After nearly 2-year closure, Arab American National Museum to reopen

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

When visitors step inside Dearborn's newly reopened Arab American National Museum this week, they'll find a new and improved cultural space with some much needed updates and new exhibits.

The 43,000-square-foot museum, the first and only museum of its kind in the United States devoted to exploring the Arab American experience, reopens Wednesday after a nearly two-year closure. Museum officials say they used the break to do some long-needed physical improvements, including installing new flooring and paint in high-traffic areas. The museum also updated its boardroom and catering kitchen, said Deputy Director Jumana Salamey.

And "we have made updates to our exhibits such as a brand new film in our 'Living in America' exhibit," said Salamey in an email. "The video has not been updated since 2005, and did not speak to the current Arab American experience in 2022.  The new film included a collection of four short films by various Arab American artists."

The Arab American National Museum will hold a brief ribbon cutting ceremony on Wednesay when it reopens to the public.

The Arab American National Museum, which opened in 2005 on Dearborn's Michigan Avenue, is one of the last museums in Metro Detroit to reopen to in-person guests. And while it's done extensive virtual programming since COVID hit Michigan in March of 2020, Salamey said several factors played a role in its decision to stay closed, including using the time for facility updates. She said they also had to consider the safety of their patrons. A large part of the museum's attendance comes from tour and school groups.

"Since the opening of the museum in 2005, we haven’t had the opportunity to give our beautiful space any updates or TLC due to a busy exhibit and programming schedule," said Salamey.

The pandemic has posed serious challenges for museums and cultural institutions everywhere, forcing staff reductions and program changes.

Salamey said layoffs were necessary at the museum and they also received emergency federal grants along with support from some local foundations during the closure.

But even without in-person guests, the museum has been busy. It put on roughly 20,000 hours of online events since March 2020, including monthly book clubs, mic nights, virtual concerts, a monthly film series and English-Arabic story times. 

"When we had to pivot to virtual programming there was a lot of anxiety as this was new territory for us...with so many unknown variables," said Salamey. "We learned a lot about our capabilities and with our small but mighty staff, we transitioned and acclimated pretty seamlessly."

The Arab American National Museum, which opened in 2005 in Dearborn, is the only museum of its kind in the nation devoted to telling the Arab American story.

One exhibit visitors will get to explore now that the museum is open again is "soft powers: A Solo Exhibition by Yasmine Nasser Diaz." Diaz, a Yemeni American multidisciplinary artist, has created fiber etchings based on personal photos of her and Yemeni American friends. Her work delves into plural identities and conflicting loyalties. The exhibit originally opened in March of 2020. It runs through May 31.

And a new exhibit opening Wednesday in the museum's second-floor atrium is "reCRAFTED Histories: An Installation by Zahra Almajidi." Almajidi an artist and metalsmith, uses both traditional and contemporary techniques in her work with craft objects, according to the museum. And her work is influenced by her parents’ background as Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq. The exhibit will stay in place until Dec. 31.

A new exhibit opening Wednesday at the Arab American National museum features the work of  artist Zahra Almajidi. Her work explores craft objects, especially the embroidered rugs of the Marsh Arabs. Her prints have rug-like elements incorporated in them.

In December, the Arab American National Museum was named as one of 11 cultural institutions in southeast Michigan that will benefit from a new $100 million arts endowment created by the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation. The museum, which has a $1.8 million budget, will receive $100,000 a year from the endowment to put toward general operating expenses.

“I think general operating support is really crucial for the Arab American National Museum and especially cultural organizations of color where we’re historically underfunded and getting money for general operating has always been a struggle for any cultural organization,” said director Diana Abouali, the museum's director, in December.

Arab American National Museum

13624 Michigan Ave., Dearborn.

Reopens with a small ribbon-cutting ceremony at 2 p.m. Wednesday

Open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday and Friday; noon-6 p.m. Saturday.

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