The Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan has received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities from its inception in 2005, including an NEH CARES grant in 2020. In addition to its more tangible effects, such as salary support and the ability to purchase important preservation equipment, NEH funding has allowed the museum to achieve its mission of telling Arab American stories through the voices and experiences of Arab Americans themselves.
Though the idea for a museum dedicated to Arab Americans had been in development since the late 1990s, the aftermath of 9/11 made it clear just how necessary such an institution was. An NEH challenge grant in 2004 allowed the museum to raise an additional $500,000, providing funds to establish an endowment that supports a manager of public programs position. Another grant provided the funds to purchase data loggers—an important piece of preservation equipment—which then allowed the museum to receive accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums.
Most importantly, NEH funding has allowed the museum to stay on the cutting edge of research in Arab American studies. A planning grant to update the museum’s main exhibition provided honoraria and funding for several scholars of Arab American history to travel to Dearborn to take part in community meetings. These meetings led museum staff to develop a new interpretation of Arab American immigration, which they were able to publish as a free booklet. The museum’s endowment supports the development of cutting-edge programming, which—as director Diana Abouali says—“allows Arab Americans to learn about ourselves while we educate others about the Arab American experience.” These programs include poetry workshops with children to community discussions about a range of issues. In 2020, the NEH CARES grant provided funds to continue digitizing the museum’s collection as well as to develop online content and video tours that use objects in its collection to tell stories. In this way, the museum is able to reach a broader audience and spread its message beyond those who can visit the physical site of the museum.