Moffet Elementary School students. Photo by Dana Scherer
The West Philadelphia-based Al-Bustan has promoted Arab and Middle Eastern cultural awareness for the last twelve years. Having started as a summer day camp, its educational programming has since expanded to include ongoing classes at John Moffet Elementary School and Northeast High School, as well as shorter-term workshops and projects at several other K-12 schools in the area.
The programming focuses primarily on arts and music from the Arab diaspora, which has also given birth to a concert series that has brought world-renowned musicians to Philadelphia for performances of both new and classic works, such as classical guitarist and Curtis Institute instructor Jason Vieaux and Iraqi-Canadian rapper The Narcycist.
This kind of cultural programming, which has given Arab and Middle Eastern Philadelphians a piece of their heritage while exposing other groups to cultures they may know little about, has not gone unnoticed. Al-Bustan recently received grants from both Pew Charitable Trusts and the William Penn Foundation to support and expand its work.
The grant from the William Penn Foundation will go towards expanding its current programming at Moffet Elementary, located in Kensington. Its one day a week program teaching Arabic music, including singing and percussion, will now be expanded to three days.
“We want the students to acquire foundational artistic skills and cross-cultural knowledge and appreciation that can further their community engagement and academic pursuits in secondary school and beyond,” said Founder and Executive Director Hazami Sayed in a press release.
The Pew grant came after a lengthy process for Al-Bustan.
“The process is very grueling – any applicant you talk to would say that. But the amazing thing about Pew is that they also really work with you,” Sayed said. “Program officers are not part of the review panel, so they help us in articulating goals. They even suggested a few partners to work with.”
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Al-Bustan was previously awarded a Pew grant in 2012 for their 2012-2013 concert series.
Al-Bustan’s Pew supported project, entitled “That Which Is Adorned,” is built from Arabic poetry of Andalusia (now a part of southern Spain). The project will feature two new commissioned works from renowned composers Kareem Roustom and Kinan Abou-afach, the latter of whom received a Pew Fellowship for the Arts in 2013 and plays cello in the Takht Ensemble.
“There’s a big body of poetry with various themes – beauty, homeland, etc. – and most of it has not been put to music. Our interest was to take this literature and choose some poems which would become a repertoire for new music,” Sayed said.
“That Which Is Adorned” will premiere in December 2015 as part of the Bryn Mawr College Performing Arts Series at the college’s Goodhart Hall in Bryn Mawr, PA.-30-
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