New Levant Initiative Conference

Thank you for your interest in the New Levant Initiative and our inaugural conference held on March 1, 2018 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. We are grateful to all who came and shared the day with us and invite you to continue this journey with family, friends and colleagues.

The conference reflected on the Levantine identity, as captured throughout history, art, architecture, music and cuisine, as well as the history of cosmopolitanism and commerce that enabled this vibrant culture to thrive. Panelists who share Levantine heritage examined its influence on their careers and lives as well as gave testimony to the uniqueness of the Levantine identity.

The program was followed by an evening concert performance with the original composition, Levantine Symphony N°1, by Ibrahim Maalouf.

Welcome Remarks

Panel Discussions

 The Past for the Future: Lessons from the Levant

Robert Worth, New York Times correspondent and former chief of the New York Times Beirut bureau, interviews Philip Mansel, renowned historian and author of several books on the Ottoman Empire, including Levant: Splendour and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean.

Robert Worth, Journalist
Philip Mansel, Ph.D., Historian and author

Levantine Cities Through Space and Time

This discussion will center around the shared design and overall aesthetic of Levantine architecture both from a historical perspective and contemporary architectural designs. It will focus on the role that architecture can play in the construction of a new Levant – the role it has played in the past, the role it plays today, and the role it will play in the future.  Panelists will explore the concept of the “Levantine city,” and urban design over the course of time.

Fares el-Dahdah, Professor of Humanities and Director of the Humanities Research Center, Rice University

Amale Andraos, Dean, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, Columbia University
Rodolphe el-Khoury, Dean, School of Architecture, University of Miami
Hashim Sarkis, Dean, School of Architecture and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

An Economic Case for Integration in the Levant

Presented in association with the World Bank, this panel will present the tangible benefits of integration for the people and countries of the Levant.  It will highlight the World Bank’s Over the Horizon report, include a discussion of a promising effort at regional integration prior to 2011, and present a vision of an interconnected energy sector that is linked to international markets.

The Levantine Diet: A Regional Culinary Tradition

This discussion will focus on historical developments and discoveries in Levantine food and cooking methods and how they have had a global influence on cuisine.  Panelists will also discuss the diverse elements of Levantine cuisine that have come together to create something larger than the sum of its parts.

Pinar Tremblay, Columnist for Al-Monitor’s Turkey Pulse and a Visiting Scholar of Political Science at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

Poopa Dweck, First generation American Syrian-Jew, cookbook author and authority on the cuisines and customs of Aleppo, Syria
Barbara Massaad, Lebanese-American cookbook author, photographer and TV host

Wassef Haroun, Co-owner of Mama Restaurant Group

Lunch provided by Ilili

Ilili is a 300-seat restaurant in New York City serving Lebanese-Mediterranean Cuisine in a contemporary setting. Every dish at ilili has its own story from the traditional recipes direct from Lebanon to modern updates that tell the history of Chef Philippe Massoud’s team, of his cooks and chefs who left their mark on ilili’s kitchen, and his serving staff and managers who have been ambassadors of hospitality.

Sounds of the Levant

Simon Shaheen, Palestinian-American performer, composer, and Professor of strings at the Berklee College of Music, will moderate this discussion highlighting the commonality of Levantine music, establishing the shared Levantine identity that crosses borders and brings Levantine people together.

Simon Shaheen, Palestinian-American performer, composer, and Professor at Berklee College of Music 


Layth Al Rubaye, Violinist, composer and director of the Arab Music Ensemble at Tufts University
Karim Nagi, Arab musician and folk dancer
A.J. Racy, Ph.D., Performer, composer and Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of California at Los Angeles
Kareem Roustom, Composer, Professor of the Practice, Tufts University Department of Music

diverseLevant: A Diachronic and Iconographic Atlas of Coexistence

Presentation by Prof. Fares el-Dahdah

The goal of  diverseLevant, Professor el-Dahdah’s diachronic map created for this conference,  is to create an online mapping platform that illustrates the urban evolution of a  Levantine  city, such as Beirut, over its entire history as well as across its social, cultural, and religious diversity. The project consists of an online cartographic platform that illustrates the urban evolution  of Beirut, over its entire history as well as across  its social, cultural, and religious diversity. Primary archival sources, such as views of the city, historical maps, archaeological surveys, and  architectural projects will be located, in time and space, while their associated visual  and geographic data will be integrated across many databases.

Fares el-Dahdah, Professor of Humanities and Director of the Humanities Research Center, Rice University

The Evolution of Levantine Art

Contemporary  artists and experts reflect on the past and present of Levantine art as well as the Levantine identity and how it informs their practice. This panel will also address the shared artistic heritage of the Levant region and the cities that came to symbolize this cultural integration (Mari, Babylon, Palmyra, Petra, Baalbek, Damascus, Baghdad, Aleppo, Tripoli, Jerusalem). The panel will also address the Levantine identity as it exists today in modern visual art: the ambiguous relationship between text and image, tradition and modernity, East and West.

Michael Jeha, Managing Director and Deputy Chairman, Christie’s Middle East  

Ghada Amer, Artist, represented by Cheim and Read
Saleh Barakat, Beirut gallerist and expert in Levantine art
Sara Raza, Guggenheim UBS MAP Curator, Middle East and North Africa

Recorded live on March 1, 2018 at
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
David M. Rubenstein, Chairman
Deborah F. Rutter, President


The New Levant Initiative (NLI) aims to revitalize the shared Levantine identity by highlighting the thousands of years of artistic, architectural, musical, culinary and other cultural contributions that constitute a rich Levantine mosaic.  We are focusing on the history of cosmopolitanism and commerce that enabled this vibrant culture to thrive and linked so many Levantine cities. Our intention is to leverage this illustrious past to solidify a vision for improved quality of life and hope for the future.

The New Levant Initiative is currently developing dynamic community-centered programming that fosters a sense of shared purpose through dialogue, programs, support for research and outreach to key stakeholders. If you are interested in connecting with us, or have recommendations for partnerships, please contact us at contact@new-levant.org. 

The New Levant Initiative (NLI) aims to promote peace and prosperity through economic integration and cultural discourse among the peoples and countries of the Levant.


Email: contact@new-levant.org
Phone: +1 (202) 830-2900