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Salaam: Transforming Individuals and Communities through Arts-Based Intercultural Learning (Journal of Performing Arts Leadership in Higher Education Volume IX Fall 2018, 36-54)

Journal of Performing Arts
Leadership in Higher Education
Volume IX
Fall 2018
Laurence Kaptain, co-editor
Mark Reimer, co-editor
ISSN 2151-2744 (online)
ISSN 2157-6874 (print)
Christopher Newport University
Newport News, Va.
e Journal of Performing Arts Leadership in Higher Education is a recognized academic
journal published by Christopher Newport University, a public liberal arts institution
in Newport News, Virginia. Copyright to each published article is owned jointly by the
Rector and Visitors of Christopher Newport University and the author(s) of the article.
2Editorial Board
(Fall 2018 through Spring 2021)
Seth Beckman, Duquesne University
Robert Blocker, Yale University
Robert Cutietta, University of Southern California
Nick Erickson, Louisiana State University
John W. Frick, University of Virginia
Mary Pat Henry, University of Missouri-Kansas City
Laurence Kaptain, University of Colorado-Denver (co-editor)
bruce d. mcclung, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music
Jack Megan, Harvard University
Jonathan Michaelsen, Indiana University
Toni-Marie Montgomery, Northwestern University
Mellasenah Y. Morris
Mark U. Reimer, Christopher Newport University (co-editor)
Jamal Rossi, Eastman School of Music
James C. Scott, University of North Texas
David H. Stull, San Francisco Conservatory of Music
Jonathan Sturm, Iowa State University
James Undercoer, State University of New York at Purchase
Peter Witte, University of the Pacic
e Journal of Performing Arts Leadership in Higher Education is a peer-reviewed
journal dedicated to the enrichment of leadership in the performing arts in
higher education. Goals
1. To promote scholarship applicable to performing arts leadership
2. To provide juried research in the eld of performing arts leadership
3. To disseminate information, ideas and experiences in performing
arts leadership
Table of Contents
An Examination of Financial Expenditures in American Tertiary Music
Schools, 2004-18
Michael rasher and Dawn Iwamasa .......... ........ ..................4
Pi Kappa Lambda Centennial Celebration Address
Alan Fletcher .......................................................21
Academic Assessment in the Arts: Introductory oughts
and Models for Successful Implementation
David Scott . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
Salaam: Transforming Individuals and Communities rough Arts-Based
Intercultural Learning
Anne Elise omas ...................................................36
Promoting Interdisciplinarity: Its Purpose and Practice in Arts Programming
Shannon Farrow McNeely, Denise Gillman and Danielle Hartman .........55
Submission Guidelines ...............................................68
Among the many intrinsic impacts that audiences attribute to arts events are
their unique capacities to captivate and inspire, to create new perspectives and
stimulate both mind and spirit.1 In response, arts presenters aspire not just
to entertain but to “transform” – presumably, to facilitate for our audiences
a fresh perspective that adds value to their lives. But how realistic is this
aspiration, and what are its practical implications? How do we dene our
terms and hold ourselves accountable? How can we know that our events
surpass the just memorable, even impactful, to be truly transformative? And
transformative of whom – individual audience members, or can we also
positively change the ways those individuals interact with one another to
shape a community?
We regularly observe how arts experiences spark curiosity, raise questions
and start conversations; in fact, many of us highlight these impacts in our
seasonal marketing materials. In the context of higher education, however,
impactful experiences themselves are not the main or only desired outcome.
We make decisions about arts programming, curricula and community
outreach that are deeply informed by the institutional missions of our
universities as well as the particular needs of our students, campuses and
communities. For us, the arts-based “transformation” we seek goes beyond
giving our audiences an enjoyable and gratifying evening, to include
educating, informing, and building relationships among students, faculty,
sta and the broader community. is kind of transformation requires
ongoing eort, reciprocal relationships, and takes longer than one enchanting
evening’s performance.
Salaam: Exploring Muslim Cultures at Virginia Tech was a multi-year,
multidisciplinary arts project that aimed to harness the transformational
power of ongoing arts activities to promote intercultural engagement among
students, faculty, sta and the community. rough performances, residencies
and participatory art-making with exemplary artists, students and others in
the wider Virginia Tech community gained a deeper understanding of the
beauty and multiplicity of Muslim-majority world cultures. While there were
plenty of transcendent moments, the project’s most transformative eects
were not accomplished through a single arresting performance or work of
aesthetic transcendence, but rather in the multiple opportunities it provided
for individuals to interact around the theme of Muslim cultures, over time, in
diverse ways. In addition to showcasing underrepresented cultures, facilitating
1 See Kevin McCarthy et al., 2004.
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intercultural learning and fostering community relationships, Salaam provides
an example of how the arts oer a doorway into public dialogue that many
feel disempowered to enter.
Why Focus on Arts From Muslim-Majority Cultures?
What role can the arts play in combating bias against marginalized groups
in American society? Bleich (2011, 1585) oers a working denition for
the imperfect term “Islamophobia,” as “indiscriminate negative attitudes or
emotions directed at Islam or Muslims.” Like other forms of bias, it is based
in a generalized and undierentiated stereotype applied to an individual who
is perceived, accurately or not, to be a member of a feared or hated group.
e Building Bridges program of the Doris Duke Foundation was created
to combat bias against Muslims in the United States in the years following
the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Foregrounding the arts of
Muslim-majority societies, the grantors reasoned, would help to humanize
and transform negative attitudes toward Islam and Muslims in American
society. e specic branch of Duke Foundation initiative that provided the
funding for Salaam (Building Bridges: Arts Culture and Society, administered
by the Association for Performing Arts Presenters2) solicited proposals from
university-based organizations, building campus-community partnerships
engaging a target population of young people (born after 1980).
Like other universities, Virginia Tech professes a campus-wide
commitment to diversity and inclusion and has developed an extensive
administrative infrastructure to support students and faculty from
underrepresented groups. e InclusiveVT initiative, for example, is driven
both by the university’s core values as a public, land-grant university, as well
as the expectations of faculty, sta, and students. From their 2014 survey of
all incoming freshmen, Virginia Tech’s Oce of Assessment and Evaluation
found that among 1,669 respondents (one-third of the entire class), 93.5%
of students said that they “expect their college learning experiences to
prepare them for a multicultural and global work environment.” However,
recent gures suggest that the university may not be performing as well as
it could in this regard: 61% and 35% of graduating seniors on a 2017 survey
self-reported that their prociency compared to graduates of other colleges
in “knowledge of global issues” and “ability to communicate with people
dierent than [themselves],” respectively, was “average” or lower.3
3 Virginia Tech Oce of Assessment and Evaluation website.
html. (Accessed January 4, 2019)
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Salaam: Transforming Individuals
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Additionally, not every minority group, on campus and in the
national population, is equally visible or understood. Typically, universities
ask incoming students to provide information such as race/ethnicity,
socioeconomic background and gender identication. Religious identication
is less often asked, and categories for “race/ethnicity” typically do not include
a category for individuals of Middle Eastern or North African ancestry. us,
individuals who identify as “Arab” or “Muslim” are not typically identied
or supported as a group, even though these individuals are subjected to
stereotyping and bias based on their visible characteristics of appearance or
dress. Pew Research Center estimates that Muslims in the U.S. number 3.45
million – approximately 1% of the total U.S. population, and growing. At the
same time, their research shows that 50% of adults in the U.S. agree with the
statement “Islam is not part of mainstream American society.” Hate crimes
against Muslims have increased sharply since 2015, and half of all Muslims
in the United States now say that it has become more dicult to be an
American Muslim (Pew Research Center 2017).4
Despite the nation’s founding principles of religious liberty and an
unbroken history of Muslim contributions to centuries of American public
life (Fadel 2018), Muslim Americans are regularly required to defend
their right to belong in this country. In a time of anti-immigrant rhetoric
and “travel bans” on individuals from predominantly Muslim countries,
performing while Muslim, with Muslims, and even publicly representing
cultural products associated with Islam have become increasingly political
acts. In this context, Salaam (and the Building Bridges program of the Doris
Duke Foundation more generally, which provided funding for Salaam) was
an eort to correct misconceptions and stereotypes that proliferate in public
discourse about Islam and Muslims.
Framed in this way, Salaam aimed to accomplish what Stern and
Seifert (2008) and others have referred to as “arts-based civic engagement. . .
activities in which civic dialogue or engagement opportunities are embedded
in or connected to the arts or humanities experience” (p. 13). While the
project has goals in common with the growing eld of “community cultural
development” (see Goldfarb 2006), including promoting social inclusion
and cultural vitality, our project diered from the kinds of case studies
more commonly documented in the literature, which often focus on urban
settings and engage target populations that are disadvantaged or culturally
marginalized (For example, Stern and Seifert 2010). In contrast, Salaam’s
target population consisted of university students of diverse backgrounds
(but, as Virginia Tech students, not “disadvantaged” as a group), including
Muslims and non-Muslims, members of the Corps of Cadets, as well as other
individuals from the surrounding community of Blacksburg, Virginia – a
4 For stories about this nding’s impact on Muslim youth, see Semple 2015.
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medium-sized college town in rural southwest Virginia. Within this setting,
we endeavored to raise awareness of cultural and religious diversity on campus
and in the community, and to bring into dialogue individuals of dierent
backgrounds who might not otherwise engage with one another.
Faith, religion, and spirituality are among many cultural threads woven
into the world’s artistic traditions. While statistics are unavailable, it is clear
to those of us who pay attention to the arts of Muslim-majority cultures that
they are signicantly underrepresented in U.S.-based performing arts. With
such infrequent representation, existing portrayals are subject to scrutiny for
how they uphold or subvert stereotypes that are typically applied to Muslims.5
As arts professionals, we need to recognize the power we have, as public
presenters, not only to spark curiosity and inspiration, but also to provide
catalysts, entry points, and vocabulary for respectfully bringing members
of diverse communities into dialogue. Indeed, it is our job to do all of these
things, simultaneously.
Salaam: Exploring Muslim Cultures6
In 2013, the same year in which Moss Arts Center opened its doors at
Virginia Tech, executive director Ruth Waalkes assembled a team of
faculty, later joined by community members and students, to brainstorm
ideas focused on the arts of Muslim societies. Although initial applications
for outside funding were unsuccessful, in 2014-15 the team produced
the “Islamic Worlds Festival,” a series of programming that included
performances, lectures, comedy, music, and food. is initiative’s success
demonstrated a high level of interest across campus and laid the groundwork
for further activities in this area.
Salaam: Exploring Muslim Cultures was funded through the Association
of Performing Arts Professional’s (APAP) “Building Bridges: Arts, Culture
and Identity” program, funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. As one of seven campus grantees in
the 2016-19 grant cycle, Virginia Tech was awarded $204,000 to produce a
multidisciplinary series of performances, exhibits, and arts residency activities
culminating in a community performance of original work in March 2018.
Salaam: Exploring Muslim Cultures aimed to raise awareness and boost
representation of Muslim-majority cultures, to foster a more inclusive
5 While focused on the portrayal of Muslims and Muslim cultures on television rather than in live
performance, Ryzik (2016) oers a wide-ranging and frank discussion of some of the issues of ste-
reotypes and challenges in representing Muslims in popular culture.
6 A documentary video about the Salaam: Exploring Muslim Cultures project can be viewed online
Salaam: Transforming Individuals
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community at Virginia Tech, and to advance best practices in applying arts
toward building cross-cultural understanding and communication. Planning
for Salaam was premised upon three key types of impactful experiences that
emerged from an (unpublished) internal qualitative study of undergraduate
students’ experience of the 2015 Islamic Worlds Festival (Halvorson-Fried, et
al. 2015). e study found the following three types of activities were highly
impactful for those who participated in them:
Hands-on, ongoing, participatory arts engagements
Co-curricular arts engagement in courses not specically arts-related
Opportunities to share stories and engage in dialogue with people of
diverse cultural and religious backgrounds
ese ndings suggested that the signicant impacts of intercultural arts
projects lie less in particular transformative moments (such as a performance,
or a discrete work of art), but instead in oering repeated and consistent
opportunities to engage in the arts of an unfamiliar culture. In view of these
ndings, with Salaam we aimed to maximize opportunities for deep and
repeated engagement, over time, in dialogue and participatory arts activities.
We also believed that a culminating performance, created and performed
by students and community members in collaboration with artists, would
encourage a level of participant engagement that was deep, authentic, and
ultimately transformative.
Led by project director Jon Catherwood-Ginn, a core planning team of
21 students, faculty, community members, and Moss Arts Center sta met
consistently over a period of a year and a half to brainstorm and develop the
project. At the heart of the project design for Salaam were residencies by
three artists, each of whom identify as Muslim, representing dierent cultural
backgrounds and arts disciplines:
Omar Oendum, Syrian-American spoken word poet and hip-
hop performer
Saba Taj, Pakistani-American mixed media visual artist
Karim Nagi, Egyptian-American musician and folk dance
e residencies were structured so that each artist came to campus three
times during the 2017-18 academic year, for a period of a week each time.
Anne Elise omas
e rst visit included an outdoor performance near student residence halls
to raise awareness and engage students with the project. During each visit,
the artists visited academic classes, conducted hands-on creative workshops,
and spent time with each other and the project team to build the culminating
Salaam event. e two musical artists collaborated with Itraab (Virginia
Tech’s Arabic music ensemble), and with the VT Percussion Ensemble, to
develop pieces for the performance. Omar Oendum mentored students
in poetry workshops and in the recitation of poetry in Arabic. Students
and community members were invited to free public workshops, in which
participants were mentored by the residency artists in a creative process and
encouraged to create work to share in the Salaam culminating event. e
project also included a new academic course, oered in the spring semester of
2018, called Islam, Art and Social Change.” Co-taught by faculty members
in History and Arabic Studies, the course introduced students to Muslim
cultures and civilizations through the lens of visual and performing arts,
poetry, literature and popular culture, and required students to undertake their
own creative project related to course themes.
Salaam: Exploring Muslim Cultures culminated in an original
performance at Moss Arts Center on March 17, 2018. e event featured the
artists-in-residence alongside students and community members performing
music, dance and poetry. On display in the lobby were tapestries, inspired
by Islamic stories and created by students and community members who
had worked with Saba Taj. e performance was attended by an audience
of approximately 400 drawn from Virginia Tech as well as the wider
community. In total, we estimate that over 3000 individuals engaged with
Salaam in 2017-18. Again, it is important to note that this number represents
engagements through a wide array of campus events, exhibits, performances,
workshops and classroom visits. e cumulative impact of numerous and
varied engagements by a large number of individuals (many of whom
engaged with Salaam in more than one way) was noteworthy and, in many
circumstances, truly transformative.
Research on the impacts of Salaam: Exploring Muslim Cultures was led by
Research Fellow Anne Elise omas with graduate assistant Katy Shepard
and two other graduate students who assisted with data collection. We
undertook a qualitative research design that included participant observation
7 All research with human subjects referenced in this article was approved by the Virginia Tech Insti-
tutional Review Board (IRB numbers 15-216, 17-741, 17-898 and 17-1237).
Salaam: Transforming Individuals
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at nearly all residency activities, as well as qualitative surveys and focus
groups with seven groups of 3-6 students who engaged with Salaam on a
repeated basis. I also interviewed certain key project sta who were within
the age range of our target population (ages 18-35). e focus groups and
interview data were transcribed and coded according to key themes identied
by members of the research team. All of the following italicized passages
represent direct quotations from students and other Salaam participants.
Transforming Individuals
Recent national survey data indicates that more than 60% of Americans
report they “seldom” or “never” have conversations with Muslims and in fact
may have never even met a Muslim (Cooper 2017). It comes as little surprise,
then, that many of the students who engaged with Salaam did not have
much or, in some cases, any experience with people from Muslim cultures.
In surveys from classroom visits with Salaam artists, some students indicated
that it was their rst substantive exposure to the arts and artists from
Muslim-majority cultures:
I really enjoyed it, and it truly opened my eyes to a Syrian-American.
I’ve never heard so much Arabic at once before and it was really cool.
I don’t interact very often with those who have dierent religious, moral,
and personal beliefs, and I found it extremely enlightening to actually
meet and listen to the perspective of someone who lives a life that is both
extremely dierent and extremely similar to mine.
In undertaking the Salaam project with its goal of increasing intercultural
understanding, we were very aware of the potential for selection bias – that
the students and other individuals who would elect to attend project activities
would be those who already had an interest in Muslim-majority cultures, or
who were particularly attracted to cross-cultural learning opportunities. For
this reason, we intentionally planned activities with groups that we thought
would otherwise be unlikely to engage with the project.
One of these groups was the Virginia Tech Percussion Ensemble,
consisting of undergraduate music majors. ese students were already
accomplished musicians and thus well prepared to learn concrete,
performance-based skills from percussionist Karim Nagi. While the students
had previously encountered “world music” traditions in their performance
curriculum (through their professor’s deep interest in West African
percussion and, notably, other arts engagement events through the Moss
Arts Center), none of them had extensive familiarity with Arabic percussion
traditions, or with specic Arab or Muslim cultures. Indeed, focus group
Anne Elise omas
discussions with these students indicated that their academic study and
performance of music had focused almost exclusively on performance-based
skills, with little exposure to discourses of cultural identity and diversity.
eir experiences with Salaam were invigorating, physically challenging
and intellectually broadening. In workshops focusing on dierent percussion
instruments (primarily frame drum and tambourine), Nagi asked them to add
bodily movement to their drumming technique, which each student identied
as particularly challenging, but also a signicant takeaway that they expect to
further apply as percussionists. As one student articulated in an interview:
Yeah, I think that adding the entire body really like – when we did it in
the session it actually like solidied the rhythm and made it feel more, like,
together and, like it had more rhythmic integrity because we added our
whole bodies and I’d never realized like adding your body to your playing
more could aect it in such a way? So I think that helped us all, like I said,
realize that if you use more of your body then it can bring the music more to
life than just like using your hands like we were used to before that. So that
changed a lot of perspective for me, denitely.
By putting the rhythms from an unfamiliar culture not only in their minds
and in their hands, but also their bodies, the cultural experience was
literally embodied for these percussionists in a way that was powerful and
ese students also gained perspective in seeing new potential for
instruments they already felt familiar with. One percussionist was awestruck
at Nagi’s performance skills on sagat (nger cymbals):
I would’ve loved to have had an hour lesson on nger cymbal technique,
because that was awesome, I’d never seen anything like that. . . So that’s
what intrigued me, I was like, ‘wow, ok, nger cymbals are, like, hard to
learn now!’ I couldn’t believe how many dierent sounds he could get out of
that instrument.”8
Another percussionist, a music education student, related that the frame drum
skills Nagi imparted were immediately applicable in his student teaching:
One thing that I really enjoyed, from what [Nagi] taught us, was how
to actually play the frame drums. Because, this past semester I’ve been
8 For an example of Nagi performing on sagat (nger cymbals), see
Salaam: Transforming Individuals
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interning at a local elementary school, in Roanoke, and they have these
frame drums, and [the classroom teachers] just thought they were regular
drums, but I could actually teach them, like, how to use them. And that
was a nice element to be able to pass on, because, kind of the whole point of
culturally responsive teaching is being able to use these instruments in the
way they should be used.
Examples like this illustrate one of the ongoing impact of Salaam activities
on communities – through Salaam, this future music educator has gained
culturally-specic knowledge and skills which will inform his (and likely
others’) teaching in the years ahead.
A less concrete, but equally powerful area of impact for several of
these percussionists was gaining an awareness of a “meditative” element of
Arabic percussion performance, which they felt they could apply to their
percussion practice more generally. In his nal workshop session with the
percussionists, Nagi explained how the particular rhythmic pattern they were
performing at the time was imbued in certain Arab cultures with meditative
and spiritual meaning. While Nagi did not explicitly link his remarks, or the
rhythm he was presenting, to a particular tradition within the Arab world
(such as practices of Su dhikr or the spiritual healing practices of Egyptian
zar ritual), several of the students found personal relevance in the idea,
encountered in dierent cultural settings, that drumming could be used for
meditative or mental health purposes:
[A] lot of the stu we did is religiously-oriented, and a lot of it is ways for
prayers, and a lot of it is like meditation, and I thought that was really cool,
and, there would be times that [Nagi] would, like, stand in front of us and
be like, “If you’re ever having a bad day, and you just aren’t feeling it and,
like, don’t go do anything crazy, just like, go play drums” and that – like,
you hear “go play music if you’re upset” a lot, but that was really cool and
Another student framed her takeaway from the same moment slightly
Yeah that was also probably my favorite part, was that, like, little talk
he gave us, about how, if you’re. . . drumming and doing motions with
that, that you really can’t think about anything else, because you have to
think about that coordination, then after you’re done thinking about that
then hopefully, you’ll be over whatever grief or something that you’ve had
Anne Elise omas
For these students, this specic example of using music for meditative and
healing purposes, grounded in Arabic percussion tradition, was useful and
revelatory. While these specic comments point to changes in perspective
that may seem interesting but modest in scope, I would argue that in an
intercultural encounter, it may be precisely the accumulation of such small
but useful insights that continue to impact, and eventually transform, an
individual’s understanding and attitude about the value of engaging with
individuals with dierent cultural experience.
Transforming Community
Although Blacksburg, a town in rural southwest Virginia, has not historically
had a large Muslim community, this population is growing. e town
currently is home to two dierent mosques, and the campus community
includes two Muslim student organizations with membership of over 200
students and an active and visible presence on campus. Notably, the university
is not the only driver of recent growth in Blacksburg’s Muslim population
(as had been the case in the past). Scientists and researchers of Muslim
backgrounds have been attracted to increasing business and entrepreneurial
opportunities in Blacksburg. In addition, in 2016, an interfaith group called
the “Blacksburg Refugee Partnership” was formed to sponsor and support
the resettlement in Blacksburg of international refugees. Currently, several
families from Syria and Afghanistan have settled in Blacksburg, and members
of the Salaam project planning team made it a priority to engage these
families with project activities. A special event was planned for two of the
residency artists to share a meal and present an informal performance with
the families; this event was deeply impactful for both the families and the
artists. In addition, the resettled families were invited to all public Salaam
events, and one Syrian teenager was a consistent participant and performed
on stage with Itraab. Members of the resettled families were deeply moved
by engaging with the resident artists, and felt a profound connection to home
through the performances of Omar Oendum and Karim Nagi.
In considering how intercultural arts projects can advance a more
inclusive community, one of Salaam’s most intriguing impacts relates to
individuals’ observations of the diverse audience for the culminating Salaam
event. A graduate student who acted in a stang role for the Salaam project
remarked how, at the performance:
I think I was surprised to see how many dierent cultures – I’m not positive
if they all identify as Muslims, but I think I was just surprised with the
Anne Elise omas Salaam: Transforming Individuals
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amount of dierent cultures that are in Blacksburg, and . . . seeing that at
the performance, whether they’re in the audience, or whether they’re in the
performance, I was denitely surprised by that.
One undergraduate student described her experience of seeing the audience
for the Salaam performance, and imagining how it looked from the
perspective of a newcomer to the community:
And so when I went in there, I was like, this is like a great community. .
. it looked like people feel like they felt so welcome, and they’re coming, like
especially refugees, they’re coming to this like place that’s completely dierent
from what they know. . . I hope what they got from the performance was
that they are truly welcomed. And I personally thought it was just going
to be a performance that like our class went to, and other faculty and stu
like that. I even saw President [of Virginia Tech, Timothy] Sands there too,
and I thought like that was really important that he showed up, because
then he’s representing, like, we represent, well like this class and the larger
community represents like acceptance and things like that. So, it really
touched me that it was crowded.
While the resettled families were not publicly recognized or welcomed
from the stage, a surprisingly large number of audience members seemed
to understand who this large, multigenerational Syrian family was, and the
signicance of their being present at this event. Noting the diversity in the
audience, one percussionist mused about what someone from another culture
might observe about their performance:
I think one of my biggest observations of that was the crowd . . . (the lights
were kind of bright but) I saw a bunch of dierent people that looked like
they came from dierent places, and, I don’t know if we necessarily changed
any minds, but I feel like . . . us exposing our combination of the two things,
our culture with Karim’s, could lead them to go out into the world and
tell them like, “hey, we saw this really cool thing, where people that aren’t
necessarily Muslim or from the Arabic culture could do it too, be involved
with it just as readily.
Each of these anecdotes from individual students represents an act of
imagination, of attempting to understand and empathize with a stranger’s
experience, and by this action, overcoming some of the “strangeness” that is
a primary obstacle in intercultural encounters. While a detailed examination
of this mental activity is beyond the scope of this article, I would suggest
that these acts of imagining another’s perspective are constitutive of the
Anne Elise omas
ways an individual personalizes and reies the abstract idea of belonging to a
community. In this context, my point is to underscore that it is not only the
arts activities themselves that are transformative, but also the groups of people
that are brought together through and around the arts, and the ways these
groups perceive one another. An event can inspire people to re-imagine their
sense of belonging to a community.
For other individuals, the experience of performing on the stage, and of
sharing their story with a community, was deeply personally transformative.
One Muslim student (who wears hijab, a headscarf that some Muslim women
choose to wear) described in a focus group several incidents in which she
had confronted prejudice and racism during her time on the Virginia Tech
campus. For the culminating Salaam performance, this student delivered an
original poem she wrote about wearing the scarf and its meanings for her.
She had initially been hesitant to perform a piece carrying such intimate
and personal meaning, but was strongly encouraged by the artists and her
professor. e poem (excerpted) states:
See, it, is much more than one thousand threads
It is my ancestors
It is my mother
Every time I ask God what heaven looks like
I see my mother’s face in the night sky
Her eyes twinkle, like the constellations
It is my grandmother’s soft embrace
Her rattling bones wrapped around me, shielding me from any harm
. . .
Know this: it is not a noose around my neck
It does not suocate me
It does not stay on while I shower
It does not feel heavy
Olive today, maybe lavender tomorrow
I choose to, every single day, so that I can pray
And praise God, wherever I am9
After the performance, one (non-Muslim) audience member expressed to
her how deeply aected she was by the poem, saying that she had never
heard this kind of rst-person explanation of the meanings of hijab. e
stranger’s reaction surprised the student but also gave her a deep sense
of encouragement in representing her identity in such a visible and often
9 e full poem, as performed, may be viewed online at
Salaam: Transforming Individuals
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dicult way. Reecting on what it had meant to her to participate in Salaam,
she related,
I think that it reminded me that I am capable. Because with everything
going on, as much as you don’t want [biased attitudes toward Muslims] to
bother you or as much as you can pretend [they don’t] . . . it still aects you
. . . I’ll remember that, that no matter what, I can [do it], I’m ne.
is student gained from performing in Salaam a durable sense of condence
in her abilities, and in expressing her identity. Her performance likewise
transformed her community, as audience members gained insight into this
young woman’s experience, so that they had deeper understanding of her
values and her choices.
Transforming the Arts Field rough Its Leaders (Current and Future)
In projects designed to serve students and communities, evaluation eorts
are typically directed at, and limited to, these target groups. With Salaam,
we also observed profound impacts upon those who directed, planned, and
staed project events. In interviews, sta and graduate students involved
with Salaam shared reections and insights they gained through the project.
As this group collectively spent signicant time with the residency artists,
and observed and participated in Salaam in a variety of roles and settings,
it follows that this group would be deeply impacted by the project. Indeed,
I would argue that it is this area in which the Salaam project will have its
most signicant transformative eects, as graduate students and younger
professionals will continue to draw upon their experience with Salaam in
their future roles as arts leaders.
Two students from Virginia Tech’s master of ne arts program in
Arts Leadership, as well as one from the Alliance for Political, Ethical
and Cultural ought (ASPECT) interdisciplinary doctoral program,
were assigned to work on the Salaam project as part of their graduate
assistantships. Prior to Salaam, none of these students had particular
knowledge of Islam, or even acquaintance with individuals from Muslim-
majority cultures. During Salaam, these students were party to some of
the most extensive and in-depth intercultural interactions – their own,
with residency artists (escorting them to campus engagements and stang
artist workshops) as well as between the artists, students and participants
(observing and collecting surveys at classes and workshops, and conducting
interviews and focus groups with these students later). All three graduate
students also played integral roles in the Salaam culminating performance
– one participated as a performer, one acted as stage manager, and the third
Anne Elise omas
played a dual role as performer and manager. And all three reported deeply
personal impacts from Salaam that will inform their future careers in the arts.
e two Arts Leadership students were initially attracted to the Salaam
project because of its emphases on community engagement and intercultural
dialogue. Each of the three graduate students articulated feeling (prior to
their work on Salaam) that they had very limited knowledge about Muslim
cultures, which made them feel unequipped to enter into dialogue and build
connections with Muslims. Salaam gave them a “way in” - a context and
opportunity to get to know individuals from Muslim-majority cultures, and
to enter into dialogue with them via the arts –a familiar, comfortable, and
inspiring topic for each of them. As one of the students described,
Because I think, you talk a lot about people being scared of the unfamiliar,
and I think arts are such, kind of an innocuous way to sneak people into
that intercultural activity, because, what can be dangerous or scary about
making a mosaic together, or learning this song together? And through that
act of learning you’ve not only made a connection with the other people in
the room but you’ve learned something about their culture. . . I think it’s so
important, because we need to nd ways for people to come in at their own
level, and I think art is such a great way to do that, and such an important
way to do that. And so this project, I think really tried to oer those
dierent levels of engagement, whether it was, you know, “you don’t need
to know anything about Arabic percussion, but come to this thing, and we’ll
hand you a drum!”
Each graduate student spoke of challenging themselves and overcoming their
initial discomfort as they entered new spaces (two of these students were
inspired to visit the mosque), built relationships, participated in unfamiliar
modes of cultural expression, asked questions, and gained deeper personal
understanding of the experiences of Muslims in America.
All three students also identied ways that their experience with
Salaam will shape their future careers. For the student quoted above, the
experience illuminated ways to build communities by providing opportunities
and dierent paths for individuals of various backgrounds to participate
in intercultural arts projects. e other Arts Leadership student valued
the example of Salaam as an arts project that grew out of and successfully
engaged an existing community, and felt that this approach will be replicable
in her future work, likely at a non-prot arts organization. e third student
found focus and inspiration in Salaam for her own practice as a visual artist,
and developed strategies for engaging in dialogue about identity through
Salaam: Transforming Individuals
and Communities rough Arts-Based Intercultural Learning
making art.
Beyond the graduate students (ostensibly still in their “formative” years),
Salaam also provided Moss Arts Center sta with a unique intercultural
encounter. None of the full-time sta of Moss Arts Center identify as
Muslim. Like the graduate students, members of Salaam project sta
articulated feeling initially hesitant to ask questions that might reveal
an uninformed opinion or inadvertent cultural insensitivity. roughout
the project, they felt increasingly empowered to initiate dialogue with
and advocate for Muslims and other individuals from unfamiliar cultural
For those on the project leadership team, it was necessary to develop
a deeper and more nuanced understanding of issues of importance in
dialogue around representing Muslims in American public spaces. During
the planning process, there were frequently strong dierences of opinions
between individuals identifying as Muslim about which artists and traditions
would be a part of Salaam programming. Some individuals invoked an
orthodox “mainstream” of Islam that did not accept representing certain
topics (such as Susm, feminism or queerness) under an umbrella of
“Muslim cultures.” Ultimately, the majority of planning team members felt
that Moss Arts Center had a responsibility to be as inclusive as possible in
representing Muslim identities and experiences, although it was important
to hear various perspectives, and to have these discussions publicly and
transparently. Negotiating between opposing positions taken by individual
Muslims in the community required Moss Arts Center sta members
to make dicult choices about which artists and traditions to include in
programming and highlight on stage, with the knowledge that all members
of the Muslim community would not agree with these choices. Needless to
say, engaging respectfully, thoughtfully and with recognition of the diversity
of opinions within any community is crucially important in intercultural arts
Discussion, Conclusions, and Further Directions
Over multiple years, Salaam: Exploring Muslim Cultures at Virginia Tech (and
the Islamic Worlds Festival that preceded it) has had a transformative impact
on the students and community members who have engaged as participants
and audience members. It has transformed individual lives by oering a wide
variety of ongoing opportunities for arts-based intercultural engagement.
Moreover, there is evidence of transformation at the community level, as
participants and audience members indicated shifts in the ways they perceive
and interact with others around them.
In considering how the arts can transform lives and communities, it
Anne Elise omas
is important not to limit our view of what that transformation may look
like. While the “wow” factor of a single performance event or arts exhibit
may be powerful and memorable, fostering repeated, consistent arts-based
intercultural engagement maximizes the potential to build knowledge and
relationships that impact individuals and communities in ways that are
deeper and more durable. is view is supported by Kevin McCarthy et.
al’s (2004) observation that “frequent participants [in the arts] are those
whose experiences engage them in multiple ways – mentally, emotionally,
and socially. e more intense that engagement is, the more gratifying the
experience” (p. 57). As with the “gateway experiences” identied by McCarthy
et al. (53), individuals may initially be drawn to participate in an intercultural
arts experience because of an expectation of enjoyment or pleasure. More
substantive impacts (in this case, intercultural knowledge, relationships, or
increased empathy) are more likely to result from repeated or continued
engagement. Community impacts accrue as individuals develop relationships
and social capital as a result of their engagement, and the accumulated shifts
in perspectives can eventually impact culture and cultural policy.
As in impact assessment in the arts more broadly, it can be dicult or
impossible to document or measure these traces over time. It is much easier
to administer a survey to gather individual audience members’ response to a
particularly inspiring performance immediately after that event than it is to
track what is retained and how individuals’ refer back to a more complex set
of experiences over intervals of time.10 Even when this can be accomplished,
the data can be largely anecdotal and self-selective.11 It is clear that further
research is needed to gather robust data from comparable projects to
determine the unique assets and avenues the arts oer to advance intercultural
engagement and dialogue.
As I referenced earlier, the work that led to Salaam was premised, at
least in part, on the theory that engaging with the arts and culture of a
marginalized group has the potential to positively impact the attitudes of
a broader public toward that group. In undertaking this project we aspired
that we could possibly, through the arts, aect the attitudes of individuals
who harbored negative and even “Islamophobic” perspectives. Our research
has not produced evidence of this kind of result. What the Salaam research
10 is assessment project did include collection of (qualitative) survey data at all performances,
workshops, and class visits. We intend to collect additional qualitative data in Spring 2019 (one year
following project activities) from those students who were most deeply involved in Salaam.
11 e need for better tools in analyzing and assessing the impacts of arts engagement has been the
subject of a great deal of productive discussion in recent years. For an excellent summary of this
discussion, as well as useful prescriptive advice, I refer readers to Kim Dunphy’s chapter “A Holistic
Framework of Evaluation for Arts Engagement” in Making Culture Count: e Politics of Cultural
Measurement (London: Palgrave, 2015).
Salaam: Transforming Individuals
and Communities rough Arts-Based Intercultural Learning
does suggest is that arts experiences can provide an entry point for those who
have little or no prior knowledge of these groups or cultures to begin to build
a store of understanding and experience, to dierentiate their generalized
perceptions and to provide specic grounding for further dialogue and
intercultural communication. As one of the graduate students who was
deeply involved with the project expressed,
I think so much of [my experience with Salaam] has been kind of wrestling
with what makes me uncomfortable, and why, and leaning into that. . .
So this has been denitely a journey, for me, and I’m not anywhere near a
nish line . . . And if this is something that I decided to make a larger part
of my life, it could happen, and there’s ways to connect beyond what I had
thought there were.
It can be hard to initiate dialogue about cultural dierence. For many,
the prospect of engaging an acquaintance in conversation to learn about
their culture can be intimidating. Others may feel they already know enough,
that there is no need to engage. In contrast, arts experiences invite people
into the same room and assemble a transient but tangible representation of
“community.” Together they may experience aesthetic enjoyment, engage in
collaborative creation, or gain fresh insight into another person’s perspective.
For each Salaam participant who wrestled with discomfort in an intercultural
encounter, and eventually realized “ways to connect beyond what I had
thought there were,” the project achieved its most important goal.
Anne Elise omas is an ethnomusicologist, writer, and music and dance
performer with specialties in Arab musical traditions as well as Appalachian
music and dance. She has worked with nonprot arts organizations in
education and outreach and has served as Research Fellow for the “Salaam:
Exploring Muslim Cultures” project at Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech.
Since 2014, she has directedItraabArabic Music Ensemble at Virginia
Tech also through Moss Arts Center. She holds an MA and Ph.D. in
Ethnomusicology from Brown University and a BA in Music from the
College of William and Mary. An accomplished performer on qanun (a
78-stringed Arab zither), piano, harpsichord, ddle, and Appalachian
clogging, she is an active teaching artist and has been on the Virginia
Commission for the Arts Teaching Artist Roster since 2016.
Anne Elise omas
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Anne Elise omas
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
Islamophobia is an emerging comparative concept in the social sciences. Yet most writers have an impressionistic understanding of the term at best. There is no widely-accepted, usable definition of Islamophobia that permits systematic comparative and causal analysis. In this essay, I analyze how the term Islamophobia has been deployed in public and scholarly debates in order to reveal how these discussions have taken place on multiple registers. I then draw on theoretical work on concept formation to offer a systematic definition of Islamophobia that is useful for social scientific purposes. I discuss the types of indicators that are most appropriate for measuring Islamophobia as well as the benefits of concept development for enabling comparative and causal analysis.
This document reports on a study of the role that arts and culture play in Philadelphia’s migrant communities—that is, Puerto Rican and foreign-born residents and their families, including children born in the U.S. The project explored the concept of “arts-based social inclusion”—the idea that organizations and artists use culture and the arts as a means to improve the life circumstances of new Philadelphians and integrate them more fully into community life. The study confirmed arts-based social inclusion is a productive perspective with which to make sense of this work. The report examines the changing presence of the foreign-born in Philadelphia from 2000 to 2007 as a context for the study. Fieldwork was conducted during spring and summer of 2010. Two cross-cutting themes emerged from interviews with practitioners. First, a cultural perspective provides a broader, multi-dimensional way—beyond economic need—of thinking about the process of social inclusion. Second, cultural practitioners working with migrant communities repeatedly run up against conventional notions about nonprofit organizational structure and capacity. The report articulates a five-part typology of counter-models pursued by cultural practitioners: cultural space development, community organizing, institutional networks, school-based programming, and culturally-sensitive social service. The conclusion offers guidelines for philanthropy interested in building the arts' capacity to engage immigrants that's grounded on a holistic, community-based approach. Lastly, the authors propose an evaluation framework based on the “capabilities approach” to welfare and wellbeing that is closely identified with the European discussion of social inclusion.
The emerging professional field of cultural development — that is, funded cultural activity led by individual artists, arts organisations and government — is increasingly undertaken to contribute to community wellbeing. Arts engagement, both receptive (in which participants receive the artistic process as audiences or consumers) and creative (in which participants actively make art), is a major aspect of this work. Host organisations and funders are progressively more concerned to understand the impact of this work they lead or support. Yet, arts leaders and those who manage their programmes experience a range of challenges in elucidating outcomes of this work comprehensively and with clarity. These challenges include the fact that outcomes are often categorised as either intrinsic or instrumental, with intrinsic outcomes frequently seen as problematic because they are considered immeasurable. Evaluation approaches largely focus on either social or economic outcomes (often identified as instrumental outcomes), rather than taking a more holistic perspective, in which all aspects of human experience and the natural world are considered equally important and inter-connected. Assessments of outcomes most often involve assumptions that activity is beneficial, with little regard given to the possibility of neutral or negative outcomes, or the proportion of benefit to costs. The perspectives of different stakeholders are frequently not reflected in the evaluation process.
Americans who Interact with Muslims Hold More Positive Views of Muslims, Refugees
  • Betsy Cooper
Cooper, Betsy. 2017. "Americans who Interact with Muslims Hold More Positive Views of Muslims, Refugees." February 6, 2017.
How Muslims, Often Misunderstood, are Thriving in America
  • Leila Fadel
Fadel, Leila. 2018. "How Muslims, Often Misunderstood, are Thriving in America." National Geographic, May 2018. https://www.
Community Impact of Islamic Worlds Festival on Intercultural and Interreligious Understanding
  • Halvorson-Fried
  • Jon Sarah
  • Anne Elise Catherwood-Ginn
  • Thomas
Halvorson-Fried, Sarah, Jon Catherwood-Ginn, and Anne Elise Thomas. 2015. "Community Impact of Islamic Worlds Festival on Intercultural and Interreligious Understanding." Unpublished project assessment.
Muslims and Islam: Key Findings in the U.S. and Around the World
  • Pew Research Center Website
Pew Research Center Website. 2017. "Muslims and Islam: Key Findings in the U.S. and Around the World." Fact Tank: News in the Numbers. August 9. muslims-and-islam-key-findings-in-the-u-s-and-around-the-world/
Can Television be Fair to Muslims?
  • Melena Ryzik
Ryzik, Melena. 2016. "Can Television be Fair to Muslims?" New York Times website,