"The Storyteller," James McBey, etching, 1912: TALIM Museum
Vision – and the resources to back it up
What's our Legation "elevator pitch?" (that minute-or-less sound bite introduction everyone should have handy). How's this:
"The Tangier American Legation is America's only National Historic Landmark located outside the US, where we tell the story of America's first diplomatic property and our relations with Morocco dating back to the American Revolution."
Of course, there are many other aspects to TALIM, the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies. An "elevator pitch" that hopes to raise us some funds might add:
"TALIM is a nonprofit cultural center dependent on grants and donations, which help us in our efforts to preserve America's oldest diplomatic building and to continue our program in Arabic literacy for the women of Tangier's medina."
For an even fuller picture, that elevator speech might require a trip up to the 18th floor:
"As the research center in Morocco of AIMS, the American Institute for Maghrib Studies, TALIM fosters educational exchange, hosts scholars, and organizes seminars and conferences on a wide range of subjects."
So now the pitch requires things like paragraphs, pictures, and links. It's beginning to resemble a blog! Which is sort of my point, and this post is in response to questions I've received about my "vision" for this institution. With applications coming in to fill my job next year, I would like to share some ideas that have guided my work here in the last few years.
The unifying theme has been "make the most
of what we have, and tell the stories that make this place unique." Unlike James McBey's "The
Storyteller," you can't be content with just waiting until
people sidle up to tell them a tale or two.
This job requires reaching out, hence blog and other media platforms. We're set to feature again in the New York Times this coming weekend.
"Women's literacy" may sound worthy, but perhaps a bit generic. How about the story of Fatima Gharbaoui, who also showed artistic talent, and whose sale of paintings earned her enough to have electricity and running water installed in her home? That story of changing one person's life always manages to inspire people.
And that thing about being the first US diplomatic property? Isn't it pretty amazing that this particular American first occurred in Morocco, thanks to the sultan reaching out to the US during its Revolution, the first such head of state to do so? America's sole National Historic Landmark outside the US is in Africa, in a Muslim country, one of the Arab world's most stable powers. If that is not a story of topical relevance two-plus centuries on, I don't know what is.
The trick to making this institution fit together is the realization that its component parts – museum, research library, etc. – aren't separate from each other, but that all can feed each other. Take stories out of the archives and put them on the walls – and in the press. Like a series of vignettes from the Legation's long diplomatic history, including a great Civil War story that was just in the NY Times.
Archives to museum, leading to research that in turns enriches the research library. Look at every piece of this edifice – literally and figuratively – as linked to the rest. A group of architects and engineers chronicles the history of the Legation in the State Department's "Historic Structure Report" (above right, an isometric image of Legation buildings from the HSR). Display their blueprint history as a timeline of the Legation's metamorphosis across the centuries.
Preaching to the choir is necessary – many of the Legation's stakeholders are unaware of aspects of TALIM outside their particular professional field – and building new relationships is a constant effort. The Legation should be much better known in American historic preservation circles, but so far the National Trust for Historic Preservation insists on ignoring America's only overseas National Historic Landmark.
And on the academic side, even though we continue to draw scholars of the Maghreb, we are also of increasing interest to people looking the opposite direction: scholars in the Maghreb and beyond who study America's long history in this region. Stay tuned for the founding meeting at the Legation of the Moroccan American Studies Association.
So, to sum up a vision for this unique historic institution:
"Make the Tangier American Legation – TALIM – a centerpiece for American cultural engagement with Morocco, capitalizing on the Legation's historic presence and involvement with the community, and ensure that Americans, Moroccans, and others learn about the institution and help garner it the support and resources it deserves."
That last bit – support and resources. Very, very important. As one wit aptly put it, "Vison without resources is hallucination." Everything is linked: TALIM activities, public relations, building a network of supporters, and programs and donations flowing from that network.