Ruba Kana'an

For her contribution to cultural education and appreciation

Promoting Cultural Understanding, One Visitor at a Time 

Since it opened in September 2014, The Aga Khan Museum has become a magnificent destination. The Toronto museum, dedicated to Islamic arts and culture, is rimmed with reflecting pools and green spaces. It’s a contemplative workspace for Ruba Kana’an, Head of Education and Scholarly Programs at the museum.

Kana’an is in charge of both the formal educational output of the museum, such as schools and scholars, and the educational experience within its walls, like the multimedia guides, school tours, and this year’s inaugural summer camp program.  “A typical day comprises overseeing that school visits are taking place and that the students are happy and learning, and then working with my team on programming public lectures, conferences, and hands-on art workshops,” she says

Kana’an, who was born in Ammam, Jordan, came to Canada eight years ago. “I consider myself really lucky to have discovered early on as an undergraduate in the school of architecture in Jordan that my true passion is for cultural history: for me, historic buildings were exciting because of the stories they lead us to discover about the people who built them.”

From there, she went on to Oxford, where she studied Islamic art and architecture, and then taught it. “I developed, wrote, and taught the first on-line course in Islamic art.” It remains the only credited online course in its field. Kana’an has been with the Aga Khan Museum, which opened its doors in September 2014, for the last four years.

“As a historian I, of course, see history as very relevant to our current day. My research on architecture, law and society provides examples of how, historically, societies contributed to the creation and shaping of the public sphere through their engagement and patronage of public works and programs,” Kana’an explains. Her own personal history also serves as inspiration: she gives special credit to her grandmother, “a very independent and ambitious Palestinian woman who lived from the end of the Ottoman era until the events of 9/11. She was well read and well informed, and enjoyed discussing history and politics.”

As for being an Arab in Canada, Kana’an sees it as something worth celebrating. “One of the things I admire most about the Canadian Arab Institute is that it celebrates the Canadian-Arabness and encourages a truly inclusive citizenship. This is an ethic that I believe in and act upon. Being an Arab-Canadian living in Canada allows me to do that.” Kana’an herself gives back to the Canadian-Arab community by supporting former students and youth through the CAI.

She encourages those who would follow in her path to “just start. Whatever you want to do, give it your best and use the many resources and opportunities that Canada and the CAI provide.” Perhaps one day, those following in her footsteps will look into the Aga Khan’s reflecting pools and see their own faces looking back.