UCLA has received a grant of $1.38 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. to support a new endeavor called “Engaging Lived Religion in the 21st Century Museum,” that aims to expand the Fowler Museum’s ongoing study of religious and spiritual traditions in Los Angeles and around the world.

With a focus on exploring the multisensory experiences of religion, the three-year project addresses the urgent need to increase community participation in exhibitions, digital learning and public programs. The Lilly Endowment grant will enable the museum to implement new digital learning activities and provide curatorial and educational outreach support, as well as offer stipends for community partners and visiting artists.

“We are thrilled with the potential of this Lilly Endowment grant to advance how we work and think at the Fowler,” said Marla Berns, Shirley & Ralph Shapiro Director of the Fowler Museum at UCLA. “We are deeply grateful for this very generous support, which allows us to further our decades-long, multidisciplinary exploration of the complex intersections of art, religion and communities.” 

The grant, which comes from the Lilly Endowment’s Religion and Cultural Institutions Initiative, is the largest foundation grant the Fowler has ever received. The Fowler is one of 18 organizations (and the only museum on the West Coast) to receive grants totaling more than $43 million through this initiative. The Lilly Endowment’s Religion and Cultural Institutions Initiative will enable organizations to develop exhibitions and educational programs about the role of religion in the United States and around the world, in order to foster public understanding of religion and honor the contributions that people of all religious communities make to our civic well-being.

“This grant offers us a transformational opportunity to expand our engagement with religion and sacred arts by launching an exciting series of temporary exhibitions highlighting religious diversity in Southern California, featuring the visual cultures of Jainism, Sikhism and Yoruba Orisha practices,” said Patrick Polk, project co-director and senior curator at the Fowler Museum. “It also allows us to reimagine elements of our permanent collection exhibition, ‘Intersections: World Arts, Local Lives.’”

The Lilly Endowment grant also supports a digital educational initiative, “Art Stories,” which explores religious objects in the Fowler’s global collection through a range of media — interviews, dance performances, photography and music. Amplifying the voices of Black, Indigenous and people of color whose heritages are represented by these objects, the project recognizes the indispensable knowledge of our city’s communities.

Public programs funded by Lilly Endowment will take Fowler audiences off campus and into Los Angeles neighborhoods to explore the city’s religious festivals, sacred sites and ephemera.

“These programs planned in full partnership with community members will prompt new conversations and provide a platform for building and fortifying campus-city relationships,” said Amy Landau, project co-director and director of education and interpretation at the Fowler Museum. “They also ensure that the experiences of religion and spirituality be considered in experimental and innovative ways.”

Said Christopher Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion: “Museums and cultural institutions are trusted organizations and play an important role in teaching the American public about the world around them. These organizations will use the grants to help visitors understand and appreciate the significant impact religion has had and continues to have on society in the United States and around the globe. Our hope is that these efforts will promote greater knowledge about and respect for people of diverse religious traditions.”