Celebrating Arab Americans Through Art

Majalla Interviews AANM Director on Museum’s Activities, Mission

The Arab American National Museum
The Arab American National Museum

Celebrating Arab Americans Through Art

Last week, The Arab American National Museum (AANM), in Dearborn, Michigan, the home of the largest Arabic and Islamic communities in the US, hosted the annual Arab Film Festival, as part of other activities for this one-of-its-kind museum.

Despite a range of challenges since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, AANM has continued to provide free and accessible online educational and cultural programming to keep the Arab American community engaged, connected, and safe.

Last month, the AANM sponsored another annual event, the Grand Gala, a festive reunion of the Arab American community and a celebration of strength and hope.

AANM, since its opening in 2005, has been dedicated to documenting, preserve and presenting the history, culture, and contributions of Arab Americans. Its exhibitions, also cover the Arab world and the history of Arab Americans from the first immigrants who arrived in the late 19th century until today.


This is an interview with Diana Abouali, Director of AANM:


Diana Abouali, Director, Arab American National Museum


Q: Could You Please Tell Us About Yourself, and Your Arabic Background?

A: For many years, I have been working in the higher education and cultural heritage sectors in the United States, Palestine, and Jordan. I hold a Ph.D. in History and Middle Eastern studies from Harvard University and was an assistant professor in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Literature at Dartmouth College (New Hampshire).

Then, I worked as Head of Research and Collections at the newly-established Palestinian Museum in Birzeit, Palestine. Then, in Amman, Jordan, I worked as director of Education, Outreach, and Awareness at the Petra National Trust. I also worked in cultural heritage education workshops for Syrian children and women in the Azraq and Zaatari refugee camps.

I am a member of the general assembly of Taawon-Welfare Association, the largest Palestinian NGO that provides development and humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory and Lebanon.


Q: Could You Please Tell Us About the Arab American National Museum?

A: The Arab American National Museum is devoted to recording the Arab American experience. Our mission has been to collect and present aspects of the history, culture, and contributions of Arab Americans.

Besides the exhibitions, we offer spaces for open dialogue and community gatherings; we also provide educational opportunities for children and students of all ages. And we work with established and emerging artists of all artistic mediums to uplift their work and share it with our regional and national audiences.

Q: What Was “Rajeen Y Hawa”, The Recent Gala?

A: Our annual Grand Gala, this time, was themed “Rajeen Ya Hawa”, meaning “To Gather Again.” It featured spectacular entertainment by the esteemed National Arab Orchestra. The first large-scale in-person event since closing to the public because of the coronavirus, the Gala welcomed 400 guests and raised more than $200k net.

Q: You Just Had A Film Festival?

A: That was the annual Arab Film Festival (AFF) that we proudly host. It usually features fascinating new titles from some of the most creative Arab filmmakers. It is one of the Museum’s longest-running programs, dating back to its inception in 2005.

It showcases Arab and Arab American films for fans of Arabic-language movies and adventurous art-film lovers seeking new perspectives and outside-the-box thinking. Many of these films by both the Arab world and Arab American artists are, with few exceptions, unlikely to reach traditional American commercial theaters.

Q: You Also Host the Arab American Book Award?

A: It has been an honor to host year, outstanding books written by or about Arab Americans. The award was established in 2006 in partnership with librarians from the University of Toledo (Ohio). Its mission is to celebrate Arab American literature and to honor those who have produced exemplary work.

Through outreach and publicity, the award raises greater awareness of Arab American literature and scholarship. We have awarded more than 100 books and every year we are honoring more titles and authors. Our book award is the only one in the nation created specifically to honor Arab American writers and books about the Arab American experience.


Q: What Sort of Out-Reach Community Activities Do You o?

A:  Our commitment to our community began with our founding in 2005, and since then, we have used the arts as a tool for engaging it. Hundreds of thousands of visitors—both locally and nationally—have enjoyed programming that is responsive to and reflective of the diverse Arab American community.

We are committed to ensuring a space that is free of racism, transphobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, ableism, misogyny, classism, or other biases.

Q: Do You Have Relations With the Arab World?

A: The focus of our institution and programming is on Arab Americans and the Arab diaspora, but we recognize that our story is made possible because of Arab immigrants who came to the United States during various periods of migration, bringing fresh Arab contributions. Meantime, we have partnerships with institutions and artists in the Arab world on a variety of programs.


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