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Art Institute becomes first U.S. museum to receive grant from Government of India
The Art Institute of Chicago. Griffin Court, Photo: Charles G. Young, Interactive Design Architects.

CHICAGO, IL.- The Art Institute of Chicago announced that the Government of India has given a major grant to the Art Institute in support of a new professional exchange program between India and the museum. The Vivekananda Memorial Program for Museum Excellence --the first grant ever made by the Indian government to an American art museum--honors Swami Vivekananda, who gave one of the most important speeches in modern religious history at what is now the Art Institute on September 11, 1893. On Saturday, January 28, 2012, the Art Institute will host an Indian delegation to sign this agreement and rededicate the site of Vivekananda's landmark speech at the first World's Parliament of Religions, held in conjunction with the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893.

The Vivekananda Memorial Program for Museum Excellence is designed to foster professional exchange between the Art Institute and various museums in India. Under this four-year program, the Art Institute will serve as a resource center regarding best museum practices for museum professionals in India; will create fellowships across many different museum departments for colleagues from India; and will send a group of Art Institute staff regularly to India to conduct workshops, seminars, lectures, and courses.

"I sincerely thank Dr. Douglas Druick and his team at the Art Institute of Chicago for working out such a wonderful partnership with the Ministry of Culture of India and for hosting the priceless Tagore paintings exhibition for the American audience to view," said Shri Jawhar Sircar, Secretary, Ministry of Culture. "I also thank the Art Institute for setting up a memorial plaque honoring Swami Vivekananda who delivered his famous 'Chicago Address' before the World's Parliament of Religions in 1893 from that very place. It means a lot to Indians who view Vivekananda as the first great ambassador of Indo-American cultural friendship. I am sure that the Vivekananda Memorial Program for Museum Excellence will also bring us closer, for our mutual benefit."

"It is a supreme honor to be recognized by the Government of India as a partner in the preservation, exhibition, and promotion of India's cultural heritage," said Douglas Druick, President and Eloise W. Martin Director of the Art Institute. "This rededication of the site of Swami Vivekananda's speech and the Vivekananda Memorial Program for Museum Excellence are both living testaments to the long relationship between the Art Institute and India, going back to the earliest days of the museum's history. Over the years our partnership has flourished, and we are gratified by and excited for what will be a milestone in our collaboration."

The Art Institute's relationship with India began in 1893. Concurrent with the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in that year, a congress devoted to religious dialogue--the World's Parliament of Religions--was held in downtown Chicago at 111 South Michigan Avenue in a building that is now the home of the Art Institute of Chicago. The congress was electrified by an address by a young Hindu monk named Swami Vivekananda. Opening with the words "Sisters and brothers of America," Vivekananda offered an impassioned plea for religious tolerance and understanding, lamenting the role that religion had played in bloodshed and war and denouncing zealotry and bigotry. "I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention," Swami Vivekananda remarked, "may be the death-knell of fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal." This landmark speech introduced a Hindu leader to Western audiences for the first time and opened the door between Eastern and Western religions. The block of Michigan Avenue that the Art Institute occupies was named the Honorary Swami Vivekananda Way in 1995, and a plaque at the museum, unveiled on September 11, 1995, has since marked the site of the Swami's address.

To recognize the relationship between the Art Institute and historic and contemporary India, a much more extensive memorial was designed for the site and will be dedicated on Saturday, January 28, 2012. The Republic of India will be represented by Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, Finance Minister of India; Mrs. Nirupama Rao, the Ambassador of India to the United States; Mr. Bimal Julka, additional Secretary from the Ministry of Finance; Mr. Sanjiv Mittal, Joint Secretary from the Ministry of Culture; Professor Rajeev Lochan, the Director of the National Gallery of Modern Art; Professor Udaya Narayana Singh, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Visva-Bharati University; Professor R. Siva Kumar, Department of History of Art, Kala-Bhavana; Mr. V. S. Senthil, Economics Minister from the Embassy of India; and Mrs. Mukta Dutta Tomar, the Consul General of India in Chicago. From the Art Institute will be Douglas Druick, President and Eloise W. Martin Director of the museum; Frederick Waddell, President and Chief Operating Officer of the Northern Trust Corporation and Treasurer, Board of Trustees of the Art Institute; David Thurm, chief operating officer; Dan Walker, Pritzker Chair and Curator of the Department of Asian Art; and Madhuvanti Ghose, Alsdorf Associate Curator of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic Art. The plaque will be unveiled at the entrance to the museum's Fullerton Hall, which was in 1893 a temporary pavilion constructed for the congresses associated with the World's Columbian Exposition.

This partnership represents the latest chapter in a longstanding relationship between India and the Art Institute of Chicago that has included the hiring in 2007 of Madhuvanti Ghose, the Alsdorf Associate Curator of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic Art, the Art Institute's first curator specifically dedicated to Indian art; the opening of the Alsdorf Galleries for Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic Art in 2008; a major contemporary art installation by Indian artist Jitish Kallat, Public Notice 3 , which was on view from 2010 to 2011.

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