Blog: Devon Akmon

With nearly half a million residents of Arab descent, Metro Detroit has the second largest share of Arab American residents in the country. And fittingly, Dearborn is home to the nation's first museum devoted to this population's rich history and culture. This week Devon Akmon, deputy director of the Arab American National Museum, blogs about building community through multicultural programming.

Post 2: Striving to be a National Institution

What does it mean to be a national museum? Whose stories do we reflect? What do we aspire to be? These are all common questions that I receive when people first learn about the Arab American National Museum (AANM).  Understandably, the word "national" in the title can be a bit ambiguous. However, when understood in the context of the Museum's history and its operations, things become much clearer.

The AANM reflects the diversity and experiences of Arab Americans from across the nation.  It sees itself as a safe and inclusive place for all people of Arab ancestry to feel welcomed.  When the museum was first planned, staff travelled extensively across the United States holding community meetings with Arab Americans in numerous cities and states. This helped to gauge the feasibility of the Museum in many ways. For instance, it helped to determine if individuals and families would support the Museum both financially and by donating artifacts and personal stories to the collection. As part of this process, regional committees and a National Advisory Board were established. This laid the groundwork for becoming a truly national institution.

The AANM is committed to expanding upon this initial work to meet its goals of becoming a stronger institution with an even greater impact.  Beginning this year, the AANM is taking several core programs and exhibits out of Michigan for the first time to locations throughout the nation. For example, this October the AANM will host the annual Arab American Book Award ceremony in Washington, D.C. Next spring the Museum will host its biannual arts conference, DIWAN: A Forum for the Arts, in New York City.  The Museum's curatorial department is working on building traveling exhibitions that reflect the diverse experiences of Arab Americans. These exhibits, which focus on specific themes, will reflect the collective history of Arab Americans, extending across time and space. Additionally, the Museum's education department is expanding its reach.  Through the support of foundations like the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the AANM has been able to bring educators from around Michigan and from neighboring Midwestern states to the Museum for workshops and trainings.  Moreover, the staff is traveling to new locations, as far away as Utah, to better inform new constituents on the history, culture, and customs of Arab Americans.

I would be remiss to not mention the role of technology in achieving the goal of becoming a stronger, more vibrant national institution. Social media technologies are permitting new conversations with an international audience. These tools allow the AANM to both listen and engage with our audience and supporters. Additionally, online tools such as iTunes U allow for wide dissemination of the AANM's educational content. Web access to collections and online exhibits permits a global audience to learn more about the community and to conduct research on Arab Americans.  These technologies continue to influence the ways in which we connect with our constituents and reach an expanding audience.

Although it's been only five years, the AANM has built a solid foundation. We are very optimistic about the future. We hope to continue to be a source of community pride; to remain rooted in the national community; to be the turned-to resource for information on Arab Americans; and to bring to life the rich and evolving history of a growing national community of proud Americans.