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
Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

Upcoming Speaking Engagements: Week of October 17, 2016

Next week I’m heading to Washington, D.C for a couple of professional engagements. First up is the Smithsonian Affiliations Annual Conference. The conference runs from Monday, October 17 through Thursday, October 20. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Smithsonian Affiliations and our colleagues in Washington have put together an excellent conference schedule. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with colleagues, exchanging ideas, and learning fresh insights. Check out the conference agenda.

My responsibilities at the annual conference are twofold. First, I’ve had the pleasure of serving on the Smithsonian Affiliations Advisory Council for the past three years. On Monday, we will convene for our annual meeting. I’m very much looking forward to learning more about the developments with the Affiliates program, as well as doing my best to provide effect feedback. Additionally, on Tuesday at 9:30am, I have the pleasure of participating on a keynote panel entitled, Opening Session: Saluting our Past, Shaping our Future. During this time we’ll be sharing our work and experiences as part of the Affiliate network, while also exploring opportunities for future collaboration. If you can join us, swing by the Rasmuson Theater at the National Museum of the American Indian. Here’s a peek at what I’ll be discussing.

On Wednesday, October 19, I have the pleasure of serving on a panel presented by the Middle East Institute and the Institute for Immigration Research (IIR) at George Mason University. The panel, entitled The Art of Immigration: How Immigrant Artists Enrich America, also includes Huda Asfour (Musician & Composer), Anne-Marie McGranghan (UNHCR), and James Witte (George Mason University). Our discussion will explore 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.” Details on the panel, including info on registration, can be found here.

Hopefully I’ll see you in D.C.!

Continue Reading