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Monday, October 19, 2009

Connecting Communities: Up and Running!

If you haven't yet ventured out to see our latest exhibit, Connecting Communities, I suggest you do so!

The exhibit deals with immigration in metro Detroit, by looking at the lives of nine local immigrants. We pair their stories with government-compiled statistical data in an effort to breakdown some misconceptions and negative stereotypes associated with immigrants.

YOU can also have your say in the debate! Visit our Social Media "Dashboard" to find out how your voice can be heard!

If you're camera-shy and/or don't use Social Media you can always comment RIGHT HERE! Think about answering these questions:

1. Do you know who, in your family, immigrated to the United States? When did they come here? Or, are you Native American Indian?
2. Do you think new immigrants should completely shed their native culture and traditions when they come to America? Why or why not?
3. Respond to this statement: America is a nation founded by immigrants and populated by immigrants and their descendents.
4. Why do you think immigration is such a hot-button issue these days?
5. How would you feel if you had to emigrate? What would you miss the most about America? What would you want to take with you?

Your contribution helps shape the exhibit and may appear in the gallery! So visit us often to hear what people have to say and share your thoughts too!

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Friday, September 4, 2009

SURA 2009

Youth. Photography. Winner of a 2008 Coming Up Taller award. The SURA Arts Academy 2009 Student Photography Exhibit: Come check it our beginning September 12, 2009.


Monday, August 24, 2009

One goes down, another goes up...

Today we took down the exhibit, A Yemeni Community: Photographs from the 1970s by Milton Rogovin. While we contract installers to hang our shows, we usually opt to take them down ourselves.

I think one of my favourite things about my job is the grunt work. I love it when I get to be away from my desk for a little while and get my hands dirty. Possibly the greatest thing is getting to peel the vinyl letters off the walls.

If you didn't make it out to the show you can still see the photos in our online exhibit here, and pictures of the gallery on our flikr page here.

The SURA Arts Academy photographs open September 12th!

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Positive Impact of Immigrants

Currently, we are in the process of developing an exhibition that seeks to dispel common stereotypes and misconceptions of immigrant populations. Our exhibit, Connecting Communities, will open at the Arab American National Museum on October 1, 2009. This project began with approximately 12 college students from metropolitan Detroit interviewing 12 immigrants representing four ethnic communities in three different geographical locations. The communities included eastern European, southeast Asian, Hispanic and Arab American immigrants residing in Dearborn, southwest Detroit and Hamtramck. Students were trained through a series of courses on contemporary immigration, oral history, artifact collection, and exhibition development. Once the coursework was completed, the students paired off to conduct their interviews. Afterward, the AANM staff began developing the exhibition content, which is still in progress.

Earlier today I became aware of an interesting new report published by the Immigration Policy Center. Titled New Americans in the Great Lake State, this article sheds light on the political and economic impact of the three immigrant communities that will be featured in our exhibit. According to the report:
Immigrants account for large and growing shares of the economy and the electorate in Michigan. Immigrants make up more than 6% of the state's population, and nearly 47% of them are naturalized U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote. "New Americans"-immigrants and the children of immigrants-account 5.2% of all registered voters in the state. Latinos account for nearly 5% of all Michiganians and wield more than $8.8 billion in consumer purchasing power. At last count, the sales and receipts of businesses owned by Latinos and Asians totaled more than $8 billion. Michigan is also home to the largest proportion of Arab Americans, who generate an estimated $544 million in state tax revenue each year. Immigrant workers and entrepreneurs are integral to Michigan's economy and tax base-and they are an electoral force with which every politician must reckon.
I am pleased that this report was published so close to the opening of our exhibit. It serves as yet another resource to help illustrate the positive impact that immigrant communities are having on our society. It's important to have factual resources to help counter the irrational vilification of recent immigrants.

We have been compiling several similar resources to use as supplemental materials in our exhibit (point your browser here to read the economic impact study conducted by Wayne State University on the Hispanic community in southwest Detroit). In fact, we have purchased the reproduction rights to a New York Times interactive map from the Remade in America series, which will be featured as interactive in the exhibit. I presume we will have these resources available in the museum's library and resource center. Further, we will most likely host links to many resources on the exhibition web page.

While all these reports and statistics are important, they do little to humanize the experience of immigrants. Speaking to this, our interpretative approach to this exhibit was to utilize the personal narrative, or vignette. In short, we hope to elicit empathy and understanding through the stories and experiences of immigrants, as told by them.

Please do join us on October 1 at the exhibition opening.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Connecting Communities: an intro

One of the exhibits the curatorial team is currently working on is called, Connecting Communities. It uses the voices of immigrants from four geographical regions (South Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Arab world), who came to three Detroit neighborhoods (Dearborn, Southwest Detroit, and Hamtramck). We used local university students to interview our 10 immigrants, and we've been collecting census data, artifacts and a myriad of other things to help illustrate the connections between immigrants and citizens born in the U.S.

Last Thursday (June 4th) the curatorial team was quite excited because it was field trip day! We are into the design stages of the exhibit and need photographs of our participants to put their faces with their stories. We visited a restaurant in Southwest Detroit, a social service office in Hamtramck, and a driving school/law office also in Hamtramck. We are hoping to create a welcoming environment for visitors to the exhibit so we also did some exploring around these areas to help us with this. We are very thankful to our participants for taking time to meet with us, and we are very much looking forward to meeting with the remaining participants.
With summer here it's a great time to go out and explore the treasures of your neighborhood and your surrounding communities. You never know what/who you may find (I ran into an uncle I don't see that often!).

Connecting Communities is set to open this October so watch this blog for further developments!

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

"I've never seen a culture before"

Have you ever seen a culture?

Once in awhile - sometimes a very long while - we see signs of success. We find little bits of evidence that what we do as museum workers might really make a difference.

One such little bit of evidence recently turned up on a low-tech interactive component in our current exhibition A Yemeni Community: Photographs from the 1970s by Milton Rogovin. This is a warm and rich collection of black and white images that documents life in an immigrant community in Lackawanna, New York. Milton Rogovin strategically omits the use of titles for his photographs of "the forgotten ones" to prod the viewer to look more carefully and reflect on their content of the pictures. So, we have included a panel in our exhibit that invites our visitors to write their own titles or captions for some of the images.

Kids (and adults) continue to stick their notes on our interactive wall (we are saving all of them). Of course, some make no sense (to us), but many have brief personal reflections and comments that indicate our visitors are really connecting with the exhibit. One of these notes is shown here. It says "I've never seen a culture before." I believe this to be a marvelous bit of evidence that we may have had a profound impact on one our young visitors - perhaps for the first time he or she became aware of something we too often take for granted, our "culture" and all that potent little word stands for. If this is so, our visitor has made a giant leap toward understanding his or her world.

Of course, this is just a beginning, and we have much more work to do. But it made my day when I saw that little note!

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