A pillar of the Center for Arab American Philanthropy’s (CAAP) mission involves improving communities through grantmaking to various nonprofit organizations around the country. These grants are crucial in our goal of uniting and empowering the Arab American community through giving. As part of a new blog series, CAAP would like to shine the spotlight on our awesome grant partners, starting with Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture. Al-Bustan is a Philadelphia-based arts and culture organization dedicated to presenting and teaching the Arab culture through the arts and language. We recently spoke with Hazami Sayed, Al-Bustan’s Executive Director and are excited to share the organization’s mission and recent achievements!

CAAP: What are some recent organizational accomplishments that stand out?

Al-Bustan: Over the past 10 months, thanks to our dedicated staff, volunteers, teaching artists, and guest artists, Al-Bustan has seen an expansion of several collaborative projects, newly commissioned works, demonstrations, and educational programs — all testaments to our strength in creating opportunities for meaningful engagements among diverse people.

We brought cross-genre music to three neighborhoods in Philadelphia through “Musical Encounters,” a collaboration between Al-Bustan Takht Ensemble and Prometheus Chamber Orchestra. Appealing to multi-generational audiences, the performances offered a re-interpretation of Arab and Western classical and contemporary repertoire.

Al-Takht Ensemble
Al-Bustan Takht with Prometheus Chamber Orchestra, May 2016. Photo: Chip Colson

Another initiative, “Nur: One Breath, One Soul” interpreted the significance of Sufi poetry and a longing for eternal/divine love and unity through music. Al-Bustan Takht Ensemble collaborated with singer Dalal Abu Amneh for a stellar performance in April 2016, with a studio-recorded CD to be released in December 2016.  As commissioned composer Kinan Abou-afach eloquently noted about his inspiration:

“I think that Sufi spirituality is especially important to re-remember and re-embrace at this time in human history.”

 CAAP: What are some exciting, upcoming initiatives at your organization?

Al-Bustan: We are very excited about two new projects in 2016-17: Tabadul: Cross-Cultural Exchange through the Arts and (DIS)PLACED: Philadelphia.

Tabadul, inspired by the work of internationally renowned photographer Wendy Ewald, is a year-long project at Northeast High School (the largest and most ethnically diverse public school in Philadelphia) in which Al-Bustan teaching artists guide students in self-explorations of identity and culture through percussion, poetry, and photography, with school and neighborhood forums where students’ works will be shared in partnership with partnering schools across Philadelphia.  We hope to uplift diverse voices and provoke dialogue that generates respect and appreciation of commonalities and difference across cultural and geographic boundaries. Al-Bustan is excited to host Ewald as artist-in-residence for four weeks in Spring 2017, during which time she will collaborate with students to create large format banners of photographs to be installed across the city in five neighborhoods.

With the support of the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Al-Bustan is implementing (DIS)PLACED: Philadelphia, an initiative exploring the theme of (dis)placement across Philadelphia’s diverse communities and from the perspectives of four artists of Arab heritage during their residencies in the city.  Over the span of 18 months, there will be opportunities for public participation through sharing of local stories, community forums, workshops, art in public spaces, poetry readings, and music performances.

The four artists — Lebanese poet Nazem El Sayed, Syrian installation artist Buthayna Ali, Tunisian muralist eL Seed, and Syrian composer Kinan Abou-Afach – are invited to produce new works. These artists will bring their personal experiences and take inspiration from local stories of individuals and families who have been impacted by displacement.  The stories, events, artistic process, and artworks produced will be compiled online and in-print through narratives, photos, videos, and music CD.

CAAP: What is your organization’s role in empowering the Arab American community?

Al-Bustan: Celebration of the many articulations of Arab culture is woven through all of Al-Bustan’s programs.  By working with cutting-edge artists and educators we strive to enable production of new cultural forms that incorporate and transform the world around us, while being grounded in an understanding of our cultural traditions and history.  We also strive to offer Arab Americans a connection with their language and cultural heritage, which is evident in how students glow with the opportunity to show off their Arabic language skills.

Moreover, our programs provide a space for Arab Americans to come together and celebrate, across national/religious affiliations and immigrant status, and demonstrate to a broader public the richness and nuances of Arab culture and people — as exemplified in our second annual Ahlan open house.

Ahlan open house
Annual Ahlan 2016 Open House, Oct 2016. Photo: Chip Colson

CAAP: Please share a story of an individual or family that has benefitted from your work.

Al-Bustan: Since the beginning of Al-Bustan’s partnership with Moffet Elementary School nine years ago, at least one member of the extended Barakat family has participated each year in our program.  Dalal was the first, followed by Aya, then Hamda, and now we have Dana, Ahmad, Ali, their step-brother Brahim, and their cousins Bayan, Rayed, Yahya, and Salah.  As we have grown to offer an expanded three days per week after-school program, known as the Moffet Arab Arts After-School Program, Alia, one of the aunts, now works with us in assisting to manage the program and liaise with the community.

As the Barakat children graduate from elementary school, the impact of their engagement with Al-Bustan programs becomes increasingly apparent.  The oldest cousins, Dalal and Aya, regularly return to mentor younger drummers and help lead the ensemble during performances. Dalal, now a senior at Kensington Creative Arts and Performing High School, chose to go to a performing arts school largely driven by her interest in music since she joined the Moffet Drummers in 3rd grade. Their little niece Dana is now our most advanced percussionist, often leading the ensemble or demonstrating percussion techniques in class and in public performances. With the Barakat family members’ enthusiasm and dedication, we are excited to continue deepening our relationship with the family and the Moffet School community.

CAAP: How has funding from CAAP propelled your organization towards fulfilling its mission?

Al-Bustan: CAAP’s general operations support is important in enabling us to implement our programming and continue to build cultural bridges through our educational and public programs – Shukran!

CAAP is proud to support the work of Al-Bustan and we look forward to sharing the successes of our other grant partners in the future! To see all our 2016 grantees, please visit our grants database.

Featured image courtesy of Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture, Children at Al-Bustan Camp Learning Arab Rhythms, June 2016

2 comments on “Al-Bustan: Planting the seeds of Arab American culture”

  1. 1
    Al-Bustan Interviewed by CAAP | Al-Bustan Seeds Of Culture on November 9, 2016

    […] CLICK HERE to read full article on CAAP’s Blog. […]

  2. 2
    Dana Barakat on May 1, 2020

    Hi!! This is Dana! I am now in 8th grade, I was looking back at memories and I was shocked to see me and my family’s names in the interview! This brings back so many memories, thank you.

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