Travelogue: Beirut, Lebanon

I just finished a four-day trip to Beirut, Lebanon for work. It was such an intense experience. My family immigrated from Lebanon about 100 years ago and this was my first time visiting the “homeland.” So, you can imagine my excitement leading up to the trip. This excitement grew tenfold during the plane’s descent into the city, which offered stunning views of snowcapped mountains and a beautiful Mediterranean shoreline. Despite the short stay, I explored and experienced many great things in this amazing, cosmopolitan city.

The purpose of the visit was to meet with Beirut-based arts organizations and to explore potential collaboration. The four organizations we meet with – Zico House, the Arab Image Foundation, Beirut Art Center, and Ashkal Alwan – are all pioneers within their areas of art production, documentation, and presentation. Each organization has inspiring and visionary leaders, which leaves me very optimistic about the possibility of working with these institutions in the future. There is much work to be done in documenting and further developing art production and appreciation within the Arab diaspora.

In addition to the meetings, we (I traveled with a colleague) spent a great amount of time exploring the city. Beirut is an amazing juxtaposition, in so many ways. One of my favorite things to do when visiting a new city is to explore it by foot. Speaking to this, we logged numerous miles each day trekking from neighborhood to neighborhood. Some highlights include walking the Corniche and viewing Pigeon Rocks from Raouche; visiting Saint George Maronite Cathedral; standing in Martyr’s Square while watching the memorial service for Rafic Hariri on the seventh anniversary of his assassination; discovering Roman ruins, which included baths, a cardo maximus and colonnade in the central business district; walking through the beautiful campus at the American University of Beirut; experiencing the amazing architecture and diversity of the numerous religious institutions downtown; spending time in the monumental Nejmeh Square; and learning about the city’s archaeological past in the crypt museum at the St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

In hindsight, walking is really the only way to experience Beirut. Cabbies will summon you with “Taxi! Taxi!” on every street corner. However, despite the lack of public transportation and the thrill of a hair-raising jaunt through the city’s congested streets in an overpriced cab, I recommend only riding in a taxi when traveling longer distances (two miles or more). Otherwise, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to truly appreciate Beirut.

I also enjoyed exploring the Lebanese culture through food. I had the pleasure of dining at local institutions, including Cafe Younes in Hamra, Le Chef in Gemmayzeh and Falafel Sahyoun in Ras El-Nabeh (the latter two were featured on Anthony Bourdain’s return trip to Beirut). A breakfast of freshly baked menaeesh from a corner vendor is a must; the zaatar spice mixture is simply amazing. Bliss Street near the AUB campus offers many cheap but delicious restaurants including Food 101 and Zaatar w Zeit. And then there are the numerous sweet shops offering delectable treats! And, last but not least, there is Tawlet at Souk el Tayeb. This restaurant is an open kitchen where each day a local producer/cook prepares typical food from his/her region. Suzanne Doueihy and her husband Sarkis served an amaging Zgharta-influenced meal that included kebbeh nayeh, kebbeh bassalieh, batata mehshieh, moujaddara bi loubieh, el’ass bi toum and maamoul mad bi loz. Tawlet is not to be missed when visiting Beirut.

I really hope I’ll have the opportunity to return to Lebanon sometime soon. In addition to a more in-depth exploration of Beirut, I want to get out of the city to visit Jbeil (Byblos), Tripoli, Tyre, and Baalbek, as well as Hasroun (my family’s village) and Al-Arz (The Cedars) in the mountains. So much to see and experience in this small country…Here are a few iPhone pix I took during my stay. Stay tuned for more pictures from the trip.

Travel references: my map and Foursquare list for Beirut

Pigeon Rocks at Raouche
Pigeon Rocks at Raouche
Nejmeh Square
Nejmeh Square
Roman Columns
Roman Columns
Rafic Hariri Memorial
Rafic Hariri Memorial
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Reflections from the Americans All: The Immigration/Migration Initiative Meeting

This past week I had the opportunity to participate in a two-day meeting at the Smithsonian to discuss and examine a new project called the Americans All: The Immigration/Migration Initiative. This is a new Smithsonian-wide project that brings together museums and research centers to document and interpret the history and culture of immigration and migration in the United States. The meeting included representatives from Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Ellis Island Foundation, Institute of Texan Cultures, Japanese American National Museum, National Museum of American Jewish History, Plimoth Plantation, Senator John Heinz History Center, Western Reserve Historical Society, Arab American National Museum, as well as several departments from within the Smithsonian.

Over the course of the two-days, each organization was allotted time to present on relevant immigration projects, such as exhibits and public programs, that take place at their museum. I enjoyed learning how each institution adresses this important, and often controversial, topic. Although we’ve worked with some of these museums in the past, I think new and deeper collaboration will result from partnering on this initiative.

One important outcome of the meeting was to establish collaborative programming on immigration for the near future. The proposed ideas are being synthesized by project staff and will be re-distributed to the partners soon. I suspect a pilot program will launch sometime later this year, so keep an ear to the ground. In addition, the Smithsonian has bigger plans for the future that may include major programs and exhibits (perhaps in 2015/16).

I applaud the Smithsonian for addressing such an important and timely topic. Indeed, I think much is to be gained through this initiative and I suspect it will play an important role in helping to re-examine what it means to be American in the 21st century. If you’re interested in staying abreast of new developments with the project, then I recommend you “like” the Americans All: The Immigration/Migration Initiative Facebook page.

Here’s a copy of the presentation I delivered on Wednesday, January 25:

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“Little Syria” featured on PRI’s The World

The AANM’s Little Syria project is picking up steam. We’re wrapping up the RFP process with exhibit designers, our curatorial staff is conducting research and collecting objects for the forthcoming exhibit, and the media is covering the story. We’re off to a good start.

Be sure to like the Little Syria Exhibit Facebook page for updates on the project. Also, if you missed it, there was a story from PRI’s The World, titled Saving New York’s ‘Little Syria’, that was aired on National Public Radio earlier this week. Check it out!

Little Syria Exhibit on Facebook
Little Syria Exhibit on Facebook
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Before the Spring | 2011 Arab Film Festival

Looking for something fun to do this weekend? Come check out the annual Arab Film Festival at the Arab American National Museum. This year’s festival, Before The Spring: Alternative Arab Cinema from 2005 to Today, explores films that were produced leading up to the “Arab Spring.” The festival was curated by our friends at ArteEast. You can read more about the festival over at the HuffPost Detroit.

Screenshot of HuffPost Detroit
The 2011 Arab Film Festival on HuffPost Detroit
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Cultural Sensitivity in Museum Stewardship Presentation

Greetings to those visiting from the Registrars Committee of the American Association of Museums’ (RC-AAM) fourth International Registrars Symposium (IRS 2011). I’ve uploaded my presentation below. If you wish to continue the discussion from the conference, please contact me at dakmon[at]accesscommunity[dot]org. Thanks for visiting.

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Under The Radar

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Tom Daldin, host of public television’s Under The Radar (UTR). I love his show, which spotlights great places and things happening around Michigan. This particular episode focused on Dearborn. Thanks for including the Arab American National Museum! Check it out!

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Leveraging Technology to Attract, Engage & Educate Museum Visitors

Welcome to those I met earlier today at the Cultural Alliance of Southeastern Michigan’s annual meeting. It was a pleasure meeting many new people and I enjoyed discussing new ideas, initiatives and potential collaborations.

Here’s a copy of the presentation I delivered early today. If you have comments or questions, please feel free to leave a remark below or contact me through LinkedIn.

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2011 DIWAN: A Forum for the Arts

This weekend, the Arab American National Museum is hosting its fourth installation of DIWAN: A Forum for the Arts. We’re excited to be taking this biennial arts convening out of Michigan for the first time. This year we’re partnering with Alwan for the Arts, the Middle East and Middle East American Center (MEMEAC) at the City University of New York, and FEN Magazine to host the event in New York City. Similar to years past, there is a great roster of speakers presenting on timely and important subjects.

DIWAN unites Arab American artists, scholars and performers representing myriad academic fields and artistic genres. The conference affords a safe space to discuss topics and issues affecting the community of artists while also fostering an open environment conducive to networking and community building. Most importantly, the presentations shed light on what’s new in the world of Arab American art while creating a greater awareness for the artists and their artwork.

I’ve been involved with DIWAN since it’s inception. I’ve had the honor and pleasure of moderating a panel at all four conferences. This year I will be moderating the session, The Stories We Tell: Arab Americans convey their truth through emerging mediums of installation art, film and the graphic novel. I’m looking forward to working with a great group of presenters and I expect nothing less than another inspiring and informative conference.

It’s really quite amazing how big we’ve grown this grassroots conference in five short years. Working on this project is definitely one of the highlights of my job at the AANM. If you’re in New York this weekend (March 25-26), be sure to stop by the CUNY Graduate Center, which is where the conference will be taking place. Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention it’s FREE. Yes, we are all about being open and accessible to the public.

Also, be sure to check out the schedule and peep some photos from the 2007 and 2009 conferences. We’ve also published the audio and video of sessions from the 2009 conference on our iTunes U site. Hope to see you there this weekend!

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Inspired by Freedom Riders

Earlier today, the Arab American National Museum participated in the National Youth Summit held at the National Museum of American History to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Freedom Rides. The AANM was one of five Smithsonian Affiliate sites that hosted a regional town hall discussion in conjunction with the event. The other sites included The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama; The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio; Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, California.

The regional town hall at the AANM brought together four local schools and two veterans of the Freedom Rides. Prior to their visit to the Museum, the students watched advance copies of the new documentary Freedom Riders by filmmaker Stanley Nelson (American Experience/PBS). Today the students electronically joined others from across the country for the National Youth Summit. Many renowned activists participated in the program and their message of justice and equality through nonviolent protest inspired us all.

Here are some photos I took of the program at the AANM. The pictures show Reverend Richard Gleason on the left and Reverend Gordon Negen on the right. Although their experiences participating in the Freedom Rides were quite different, both shared inspiring and heartfelt stories.

As an aside, you can catch an advance screening of the new documentary tomorrow evening at the AANM. Freedom Riders will not premier on PBS until May. Additionally, we will have a Q&A session following the screening with Reverend Richard Gleason and John Hardy. Be sure to join us!

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Coming Soon: World Museum Book Collection

Gregory Chamberlain and Museum Identity are publishing a promising collection of books that will explore timely issues and trends from within the global museum community. This nine volume collection includes chapters written by over one hundred museum professionals from seventeen countries. That’s pretty impressive!

The nine books that comprise the collection are:

  • The Radical Museum: democracy, dialogue & debate
  • Museums and Meaning: idiosyncrasy, individuality and identity
  • Meaning Making & Storytelling: engaging visitors, empowering discovery and igniting debate
  • Museums Fighting Human Rights
  • Greener Museums: sustainability, society and public engagement
  • Museums Forward: social media, broadcasting and the web
  • Museum Learning: knowledge, ideas and inspiration
  • Interactive Galleries: digital technology, handheld interpretation and new media
  • Museum Public: audience development, brand identity and marketing strategies

The chapter I contributed, Connecting Communities: Dispelling Stereotypes and Building Community History, will be featured in The Radical Museum: democracy, dialogue & debate, which will be published in January 2011. To learn more about the books and to order your copy, visit Museum Identity.

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