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A Small Museum with Big Dreams!

posted on: Sep 19, 2018

By: Nizar Farsakh/Arab America Ambassador Blogger

Museum of the Palestinian People (MPP) is an initiative to establish a space in Washington D.C., where Palestinians can tell their stories their own way.

For far too long, the Palestinian story has been reduced to a single story, either of victims or of terrorists, a story told by others. And that has dehumanized the Palestinians in the public eye. The Museum of the Palestinian People (MPP) plans to change that.

The MPP started as a traveling exhibit of paintings and photos created by Palestinian artists from Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem. It was trying to depict life in the camps and the stories these artists lived. Stories of refugeehood, challenges of the Israeli occupation, as well as family life and triumph in the face of those challenges.

The Museum was honoring heritage and values passed on from generation to generation as well as showing the resilience of the people withstanding hardships and working towards a brighter future. The exhibit quickly gained popularity. Several universities, churches, and other institutions asked to host the exhibit. In total, the exhibit traveled to around 30 localities in the US and grew to include artwork, performances, and presentations. In the process, thousands of Americans, as well as Palestinians, got to engage with the artists’ rendering of their lives. It provided visitors with a window into the lives of ordinary Palestinians. More importantly, it allowed the opportunity to connect with Palestinians at the human level; as people, with all the beautiful complexity that comes with being a people, and not as abstract news headlines or as an issue.

With every exhibit, the word about the museum spread and more people got interested in seeing it move forward. A few, in fact, challenged us to think big. They asked: “Why not have a permanent space, an actual brick, and mortar museum for Palestine?” A bold and ambitious undertaking. It was hard to think that big knowing how hard it was to even put the traveling exhibit together. Moreover, the gremlins in the back of our heads kept poking holes in our dream: “there are so many museums in DC. Why would anyone come to a Palestinian museum? If a Palestinian museum were a feasible idea, it would have been established already!” Such is the nature of the human mind. It goes into all sorts of reasons why not to take bold steps. But the more we thought of it, the more we became present to what Palestine means to us and to the world.

We thought of all those stories of sacrifice and resilience we were told by our parents and grandparents. We recalled the hundreds and thousands of people across the globe, who were not Palestinian, and yet have fallen in love with the place and its people to become its most fervent and active advocates. Finding a space became imperative!

I had written an article about the museum for Arab America back in January 2018, talking about why I joined it. Since then, we have had a pouring of support, the most important of which was the donation of a space in DuPont Circle for 2-years rent-free.  At the intersection of 18th and T streets, the location is in a vibrant corner of the city. There is a bar with a southern flare called “Rebellion”, a cozy café run by East Africans, Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants, a Chinese human rights museum, and an Uzbek picture framing store.

It also shares a wall with the Middle East Books and More store which, as the name suggests, is a bookstore on Middle East issues and has other items such as organic fair-trade food and olive oil, olive oil soaps, pottery, hand-blown glass, greeting cards, and solidarity items. This makes a visit to the MPP all the more rich and interesting as visitors can spend the whole day in the neighborhood and still have more to discover.

In addition to the especially generous donation of space, an architect also gave us a 70% discount for the renovation design while the contractor committed to completing the renovations and upgrades at cost.

Yet, probably the more touching of contributions have been the small donations. Our current fundraising campaign is targeting $200,000 for the renovations and programming for 2018. Within just three weeks we’ve passed $55,000 of which $30,000 were from small donations alone! Ranging from $5 to $20,000. We’ve been humbled by the breadth of support. Since this campaign is geared toward the foundation and opening the museum’s doors, we’ve designated different levels of donors as founding donors. Those who donate at the higher end will have their names inscribed on the Wall of Honor. It is our hope that the museum will be filled with the names of the many leaders in our community who have contributed to raising Palestine’s name. The Case for Support can be found here.

At the organizational level, we’ve managed to double the size of our team and have grown in partnerships. Palestinian families reached out to us for programming that would connect their children to Palestine in meaningful ways. Local organizations such as the Ramallah Federation, the Tabard Inn, and the Mosaic Theater have approached us for partnerships. As have organizations in Palestine such as the Palestinian Museum in Bir Zeit and the Palestinian Institute for Public Diplomacy.

Besides Arab America’s coverage, the MPP has been featured on Al Arabiya’s Panorama program too.  And, finally, our latest news is our inaugural fundraising dinner on Monday, September 24th at the historic Tabard Inn in Washington, D.C. They have graciously donated the entire event so that the proceeds go directly to the fundraising efforts. At this dinner, we will celebrate the beauty of Palestinian culture with a menu featuring Palestinian cuisine crafted by renowned Palestinian Chef Joud Achkar. The evening will also feature a silent auction with items from Palestine some of which is rare and discontinued items from Jerusalem.

With all this progress, we are eager to open our doors. We have no illusions that it will be easy, but we believe in the power of an idea whose time has come. The breadth of generosity and excitement we’ve seen so far attest to that fact.  Join us in creating this Palestinian landmark in D.C.!

To Make a Donation to MPP: Click Here

For More Information about MPP: Click Here