Almost Famous

Big ups to Eastern Michigan University for featuring me in the I am TRUEMU alumni campaign. Glad to see those grad school dollars are paying off!

Brand new TRUEMU light-post banners are going up around campus. There will be 100 banners featuring 62 alumni. Each EMU alumni choose an individual power statement and photo showcasing their success and career post graduation. This next phase of the TRUEMU marketing campaign, follows faculty and student campaigns.

 

TRUEMU Banner of Devon Akmon
TRUEMU Banner in Ypsilanti
Devon Akmon's picture on the TRUEMU campaign
TRUEMU
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Detroit Resurgent

Late last year I had the honor of being photographed by the noted French photographer Gilles Perrin for an exhibit called Detroit Resurgent. I am humbled and honored to be included in this exhibit, which is on display at the MSU Museum through January 2014. The exhibition will travel to Detroit and will be hosted at the MSU Detroit Center from May-December 2014. Here’s more on the exhibition:

Detroit Resurgent is an exhibition that runs from September 8, 2013 through January 12, 2014 and a book that will be released by the MSU Press in April 2014. Through photographic portraits, interviews, essays and poetry it demonstrates the vitality and humanity of the people of Detroit and provides a powerful counter-narrative to the vision of Detroit as a Rust Belt wasteland.

Portraits of the Motor City, the centerpiece of Detroit Resurgent, is based upon the MSU Museum’s commission of French photographer Gilles Perrin to make a series of portraits over a three-week period in 2012 and have Nicole Ewenczyk, his wife, record interviews with each subject.

Sixty-two portraits, sixty-four people in photographs and their own words. People from all walks of life, ages, and ethnicities; these are the people whose stories of vision, hope, frustration, joy, courage, and renewal represent the greatness of Detroit past, present, and future. These people are the ones who breathe life into an often-maligned and frequently misunderstood city.

Factory workers, autoworkers to business executives, artists, entrepreneurs, developers, community activists, union organizers, community bankers, social-justice advocates, urban farmers, cultural and political leaders, doctors and community health workers, lawyers, journalists, poets, musicians, educators, religious leaders, and steelworkers: these are the people of Detroit whose expansive humanity is poignantly captured through Gilles Perrin’s sensitive portraits and Nicole Ewenczyk’s insightful interviews. These are the people moving Detroit forward, remaking Detroit for the twenty-first century. These are the people of today’s Motor City.

An image of the Detroit Resurgent exhibit card
Detroit Resurgent
Gilles Perrin Portrait of Devon Akmon
Gilles Perrin Portrait of Devon Akmon
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Featured in Crain’s Detroit Business’ Annual Giving Guide

The Arab American National Museum was featured in the 2013 Giving Guide, published by Crain’s Detroit Business. Here I discuss our goal of building the endowment to $10 million by 2017. Exit strategy: More nonprofits, donors turn to endowments for lasting impact

“Through the recession, we learned arts and culture was not the No. 1 priority for certain foundations and corporations,” said Devon Akmon, director of the Arab American National Museum. Endowment “is a way of building a more sustainable future. … It’s a bank of money we know will be there … unrestricted funds which provide a certain level of freedom and, in many ways, it’s guaranteed.”

An image from Crain's Detroit Business
Building The Endowment
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40 Under 40

I’m honored to be recognized by Crain’s Business Detroit as one of the 2013 “40 Under 40” business leaders.

Since 1991, Crain’s Detroit Business has honored 40 of the community’s high achievers with its 40 under 40 awards. This year’s winners launched companies, helped grow established firms, created products, swung international deals, improved health care and aided nonprofits. The goal is to honor the best and brightest in Southeast Michigan who have made their marks in business before age 40.

Led by Crain’s enterprise editor Bill Shea, a team of reporters and editors evaluated more than 300 nominees and vetted them with industry sources and references to develop our final list.

An image from Crain's Business Detroit
40 Under 40
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George Takei and Bothaina Kamel Visit the AANM

I love finishing the work week on a positive note. Yesterday, in addition to hosting students from the University of Michigan’s graduate program in Museum Studies, the AANM received a pair of prominent visitors. First, a dear friend of the AANM brought Bothaina Kamel – Egyptian television anchor, activist, and politician – to the museum for a tour. Kamel, a celebrity in her homeland, is the first woman to run for the presidency of Egypt. She was pleased with her visit and had nothing but praise for our institution.

Additionally, George Takei toured the museum and spent time talking with staff. Takei is best known for his roles as Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek. Additionally, he is a human rights activist and a huge supporter of our sister institution, the Japanese American National Museum. Takei impressed me with his intelligence, candor and humor. He’s played a significant role in the past when the AANM was consulting with the JANM during the development phase of our institution. This was his first time actually seeing our museum. The timing of Takei’s visit was perfect, giving that we are currently hosting the JANM’s exhibit, Fighting for Democracy, in a temporary gallery. It was great sharing ideas about museums and discussing the roles our institutions play within their communities. Once again I was reminded of the special relationship that exists between the Japanese American and Arab American communities.

A big thanks to staff for making these visits a success. I am so proud to work with colleagues that take their jobs seriously and show initiative. They are the reason we continue to succeed as a new museum.

George Takei visits the AANM
George Takei visits the AANM
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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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