Alwan for the Arts began in 1998, when a small group of artists, filmmakers, musicians and graduate students%u2014mainly of Arab origin%u2014decided to organize public events in New York to showcase the arts of the Arab world at a time when the city lacked cultural programming to reflect the artistic diversity and dynamism of the region. In the wake of 9/11, spurred by an increased sense of urgency about the need for cross-cultural dialogue, Alwan rapidly expanded its activities, reaching new audiences and forming alliances beyond the Arab community.
In 2003, Alwan moved into a loft space in downtown Manhattan to establish the city%u2019s first permanent home for cultural events related to the greater Middle East and its diasporas. An initial series of ad hoc film screenings and musical performances evolved quickly into a diverse calendar of events, including music, dance and theater performances; literary readings; film festivals; and panel discussions on wide-ranging topics related to art, culture and current affairs. Alwan%u2019s growth was exponential, from just 9 events in 2003 to 52 in 2006, and averaging 100 a year since 2007. The intimate loft setting and unique programming earned Alwan a reputation among its followers as a %u201Chidden gem,%u201D where audiences could meaningfully engage with presenters.