Design Diaries International

The Design Diaries International project connected American teens with Palestinian teens in Jerusalem using fashion, history and culture.

Design Diaries International
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In an era of distrust between Americans and Arabs, the Design Diaries International (DDI) project cultivated enduring relationships through the most everyday of artifacts, clothing. Using communication tools including teleconferences, a closed Facebook group and video diaries, teen girls based at the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) and Palestinian Heritage Museum (PHM) bonded through “couture conversations” whose topics included historic and modern fashion, religion, modesty, and generational attitudes about clothes. Ultimately, the girls’ personal experiences informed a unique perspective on the similarities between Americans and Palestinians. The girls used what they learned to create original garments that reflected not only their personal tastes, but also the group’s cultural traditions and shared interests, to create a final fashion show that spotlighted the similarities rather than differences between a very diverse group of young women. The project’s three primary goals were to augment student participants’ 21st century skills; to develop participants’ knowledge of textiles in their own and their partners’ country; and to build community knowledge of their partner country’s cultures.

Design Diaries International, a Museums Connect project,was funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and was administered by the American Alliance of Museums. Additional funding provided by the Legacy Amendment’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on November 4, 2008.

See what people had to say about this project!

“Overall, I think I’ll remember that I learned so much: about fashion, about Jerusalem, about work skills, about history and so much more.” -- U.S. Project Participant

“Until this show, I never thought about how powerful fashion is as a tool of cultural exchange. Watching the young women from two different cultures support one another, learn together, share pride in accomplishment - and have fun - made an impression on me.” -- Attendee, Design Diaries International Fashion Show, Minnesota History Center

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Each student created an original garment inspired by what she learned. Click on images to see sample sketches, artist statements, and photos of completed looks! Want to see more of what our students did in Jerusalem? Here’s a day by day report on the exchange.

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Approximately twenty female high school students (ages 15-18) were recruited from communities surrounding the Minnesota History Center in Saint Paul, and approximately 20 female teen students (aged 15-18) were recruited from Dar Al-Tifel Al-Arabi School, the Palestinian Heritage Museum (PHM)’s neighbor and sister organization in Jerusalem. At each of the sites, 18 girls completed the program. The girls met for weekly work sessions, but also communicated approximately once a month or more with their counterparts through Google Hangout-based teleconferences. They also kept in touch internationally with Facebook, video and photo diaries, sketches, and written reflections. Design Diaries International (DDI) participants produced two fashion shows with the help of a few design instructors in Jerusalem and a group of Design Mentors in the U.S.

Two fashion shows were produced to show what the girls had created. The Jerusalem show was held on April 5th, 2014 and a second show in Saint Paul, MN was held on May 15, 2014. Each show featured the entire host group, plus seven girls visiting from the partnering country, on stage in their original designs. Project staff also worked with the girls to select appropriate supporting music/media and to craft written artists’ statements about their garments. These statements explained each young designer’s cultural influences and personal style to emphasize the ways their cross cultural collaboration played out in the final designs, see appendix for examples.

Many but not all aspects of DDI could be adapted for similar partnerships at other museums. At the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS), DDI activities were built on concepts of object-based learning and storytelling that guide many of MNHS’s educational programs. Activities like in-depth research on historic textiles, creating a “journal entry” based on the significance of items in one’s closets, and presenting aspects of one’s cultural heritage are common to many cultural museums and easily replicated. At both PHM and MNHS, project coordinators relied on an array of community contacts and supporters to deliver a truly community-based program. In the Twin Cities, the textiles/design community played an important role; design mentors helped girls to complete their garments and offered crucial career and school advice to the young designers. They also helped to create professional fashion shows. MNHS program coordinators were pleasantly surprised to connect with Palestinians in the Twin Cities as the project unfolded; their contributions included visiting during work sessions to show girls real Palestinian textiles and hosting Palestinian visitors to the Twin Cities in May. In Jerusalem, project coordinators depended on parents and immediate family members of the Palestinian participants to ensure student achievement and promote the project to the broader Palestinian community, many of whom had some negative opinions about American involvement in the region.

Museum staff looking to replicate DDI would do well to make strong community connections, especially with parents and community stakeholders. The American participants greatly benefited from mentorship provided by members of the textile/design community. Despite strong leadership by a design instructor with some instructional support in Jerusalem, the Palestinian girls would have benefited from similar guidance. Thus, museums looking to reproduce DDI would be well advised to establish strong relationships with design/textiles professionals to ensure a successful project.

For more information, contact Project Manager Aleah Vinick at aleah.vinick@mnhs.org or 651-259-3417.

To learn more about Palestinians and Palestinians in the Twin Cities, contact Arab American arts journal, MIZNA.

To learn more about the Museums Connect Program, contact the American Alliance of Museums.

Project Details

Date: October 2013 - May 2014
Partner(s): Palestinian Heritage Museum and Dar Al-Tifel Al-Arabi School, Jerusalem; Aleah Vinick, Minnesota Historical Society, Project Manager
Location: Saint Paul, MN

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