MANHATTAN – Amid rising tensions escalated towards US Muslims, a Children exhibition in Manhattan has achieved unexpected huge success, as organizers see education as an effective weapon to beat ignorance and hate.
“People really want to dig in and get a better understanding from a trusted source about Muslim cultures,” Andrew S. Ackerman, the museum’s executive director, told the New York Times in a report that will appear in the printed version of the paper on March 16.
Ackerman added that the earlier people are exposed to diverse cultures, the better, he said.
“Biases can form by age 6,” noted Lizzy Martin, the show’s curator.
“We want young children to be exposed to as much diversity as possible to better understand other people and themselves, and there’s no question that reduces prejudice, violence and misunderstandings,” Ackerman added.
Its exhibition “America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far” showcases the history, art and traditions of Muslims.
Opening at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan in February 2016, the show has been so popular that its run has been extended another year, and plans are underway to take it on a nationwide tour in 2018.
“I’ve been here 26 years and I can’t remember another exhibit that had a sustained heavy attendance over a period of a year like this one has,” said Ackerman, noting that more than 350,000 people have visited.
“It’s been a surprise blockbuster for us.”
It came after more than six years of planning and research
The museum consulted hundreds of people, including Muslims from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut; consulates; scholars; and mosque leaders to ensure accuracy and authenticity.
Funding came from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among others.
“We focus on projects that increase understanding and relationships between Muslim and non-Muslim communities in the US,” said Zeyba Rahman, senior program officer at the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.
Madelene Geswaldo, a teacher at the Manhattan School for Children, said the exhibition helped to “humanize” the Islamic culture and showcase its contributions to the world.
Geswaldo brought her second- and third-grade students last fall and used it as a starting point for a broader study of Islam.
“We address Muslim culture in a positive way so that kids will not form ideas of having to be scared, or that all Muslims are terrorists or bad people,” Geswaldo said.
The timing of the exhibition was also praised as perfect, coming in a time when antiterrorism rhetoric dominated President Trump’s election campaign.
“It’s timely at this moment of great fear and anxiety among our community — all of us are feeling it,” said Rahman, the senior program officer at the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.
“I think the extension of the exhibition will be useful to remind us of our great American heritage; it’s a country of immigrants.”
Plans are underway to find a larger home for the children’s museum, and when it moves, Ackerman hopes to make the exhibition permanent.
Hussein Rashid, founder of Islamicate, an organization that consults on religious and cultural issues pertaining to Islam, applauds the plan.
“Would I love to get more people to this exhibit and get them to understand that Muslims are human beings with desires and passions and artistic creativity in ways that maybe they haven’t thought about before? Absolutely,” Rashid said.
“What is happening to Muslims now is tragic, but our goal is to educate.”