Arab American Museum opens new Annex

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

Dearborn's Arab American National Museum celebrated its 10th anniversary Friday morning with a ribbon-cutting in its new 4,700-square-foot addition, the Annex.

And in a sign of this small museum's growing reach, AANM Director Devon Akmon also announced the honor that "Little Syria, N.Y.," an exhibition organized by the museum, has been invited to travel to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in October.

Among the 75 or so guests and dignitaries at the ceremony in the new Annex were Congresswoman Debbie Dingell and Dearborn Mayor John O'Reilly Jr.

Dingell, D-Dearborn, called the museum "one of the most important cultural institutions in the country" for its work countering the misunderstanding and stereotypes that have plagued the Arab-American community since Sept. 11.

Dingell, who's on the museum's national advisory board, specifically cited its show, "Patriots & Peacemakers: Arab Americans in Service to Our Country," which has exhibited in Los Angeles, Topeka, San Antonio and the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C.

The museum, noted Akmon, carries a lot on its shoulders. "We are the only museum of this kind in the country," he said. "It's both a responsibility and a trust."

Funding for the Annex, which took over space once occupied by two long-gone businesses, the Zamboni Room Bar and Dynamic Mortgage, was provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the New York-based Ford Foundation. The Annex adjoins the existing museum on Michigan Avenue.

The airy, industrial space with moveable stage was designed to accommodate community groups and a large range of functions from play rehearsals to expanded programs by artists and performers, Akmon said.

"Little Syria, N.Y: An Immigrant Community's Life & Legacy" will open at the Ellis Island Museum Oct. 1 and run through Jan. 9.

In an unusual collaboration, AANM is working with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., founded by the late Arab-American actor and native Detroiter Danny Thomas, to tell the remarkable story of that institution.

That exhibition, which has yet to be named, will open at AANM on Dec. 4.