$487,000 grant will fund interdisciplinary research at KU’s Spencer Museum of Art

This rendering shows the expanded lobby and glass-encased entry in the first phase of the Spencer Museum of Art renovations. Image courtesy of the Spencer Museum of Art and Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.

The Spencer Museum of Art at Kansas University received a $487,000 grant to launch an Integrated Arts Research Initiative, KU announced Monday.

The grant comes from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and is for a four-year period, according to KU.

The initiative it’s funding is unique, said Celka Straughn, Andrew W. Mellon Director of Academic Programs at the museum, who will administer the program.

“Certainly, museums do research,” she said. “Having a university art museum that is really working broadly with the university community in terms of research is new for the field.”

Over the past five years, the Spencer has increased its interdisciplinary academic collaboration.

The new Integrated Arts Research Initiative stems from the same interdisciplinary mindset but will focus on longer-term research primarily conducted by individuals as opposed to — for example — a class full of students coming to the museum for a one-time group assignment.

“But we’re hoping that it’s more of a collaborative effort, which is not the typical thing, at least in the humanities,” Straughn said. “I think in the sciences you get that more.”

The west entrance of Kansas University's Spencer Museum of Art is covered with scaffolding as work on a total renovation of the museum continues Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015.

Grant money will fund a full-time assistant curator of research, fellowships for faculty and student researchers, and some visiting scholars, according to KU. The first fellowships will begin this summer.

“This new initiative will strengthen our capacity to inspire and support scholarship that integrates the arts, sciences and humanities,” Saralyn Reece Hardy, museum director, said in a KU news release.

Straughn said museum-goers can expect to see an example of interdisciplinary research at work when an exhibition entitled “Big Botany” opens at the Spencer within the next couple years.

Stephen Goddard, associate director and senior curator, is working on that exhibition, which also involves collaboration with scientists who specialize in plants, Straughn said.

Big picture-wise, the exhibition will examine and incorporate art to explain the relationship of humans and the plant world.

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said, in KU’s news release, that the university was honored to receive the “generous” grant.

“The university is proud to be home to the Spencer Museum of Art, and this grant will help us find new ways to expand the museum’s reach and further integrate the arts into our work across the university in ways that benefit our students, faculty and the society we serve,” Gray-Little said.