Small But Mighty: The Work of Small Museums

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Presentation for the Smithsonian Affiliations National Conference, 2008.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - Washington, D.C.

Ethnic museums are often created in response to a given minority population's perception of exclusion from mainstream museums. Their stories have not been told, or have been too often told with malice. They want to tell their own story; however, no ethnic community has one story, can speak with one voice, has one perspective, or has one vision. How can ethnic museums synthesize different visions, stories, and experiences and incorporate them into the museum structure, exhibits, and public programming? This presentation explores the founding of the community-based Arab American National Museum.

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Small But Mighty: The Work of Small Museums

  1. 1. Devon M. Akmon Curator of Community History and Research Arab American National Museum Dearborn, MI Small But Mighty: The Work of Small Museums http://www.arabamericanmuseum.org
  2. 2. <ul><li>Mission: </li></ul><ul><li>The Arab American National Museum's mission is to document, preserve, celebrate, and educate the public on the history, life, culture and contributions of Arab Americans. </li></ul><ul><li>We serve as a resource to enhance </li></ul><ul><li>knowledge and understanding </li></ul><ul><li>about Arab Americans and their </li></ul><ul><li>presence in the United States. </li></ul>http://www.arabamericanmuseum.org
  3. 3. <ul><li>Established in 1971 in Dearborn, MI </li></ul><ul><li>Committed to the development of the Arab American community in all aspects of its cultural and economic life </li></ul><ul><li>Over 100 programs for the Arab American community and the community at large </li></ul><ul><li>Over 200 full-time employees </li></ul>Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services http://www.arabamericanmuseum.org
  4. 4. <ul><li>Programs include: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Main Office </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Social Services </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Youth and Education </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Schaefer Building </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Employment and Training </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Mental Health </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Social Services </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Community Health Center </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Clinic </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Victims of Torture Center </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Arab American National Museum </li></ul></ul>Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services http://www.arabamericanmuseum.org
  5. 5. <ul><li>Founded in 1987 </li></ul><ul><li>Recognizing the importance of arts in the daily life of all people </li></ul><ul><li>Instill community pride </li></ul><ul><li>Bridge the gap between ethnic and racial groups </li></ul>ACCESS’ Cultural Arts Program http://www.arabamericanmuseum.org
  6. 6. <ul><li>To further our educational and public programs </li></ul><ul><li>To dispel stereotypes and misconceptions </li></ul><ul><li>To meet rapid growth and increase demands </li></ul><ul><li>To document, preserve and celebrate Arab American history and culture </li></ul>Building a Museum http://www.arabamericanmuseum.org
  7. 7. Initial Challenges <ul><li>What kind of museum and who would it be for? </li></ul><ul><li>Fear of reinforcing stereotypes or “outsider image” </li></ul><ul><li>How to best reflect the diversity of the community </li></ul><ul><li>The question of representation </li></ul><ul><li>Constructing an Arab American identity </li></ul><ul><li>September 11, 2001 </li></ul><ul><li>Staff lacking museum experience </li></ul>http://www.arabamericanmuseum.org
  8. 8. <ul><li>Assess the community’s support for a museum </li></ul><ul><li>Create a Museum Task Force for guidance and fund raising </li></ul><ul><li>Build upon established relationships </li></ul><ul><li>Work with regional committees throughout the county </li></ul><ul><li>Build a consensus and respond to the community </li></ul>Overcoming the Challenges http://www.arabamericanmuseum.org
  9. 9. <ul><li>Utilize personal stories that reflect the diversity of the Arab American community </li></ul><ul><li>Stress the similarities of the immigrant story common to all ethnic communities </li></ul><ul><li>Employ empathy and personal connections to bridge cultural gaps </li></ul>Overcoming the Challenges http://www.arabamericanmuseum.org
  10. 10. <ul><li>Reflect the beauty of Arab architecture and art </li></ul><ul><li>Highlight the contributions of the Arab World </li></ul><ul><li>Address the issue of stereotyping and exclusion </li></ul><ul><li>Reflect the long presence of Arabs in America, their diversity, work and contributions </li></ul>“ A ‘Democratic Grassroots’ Approach” http://www.arabamericanmuseum.org
  11. 11. http://www.arabamericanmuseum.org
  12. 12. http://www.arabamericanmuseum.org
  13. 13. <ul><li>Community members play an integral role in developing programs by serving on various committees, including: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Collections </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Exhibitions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Arab American Book Award </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>National Advisory Board </li></ul></ul>A Community-based Museum http://www.arabamericanmuseum.org
  14. 14. <ul><li>DIWAN: A Forum for the Arts </li></ul><ul><li>Arab American Book Award </li></ul><ul><li>Global Thursdays </li></ul><ul><li>CU. SAME </li></ul><ul><li>S.U.R.A Arts Academy </li></ul><ul><li>Art and humanities exhibits </li></ul>A Small Sample of Programs http://www.arabamericanmuseum.org
  15. 15. <ul><li>Continue to be rooted in our community and reflective of its needs </li></ul><ul><li>Strengthen the connection with the community outside of Michigan </li></ul><ul><li>Remain inclusive of others and responsive to the changing demographics of our nation </li></ul>New Challenges http://www.arabamericanmuseum.org
  16. 16. Thank you! [email_address] http://www.arabamericanmuseum.org

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