West Philadelphia is an ethnically diverse community and over a dozen of the city’s 50 Masjids, the Arabic word for Mosque, are in West Philadelphia. America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far is now open at the Please Touch Museum (PTM) in West Fairmount Park and teaches diversity and tolerance in a vibrant and inviting space.
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America to Zanzibar is part of PTM’s commitment to inclusivity and promoting diversity at the museum. The museum staff worked closely with members of the community to develop an inviting exhibit for kids and parents. “We invited an advisory group of over two dozen scholars artists community and religious leaders with deep ties to the Muslim community to inform our work and the results are amazing,” said Patricia Wallenbach, President and CEO of Please Touch Museum.
The Please Touch Museum does a great job of creating spaces that blend play with education and this space is no exception. The original exhibit ran at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan from 2016 to 2018 and about 500,000 people visited during that time. America to Zanzibar received some minor tailoring to give it a more Philadelphia-centric focus to cater to the region’s 200,000 Muslims. Artwork from local artists and historic artifacts including a Quran from the 1800s are on loan from the Free Library of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Children ages 2-12 will enjoy this exhibit. Visitors can experience five separate areas including a global marketplace and areas that display trade routes, a courtyard space, immersive 3D replicas of Middle Eastern architecture and mosques, and an American home area. Images of vibrant colored piles of spices similar to what you might find in a Middle Eastern market cover one wall. A statue of a camel sits on the floor for children to climb on.
Wallenbach was joined by community leaders, Mayor Jim Kenney, and a large group of children as the ribbon was cut and this new educational play space opened to the community.
“Our history is based on being a place where religious freedom is part of its founding principles,” Kenney said. “Our city’s diversity is something we celebrate. If we can get children, families, educators, young and old alike to lean in and really understand what it means to embrace diverse communities I think we will have achieved a greater good.”
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