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Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Award Underscores Spencer's Place Among Select National Company

LAWRENCE, KS.- An award totaling $1.2 million from New York’s Andrew W. Mellon Foundation continues to place KU’s Spencer Museum of Art in the company of institutions including Yale, Duke, the Rhode Island School of Design, and the University of Chicago as university art museums that are leaders in embedding their collections within interdisciplinary teaching and research, from the humanities to the sciences.

The grant recognizes the Spencer’s strong collaborative practice and supports an expansion of the Museum’s research and teaching influence across campus with the establishment of a full-time Director of Academic Programs. The DAP will function as a dynamic liaison with KU, working closely with faculty and students, rein­forcing the many interdisci­plinary SMA projects already underway, and developing new programmatic initiatives, including academic curricula, exhibitions, events, and publications.

The award marks the fourth time since 1992 that the Mellon Foundation has funded a Spencer proposal in its College and University Art Museums program. The current grant comes in two parts: A $1 million endowment challenge grant that the Museum will match within a three-year period, and $200,000 to be used as the Spencer moves ahead with its initiatives and raises matching funds. The endowment portion will enable the Spencer to build substantially upon its existing Mellon endowment.

“The Spencer is grateful to the Mellon Foundation for its foresight and leadership in supporting progressive work in college and university art museums,” says SMA Director Saralyn Reece Hardy. “Recognizing that the best campus museums are central to the core academic goals of a liberal arts education, the Mellon Foundation’s challenge grant encourages and recognizes the University of Kansas as an educational leader. A program of this magnitude will create a lasting legacy and accentuate the growing importance of interdisciplinary research and teaching in our global society. The Mellon Foundation created the College and University Art Museums program to initiate and sustain effective collaborations between museums and academic departments and to strengthen the educational role and use of collections. These two purposes remain compelling. The Spencer is deeply honored to receive this recognition, and we are confident that the University of Kansas and its many communities will ensure that we meet the challenge represented by this award.”

At Dartmouth’s Hood Museum of Art, Director Brian Kennedy emphasizes that “one cannot underestimate the impact of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grants to college and university art museums. The grant to the Hood has enabled our museum to make the collections central not only to the teaching of the arts and visual culture, but also in courses across the curriculum, including those in non-traditional fields in the social sciences and sciences. Teaching to see, analyze, and interpret the visual image or object is without doubt a vital part of the liberal arts education and, by enabling it so richly, the Mellon Foundation has transformed teaching practice in the last 15 years.”

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is a private, not-for-profit corporation formed in 1969 under the laws of the State of New York and currently offers grants in six core areas: higher education and scholarship, scholarly communications, research in information technology, museums and art conservation, performing arts, and conservation and the environment. The Mellon Foundation program for art museums is designed to help institutions build and sustain their capacity to undertake serious scholarship on their permanent collections, preserve these collections, and share the results of their work with scholarly and other audiences.

Academic Initiatives - Establishment of a Director of Academic Programs will further reinforce the many collaborative initiatives already underway at the Museum. Working with the director, curators, and educators, the DAP will serve as a liaison between SMA staff and KU faculty, generating, develop­ing, and managing collabo­ratively taught courses, along with scholarly exhibitions, publications, and symposia that involve students and faculty.

Beyond KU, the Spencer’s collections are used for teaching and research by several other institutions of higher education in the area, including Haskell Indian Nations University (Lawrence); Washburn University (Topeka); Emporia State University (Emporia); Johnson County Community College (Overland Park); Neosho County Community College (Ottawa); and the Kansas City Art Institute (Missouri).

“In its programs and practices, the Spencer Museum of Art continues to impress upon us day by day that it is a vibrant and essential part of the life of the University,” says KU Provost Richard Lariviere. “As it incorporates academic departments throughout the University and embraces cross-disciplinary efforts, the Museum becomes ever more central to our academic community. The Spencer is an important part of KU’s long-term vision for academic excellence and creative endeavor. With this endowment from the Mellon Founda­tion and the funds with which to hire a Director of Academic Programs, the Museum is poised to strengthen its engagement with KU faculty and students across the curriculum.”

The Spencer has already developed curricular collaborations with many KU academic depart­ments, including History of Art, African and African-American Studies, Physics and Astronomy, Architecture, Anthropology, Geography and Environmental Studies, Economics, Dance, English, and Education.

“The Spencer Museum’s collections provide KU faculty with an exceptional laboratory for teaching and research across a broad array of subject areas and interests,” says Joshua Rosenbloom, Professor of Economics and Associate Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Studies. “The Mellon Foundation’s challenge grant provides an exciting opportunity to continue and expand the innovative collaborative efforts that the Museum has already undertaken to engage KU faculty and students in taking full advantage of this tremendous resource.”

The Spencer regularly convenes interdisciplinary faculty task forces to prepare for exhibitions and programming. Examples in the past three years include A Saint in the City: Sufi Arts of Urban Senegal, in which faculty from Geography, Anthropology, History, Theatre and Film, and African and African-American Studies participated in a study of the origins, impact, and varying perceptions of Islam and Sufism; Aaron Douglas: African American Modernist, in which faculty from History of Art, American studies, African and African-American Studies, Music, English, and Theatre and Film joined to develop programming for this first nationally touring retrospective celebrating the art and legacy of this Kansas native; and the upcoming spring 2009 exhibitions Climate Change at the Poles and Trees & Other Ramifications: Branches in Nature & Culture, in which faculty from Soci­ology; Paleobotany; Natural History; Biodiversity; Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering; and librarians from the Spencer Research Library have joined with art historians and artists to explore climate change and trees, respectively, by integrating photo­graphs, maps, and scientific data.

During the 2007-08 academic year, more than 30 departments used works of art from SMA’s permanent collection in their teaching and research. As part of the planning for a major reinstallation of the former Modern and Contemporary Gallery, 10 members of the faculty from various departments explored new ways of engaging the campus community, encouraging the use of the collections, and incorporating institutional expertise in research and the development of exhibitions. The out­come of these deliberations was the establish­ment of the 20/21 Gallery, an experimental space where wide-ranging issues and multiple view­points can be raised in a context that engages the subject of “global society.”

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