African statue, mask and headdress
Fowler Museum at UCLA
African items like these were gifts to the Fowler Museum from the Wellcome Trust.

The Fowler Museum at UCLA has been awarded a $600,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to conduct collaborative interdisciplinary research on the museum’s African art collection, which is among the five largest in the United States. The 40-month project, beginning in February 2019, will focus on the Fowler’s distinguished Sir Henry Wellcome Collection, which was gifted to UCLA in 1964 by the Wellcome Trust in London.

The grant will fund a full-time Mellon Curatorial Fellow and a full-time Mellon Conservation Fellow, who will join Fowler staff, as well as graduate and undergraduate interns, UCLA and UC Santa Barbara faculty, community stakeholders, and experts in the field so they can investigate and then disseminate research findings about the histories, material compositions, meanings and purposes of objects in the Fowler’s most important historical African art collection. This will be accomplished via a new collaborative research methodology combining curatorial, conservation and archival lines of inquiry. By reconstructing detailed narratives for hundreds of objects in the Wellcome Collection, the Fowler can engage with questions museums around the world increasingly face about the histories of their collections, the lives of the objects within them, and their responsibilities to communities of origin.

“We are excited to embark on this ambitious initiative of collaborative research that will intensify and deepen knowledge about our collection in ways that exceed what has been possible over the course of the Museum’s history,” said Marla Berns, Shirley & Ralph Shapiro Director of the Fowler Museum. “We are honored by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s commitment to enhancing the Fowler’s capacity to further scholarship on its African Art collections and to do so transparently and with the participation of a range of stakeholders, on- and off-campus, and around the world.”

The Fowler is recognized as one of the top university museums in the country with a focus on non-Western arts and a leader in the presentation and preservation of art from Africa. The Mellon grant will help the museum set a standard for collections research combining curatorial inquiry with conservation analysis, and offer training and mentorship for students, targeting recruitments to underrepresented groups to encourage future museum careers. Additionally, the Fowler plans to assemble an advisory council of diverse campus and community stakeholders to discuss project activities and findings and to invite participation in moderated discussions of issues, challenges, and opportunities.

“This meaningful opportunity will allow the Fowler to engage post-doctoral, graduate and undergraduate students in an intensive investigation of a world-class historical African art collection that could result in critical discoveries that would profoundly impact the field,” said Brett Steele, dean of the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture.

Read the full news release on the  Fowler Museum’s website (PDF).