New initiatives at the Fowler Museum (UCLA) and Morgan State University

Here are two interesting initiatives directed by Amy Landau, a leading US historian of Islamic culture and currently Director of Education and Interpretation, Fowler Museum, UCLA. Click the titles to go to the project websites.

Engaging Lived Religion in the 21st Century Museum (Fowler Museum)

A three-year project (2021–2023) funded by Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Religion and Cultural Institutions Initiative, Engaging Lived Religion expands the Fowler’s ongoing study of religious and spiritual traditions in Los Angeles and around the world. This effort furthers our decades-long, multidisciplinary exploration of the artistic dimensions of religion and spirituality as well as the lived experiences of belief, while addressing the need to increase community participation in the museum’s exhibitions, public programs, and digital initiatives. The Fowler is one of 18 organizations to receive grants totalling more than $43 million through this initiative, which 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.

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.

The digital initiative Art Stories presents material expressions of belief through a range of perspectives and media. The project’s overarching aim is to create a platform for different expert communities to interpret and share the significance of religious, ceremonial, and devotional works from Africa, Asia, the Pacific and Indigenous Americas, guaranteeing that voices from these regions and their diasporas are prioritized in the interpretation of the Fowler’s collection. We are expanding the museum’s educational outreach to community partners to co-design public programs that amplify the indispensable knowledge of Los Angeles’ faith-based communities, while informing Art Stories and the above-mentioned exhibitions.

Left: Hollywood Sikh Temple, Los Angeles, February 2020. Right: Saint Raphael Catholic Church, Los Angeles, January 2020

Morgan State University: Art, Religion and Cities Course

While museums serve as repositories of the material culture of world religions, they are often ill-equipped to address questions about religion that animate the communities they serve. As histories of religious pluralism are being denied and attacked in our country and around the world, how is the material culture of world religions being displayed and discussed in public spaces? Are cultural institutions, museums in particular, representing religion in ways that bolster divisive discourse around race, citizenship, and community, or can they offer ways to recover and reimagine our shared histories? Founded by scholars and curators of religion, art, and material culture (Landau, Morales and Ziad), this student-centered initiative explores the display of religious art to engage critical questions of race, justice, and community today, as well as connects university course offerings with public-facing conversations that navigate Baltimore’s urban histories. Most significantly, Art, Religion and Cities (ARC) addresses one of the key issues that plague cultural institutions at large, and especially museums: a lack of diversity within the workforce

ARC includes: (a) courses; (b) visits to local and regional museums; (c) introduction to a city and nation-wide network of cultural and community leaders; (d) mentorship from a community of professionals at cultural institutions; and (e) stipendiary internships and work-study opportunities that give Morgan students additional work experience and training at museums and other cultural institutions. The goals of this program are as follows: (a)  students at a prominent HBCU will consider careers in a museum or other cultural institution; (b) students will understand the museum as a public square in which contemporary civic and social challenges can be engaged and championed through the medium of art; (c) students will develop relationships across Baltimore institutions, (d) students will build a professional network of individuals working at cultural institutions through field trips, mentorships, and paid internships

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