This volume has been prepared for the Middle East Institute’s Viewpoints collection. Several stakeholders in the Istanbul Center of Atlanta’s Annual Art and Essay Contest have been involved in the composition of this text. Our goal is to provide a history of this successful program, as well as to define a model for the recreation of such an outreach project for other regions. We have tried to highlight positive outcomes, but we have also examined negative assessments, hoping that if “the wheel is reinvented” there may be some insights that help others steer clear of our obstacles.


The imagery used to connect these contributions alludes to the “Tree of Life” motif found throughout world mythologies, arts, and religions. The tree is an appropriate metaphor, due to its patterns of growth and rejuvenation. In many mythic systems it represents the axis mundi, the center of the world — the central pole from which all life germinates and continues to rotate. The allusion to this immortal tree speaks of our shared humanity, which is a common theme associated with the work of the Istanbul Center, and particularly this contest.