Thursday, September 02, 2010


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Dearborn, MI (Sept. 2, 2010) – During the past decade, some 400 middle school students in Detroit and Dearborn have learned how to both operate a camera and see their community with a fresh, new perspective by taking part in SURA Arts Academy.

This free, diversity-themed digital photography instruction program for youth originated as part of Museum parent ACCESS’ Cultural Arts program and moved to the Arab American National Museum (AANM) when it opened in 2005.

From Sept. 18 through Oct. 31, the community is invited to enjoy the creative output of SURA photographers from the 2009-10 academic year, as well as photo highlights from the past 10 years, in the Lower Level Gallery at the Arab American National Museum, 13624 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn.

The exhibition is free with Museum admission. All are invited to attend a free Opening Reception at noon, Saturday, Sept. 18, at the AANM, featuring complimentary refreshments and an exciting live performance by BombaRica. Led by percussionist Ozzie Rivera, BombaRica will perform bomba, a community dance art form which is African-Puerto Rican in heritage.

“When it first began 10 years ago, our program was a month-long summer workshop modeled after Focus: HOPE’s youth photography program. It was part of an ACCESS oral history project focusing on Arab Americans who worked in the factories,” recalls AANM Curator of Education Janice Freij, who also worked at ACCESS during SURA’s early years.

Over time, the program evolved and was named SURA, the Arabic word for photograph. In 2006, SURA became a 10-week program held each fall and spring as well as a week-long summer camp. Along with teaching underserved children the art of photography, SURA today also helps students understand the importance of civic engagement and respect for diverse cultures through various activities and workshops.

“Although so much in the world has changed in the last 10 years, technology in particular, I’ve observed that kids are kids, regardless,” says Freij. “Some of the subjects our students photograph tend to remain the same as well – their families and friends. What does change are the kids’ perception of their community. SURA field trips often represent these students’ first exposure to destinations such as the Detroit Institute of Arts or Henry Ford Museum. It changes the way they feel about their hometown.”

In SURA Arts Academy, students are loaned new digital cameras. Photography students from the acclaimed Center for Creative Studies in Detroit then instruct the children on their operation during weekly after-school sessions at O.W. Holmes Elementary School in Detroit and field trips (transportation provided).

However, the camera is also a catalyst for discussion and the exploration of issues such as self-awareness, respect for others and the role of young people in their communities. Exhibitions of student photography are staged every fall at the AANM as the culmination of the previous academic year’s sessions.

SURA was honored in 2008 by First Lady Laura Bush in a White House ceremony with one of just 15 Coming Up Taller Awards from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, after emerging from a field of 320 applicants. Coming Up Taller singles out the best arts- and humanities-based youth after-school programs in the United States. Only one other Michigan-based organization, Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, has ever received this award. Read more at

Applications are currently being accepted for the Fall 2010 SURA semester. Program forms are available at or by contacting Vanita Mistry at 313.624.0210 or

SURA Arts Academy is funded by The Skillman Foundation, Bank of America and the Muna & Basem Hishmeh Foundation, Inc. The AANM also recognizes Super Greenland Market, Paisano’s Pizza and Amani’s Restaurant, all of Dearborn, for their generous donations of food during the 2010 SURA Summer Camp.

The Arab American National Museum documents, preserves, celebrates and educates the public on the history, life, culture and contributions of Arab Americans. It serves as a resource to enhance knowledge and understanding about Arab Americans and their presence in this country.  The Arab American National Museum is a project of ACCESS, a Dearborn, Michigan-based nonprofit human services and cultural organization. Learn more at and

The Arab American National Museum is a proud Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Read about the Affiliations program at

The Museum is located at 13624 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn, MI, 48126. Museum hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday, Tuesday; Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Admission is $6 for adults; $3 for students, seniors and children 6-12; ages 5 and under, free. Call 313.582.2266 for further information.