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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The Mother Colony: New York’s Little Syria

Last week I mentioned that I was in the process of conducting research on New York’s Little Syria neighborhood that existed along Washington Street during the late 19th and early 20th centuries (please see: Before Park51: Arab Americans in New York’s Little Syria). I’m pleased with how things are progressing thus far. I made contact with Redux Pictures, the archive for historical images from the New York Times, regarding seven photos that accompanied the 1899 article, New York’s Syrian Quarter. While I’m still waiting to hear back on access and reproductions, I’ve managed to find several more images via other online archival collections.

Library of Congress


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-19028] George Grantham Bain Collection


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-19026] George Grantham Bain Collection


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-22835] George Grantham Bain Collection


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-23419] George Grantham Bain Collection


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-22819] George Grantham Bain Collection


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-19029] George Grantham Bain Collection


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-22818] George Grantham Bain Collection


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-19027] George Grantham Bain Collection


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-22820] George Grantham Bain Collection

George Eastman House


George Eastman House [77:0177:0095, Syrian Arab at Ellis Island] Lewis W. Hine – Ellis Island

New York Public Library (NYPL) Digital Gallery


NYPL Digital Gallery [482835, Lebanon Restaurant (Syrian), 88 Washington Street, Manhattan. (August 12, 1936)] Changing New York: Photographs by Berenice Abbott, 1935-1938

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An Archival Treasure: Lewis Hine’s Photographs of Phoebe Thomas

Yesterday, while conducting research for our project on New York’s Little Syria, I stumbled upon a great sequence of photographs by the renowned sociologist and photographer Lewis Hine. In addition to producing numerous iconic photos of the construction of New York’s skyline, Hine’s photographic work was instrumental in helping to reform child labor laws. My research revealed a startling discovery: Hine captured a series of photographs in 1911 that show a momentary glimpse into the life of an Arab American child laborer.

In the images shown below, Hine documents a young Syrian American named Phoebe Thomas, who is seen running home from a canning factory in Eastport, Maine after cutting her thumb with a knife. This is the first series of photographs I’ve seen that depict an Arab American child laborer at the start of the 20th century. It is both an impressive photo essay and an important look at the Arab American community in Maine at the turn of the century.

Eight year old Syrian girl, Pheobe [i.e. Phoebe] Thomas, going to work at 6 a.m., August 14, with great butcher knife, to cut sardines in Seacoast Canning Co. Factory #4, Eastport Me. Said she was a cutter, and I saw her working later. (See photos of her accident, #2444, #2445, #2449.) Location: Eastport, Maine.


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-nclc-00965] Photographs from the records of the National Child Labor Committee (U.S.)

In center of the picture is Phoebe Thomas, 8 year old Syrian girl, running home from the factory all alone, her hand and arm bathed with blood, crying at the top of her voice. She had cut the end of her thumb nearly off, cutting sardines in the factory, and was sent home alone, her mother being busy. The loss of blood was considerable, and might have been serious. (See succeeding photos.) Location: Eastport, Maine.


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-nclc-00966] Photographs from the records of the National Child Labor Committee (U.S.)


This is a detail of the previous image.

Phoebe’s thumb [Phoebe Thomas], a week after the accident. She was back at the factory that day, using the same big knife. Location: Eastport, Maine.


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-nclc-00971] Photographs from the records of the National Child Labor Committee (U.S.)

Phoebe [Thomas], a little while after the accident. Location: Eastport, Maine.


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-nclc-00967] Photographs from the records of the National Child Labor Committee (U.S.)

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Before Park51: Arab Americans in New York’s Little Syria

A couple of months ago, the N.Y. Times ran an article, titled When an Arab Enclave Thrived Downtown, that briefly explored the history of the Arab American community in lower Manhattan. That’s right, long before 9/11 and the Park51 Community Center a vibrant community of Arab Americans inhabited lower Manhattan. This was the neighborhood of Kahlil Gibran, Ameen Rihani, Al-Hoda newspaper, and the original A. Sahadi & Co. store. Unfortunately, the history of this community has largely been forgotten. After all, “(t)here are eight million stories in the Naked City; this has been one of them.”

The Arab American community that settled along Washington Street in the lower west side immigrated from what was Greater Syria (present-day Syria, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine and Jordan) between 1870 and 1920. Predominately Christian, these Arab Americans settled “in the shadow of where the World Trade Center would be put up a century later.” In 2002, the Museum of the City of New York hosted the exhibition A Community of Many Worlds: Arab Americans in New York. Originally scheduled to open in November 2001, the exhibited was postponed due to the tragic events of 9/11. I commend the museum for its diligence in rescheduling the show and for publishing an important book documenting the history of the community. To the best of my knowledge, this has been the only public display of information on Little Syria within New York City.

To raise greater awareness of the history of Arab Americans in lower Manhattan, we are hoping to organize a photographic exhibit on the community. Right now the exhibit is very much in the earliest stages of development. At this time we are conducting research to identify images that best show the history of the Little Syria neighborhood. Fortunately, scattered archival collections contain important information on this early Arab American community. So far, I’ve managed to identify a handful of images that could potentially end up in the exhibit. Here are a few of them:

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-USZ62-37780] George Grantham Bain Collection

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-USZ62-71330] George Grantham Bain Collection

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-22817] George Grantham Bain Collection

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-USZ6-1774] George Grantham Bain Collection

I suspect that this exhibit will be an excellent vehicle for dispelling stereotypes and for providing accurate information on the history and contributions of New York’s earliest Arab American community. With the current debate on Park51, coupled with the tone and spiteful rhetoric being used by certain politicians, the need for this exhibit is apparent. As the Times’ journalist suggests, “…it is worth recalling the old sights and sounds and smells of Washington Street as a reminder that in New York — a city as densely layered as baklava — no one has a definitive claim on any part of town, and history can turn up some unexpected people in surprising places.”

Here are some interesting articles I’ve found via the N.Y. Times online archive:

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