) received a Special Distinction Award, and Mr. Maroun Semaan (Lebanon) was posthumously bestowed a Lifetime Achievement Award. The “Legacy Award” was given for the first time to the memory of HM King Hussein bin Talal.

The TAKREEM 2017 Jury Board was composed of Dr. Nouha Alhegelan, HE Dr Lakhdar Brahimi, Mr. Samir Brikho, Mr. Carlos Ghosn, Mr. Marc Levy, Dr. Akef Maghraby, Lady Hayat Palumbo, HE Sheikha Paula Al Sabah, Dr. Ahmed Heikal, Mr. Issa Abu-Issa, Mrs Nora Joumblatt, HE Sheikha Hala Al Khalifa, Mr. Riad Al-Sadik, Mr. Raja Sidawi, HRH Princess Alia Tabbaa and Sheikh Saleh Al-Turki.

The TAKREEM 2017 Honorary Board was presided by HM Queen Noor Al-Hussein and includes HE Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, HE Dr. Farouk Hosny, Dr. Suad Juffali, HE Sheikha Mai Al Khalifa, HRH Princess Banderi AlFaisal, Mr. Samer Khoury, Mrs. Latifa Kosta, HE Dr. Amre Moussa and HE Dr. Leila Sharaf.

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Busy Week of Conference Presentations & Events

An incredibly busy week has come to an end. To kick things off, Independent Sector hosted its 2017 conference, Our Common Future, in Detroit. In addition to completing my American Express NGen Fellowship, I had the pleasure of hosting a the Detroit Inside And Out: Refugees And Immigration Tour at the Arab American National Museum as part of the conference program. Much gratitude to the forty people who choose to spend their morning learning about the museum and the local Arab American community.

Detroit Inside And Out: Refugees And Immigration Tour

It’s hard to believe that our eleven-month NGen Fellowship has come to an end. More than anything, I am most grateful for having met and grown with such a great group of young nonprofit leaders. I’ve been inspired by their work, impressed by their individual accomplishments, and touched by the genuine friendships that have been fostered through the program. By far, this has been one of the most rewarding experiences thanks to my NGen colleagues. I’m looking forward to remaining in touch with the crew and watching their careers evolve. So much will become of my peers!

Photo of the 2016-17 American Express NGen Fellows
2016-17 American Express NGen Fellows

Immediately following the conference, AANM hosted its signature annual gala at the Westin Book Cadillac in Detroit. The museum’s annual gala is the largest source of unrestricted income to help sustain educational programs. The phrase “thank you” seems wholly inadequate when I consider our supporters; the inspiring work of the Friends of the AANM Committee, who curated every detail of the program; and the life-giving support of foundations, corporations and individuals who made this event possible and fuel the museum’s work all year long. I am indebted to Friends Committee co-chairs Rajaa Saksouk and Raghad Farah, and the stellar group of accomplished, creative women who produced this elegant evening. Each one demonstrates excellence, dedication and service, and represents the best of what our community can be.

To end the busy week, I was honored to participate in the Grantmakers in the Arts’ Legacy & Leadership conference, which was also held in Detroit. I had the honor of serving as one of three plenary speakers who kicked off the conference as part of IDEA LAB—inspiration from individuals creating the work in the community. A tremendous amount of gratitude for including the museum in the program!

Devon delivering a plenary talk at IDEA LAB
Delivering an IDEA LAB plenary at Grantmakers in the Arts.
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Yalla Eat! Program Featured On NPR

The Arab American National Museum’s Yalla Eat! culinary program was recently featured on NPR’s The Salt. We’re incredibly honored our work is garnering national coverage. The tour is a key component of our institution’s work towards embedding museum experiences into the local community; dispelling stereotypes and misconceptions about Arab Americans; and working with the community to tell our story. Read on!

Unlike most museums, the Yalla Eat! tours take people outside of the building and into the community. People who are unfamiliar with Arab cuisine and culture can talk with business owners about their experiences and the products they sell.

Now in its fourth year, the museum’s Yalla Eat! (“Come on, Eat!”) food tours have spiked in popularity.

Screenshot of Yalla Eat! on NPR's The Salt
Yalla Eat! on NPR’s The Salt
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Epicenter X: Saudi Contemporary Art

This past week, the Arab American National Museum opened a new exhibition entitled Epicenter X: Saudi Contemporary Art. Epicenter X represents the first exhibition of its kind from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to appear in Michigan.

Epicenter X explores contemporary Saudi culture by promoting meaningful dialogue between Saudi artists and U.S. audiences. Furthermore, the exhibition sheds light on the vast diversity of contemporary artistic practice in Saudi Arabia. Cutting through the political discourse of media outlets and government officials, the artworks featured in this exhibition open doors to the lives of the Saudi people. In doing so, this presentation will challenge common views and stereotypes of Arab culture by lending voice to artists exploring poignant ideas centered on urbanization, globalization, religion and the impact of American popular culture in Saudi society.

A variety of works in diverse mediums by both established and emerging artists are featured in the exhibition. Highlights include works by current AANM resident artist, Ayman Yossri Daydban; Abdulnasser Gharem’s Men at Work I-IV; Qamar Abdulmalik’s Asylum of Dreams installation; Ahmad Angawi’s Wijha 2:148; and Yusef Alahmad and Josh Higgins’ Ahlan wa Sahlan. Also featured in Epicenter X are two contemporary Qut murals (on display in The Annex) created in the age-old traditional style of house-painting by skilled female artisans from southwestern Saudi Arabia.

The exhibition has been garnering lots of media hits. Here is some coverage from the Associated Press, Stateside on Michigan Radio, Hour Detroit, Middle East Eye, and Al Arabiya.

A digital copy of the exhibition catalogue can be found online. Catalogues and exhibition posters are available for free within the museum. Epicenter X is on display through October 1, 2017.

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Keynote at National Council on Public History’s Annual Meeting

A big thanks to the National Council on Public History for inviting me to deliver the keynote address at the organization’s annual meeting in Indianapolis last weekend. It was great connecting with colleagues from across the nation to explore the many ways public history enriches our society. And, a big thanks to those who woke early to attend my talk.

I would also like to give a big shout out to the conference attendees who stroked my ego ( ??? ) by providing great feedback via Twitter. Seriously, though, this was my first major keynote and I appreciate the encouragement!

Screenshot of Twitter Feedback

Up next, I’m looking forward to presenting the work of the Arab American National Museum at the American Alliance of Museum’s (AAM) annual conference in St. Louis. Our session, Interpreting Oppression: An Uncomfortable Opportunity, is on Monday, May at 8 from 1:30 to 2:45pm. If you’re in STL, then please join us!

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2016-17 American Express NGen Fellowship

I’m very honored to have been selected to join such a talented and accomplished cohort of twelve nonprofit professionals taking part in the 2016-17 American Express NGen Fellows Program with the Independent Sector. Involvement within the fellowship program provides space for self-reflection, intellectual growth, and ongoing professional development. The program runs from November 2016 – October 2017, which began last year during the IS annual conference in Washington, D.C. I’m really looking forward to learning, sharing, and growing with this talented group of leaders.

The NGen Fellows, 12 outstanding charitable sector leaders aged 40 or under, are selected each year to participate in a range of activities that deepen their individual capabilities, expand their collective knowledge, and grow their professional networks. This selective fellowship program continues to build the next generation of charitable leaders as part of IS’ NGen: Moving Nonprofit Leaders from Next to Now initiative.

To honor eight years of the NGen Fellows Program, Independent Sector will officially become a partner of the American Express Leadership Academy, an industry-defining program that has developed more than 2,500 global, nonprofit, and social purpose leaders. Current NGen Fellows and alumni will now be able to take full advantage of the Academy’s growing alumni network and development events.

Photo of the 2016-17 American Express NGen Fellows
2016-17 American Express NGen Fellows
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City/Cité: An Exchange on Urban Democracy

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to represent the Arab American National Museum at the City/Cité convening in Paris. It was an inspiring program and I was honored to be part of an incredibly talented delegation of professionals representing the US. In addition to sharing how the AANM works to uplift communities through arts & culture, I had the opportunity to meet with like-minded institutions in Paris to explore the potential for collaboration. This included the Cité Nationale de l’Histoire de l’Immigration and the Institut du Monde Arabe. I’m optimistic about the possibilities. Here’s more on the City/Cité program:

At a time where shockwaves of the Brexit and US elections extend to the other side of the Atlantic in a context of worldwide political crisis, City/Cité brings together researchers, policymakers, city architects, activists, artists, and journalists in a transatlantic dialogue on the past, present, and future of urban democracy.

After the 2015 launch of City/Cité in Chicago and before the next stage that will take place in Detroit in 2017, this Paris edition turns to the issue of “neighborhoods”. The two days of events at CentQuatre-Paris and Maison de la Poésie offer a space for exchange and reflection on ways to promote social inclusion and political participation in neighborhoods, and to identify best practices for social justice. Beyond the immediate objective of establishing an international network of artists, researchers, local figures, and activists, the project aims to create a Franco-American commission on urban development policy.

Advertisement for City/Cité in Paris
Advertisement for City/Cité in Paris

I need to express my heartfelt gratitude to the French Embassy in the US for organizing City/Cité. Not only was it an insightful program, but it also served to foster stronger relationships among the participants. I’m very much looking forward to the next installment of City/Cité, which will take place in Detroit in 2017.

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Interview with Monocle’s The Urbanist

One of the many great things about attending CityLab 2016 in Miami was the opportunity to speak with inspiring and talented leaders from across various professional fields. This included conversations with some great journalists, including the one I had with Megan Billings, Deputy Bureau Chief at Monocle. I’m a big fan of Monocle magazine and I enjoyed speaking with Ms. Billings about the work of the Arab American National Museum. The interview was published by Monocle’s The Urbanist podcast (episode 265).

screenshot of The Urbanist podcast, episode 265
The Urbanist podcast, episode 265
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Sharing Our Innovative Work at CityLab 2016

I’m immensely excited to be in Miami for CityLab 2016. Over the next few days, attendees will explore both challenges and innovative approaches to creating more sustainable and vibrant cities. I have the honor of serving on a breakout session on Monday, October 24 called Community Building with Arts and Culture. Moderated by Sammy Hoi, president of the Maryland Institute College of Art, the panel will also include Franklin Sirmans, director of the Perez Art Museum Miami; and Joe Robertson and Joe Murphy, founders and artistic directors of The Good Chance Theatre. I am humbled to be joined by such a distinguished list of presenters.

Here is the summary overview of our panel:

Two top museum directors working in diverse and, at times, divided cities, will explore the power of the arts to break down division and foster community, particularly across racial and ethnic lines. Franklin Sirmans of Miami’s Perez Art Museum and Devon Akmon of the Arab American National Museum will share strategies for how to use art as a lever for cross-cultural dialogue, They will be joined by Joe Robertson and Joe Murphy of the Good Chance Calais, a pro bono theater company which these two young British playwrights started in the infamous Calais Jungle refugee camp. Despite lacking plumbing, roofs over their heads, or much to eat, refugees from a host of nations came together under the Good Chance tenet and made art. In this session, inspiring anecdotes and clear cut strategic advice will be shared with a common goal of helping participants to reflect on how art connects us, highlighting our common humanity.

CityLab is presented by The Atlantic, in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies and The Aspen Institute. The event is officially described as:

Dedicated to highlighting innovation and effective practices in urban governance, CityLab gathers the world’s most creative mayors and city practitioners with artists, academics, funders, and other public and private sector leaders focused on improving cities and spreading urban strategies that work.

Follow the discussion online with the Twitter hashtag #CityLabMIA.

CityLab Brochure

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Panel Presentations in Washington, DC (Oct. 18/19, 2016)

2016 Smithsonian Affiliations Annual Conference
Opening Session: Saluting our Past, Shaping our Future
October 18, 2016 at the Rasmuson Theater, National Museum of the American Indian

  • Moderated by Harold A. Closter, Director, Smithsonian Affiliations
  • Devon Akmon, Director, Arab American National Museum
  • Sarah Holbrooke, Executive Director, The Pinhead Institute
  • Allyson Nakamoto, Director of Education, Japanese American National Museum
  • Jose Santamaria, Executive Director, Tellus Science Museum

Affiliate partnerships can be enriching and occasionally transforming. What have we learned from 20 years of experimentation and collaboration, and what do we envision for the future? Four Smithsonian colleagues offer their keynote insights into the power of partnership and the ways in which working together has benefitted their organization and community, while helping the Smithsonian fulfill its national outreach mission.


Middle East Institute and the Institute for Immigration Research (IIR) at George Mason University

The Art of Immigration: How Immigrant Artists Enrich America
October 19, 2016 at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

  • Moderated by Monica Gomez-Isaac, Executive Director at the Institute for Immigration Research (IIR), George Mason University
  • Devon Akmon, Director, Arab American National Museum
  • Huda Asfour, Musician & Composer and Co-Founder of the DC Palestinian Film and Arts Festival
  • Anne-Marie McGranghan, Resettlement Officer, UNHCR
  • James Witte, Director, Center for Social Science Research (CSSR) and Research Director, Institute for Immigration Research (IIR), George Mason University

A discussion about the social, cultural, and economic impact of immigrant artists on U.S. society, the infrastructure available to support the integration of immigrant artists, and the personal transformations they undergo as they adapt to their new homeland.

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