Spencer Museum of Art receives $3M gift to expand art and interdisciplinary research initiative

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The Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas has been gifted $3 million to support an initiative that pairs artists with a range of research areas and methods to foster new ways of thinking about life.

Kansas City-based philanthropist and arts advocate Margaret H. Silva provided the gift to support the Spencer’s unique art initiative, called Arts Research Integration (ARI), an interdisciplinary initiative. The Spencer Museum first initiated ARI in 2016 with a four-year grant from the Mellon Foundation.

Integrating art into research at KU has helped to validate the creation of art as its own genre of research, essential to understanding the past and present, according to a news release from KU.

“ARI brings artists together with researchers, scholars, professors, and students to explore subjects deeply relevant to our lives and communities and, in doing so, makes creative practices central to the process of inquiry and innovation. It is very much about moving beyond conversations about the importance of art to making art part of the study and exploration of our world and integral to tackling pressing issues,” Joey Orr, ARI’s Mellon Curator for Research, said in KU’s news release.

“We are deeply grateful to Margaret Silva for her ongoing support and for her impactful endowment gift, which will allow ARI to continue to grow and develop well into the future.”  

Mike Gunnoe Margaret H. Silva is pictured at the field burning of KU Field Station last spring to begin a current ARI project with artist Janine Antoni. Silva, a longtime philanthropist and arts advocate, recently donated $3 million to the Spencer Museum of Art to further its ARI initiative.

There are currently two ongoing ARI projects involving artists, according to the release. 

One is a collaboration between New York-based, Bahamian artist Janine Antoni and researchers at the KU Field Station at the Kansas Biological Survey and Center for Ecological Research, which started last spring. The Field Station is home to more than 3,7000 acres of habitats to be researched.

The project is centered on the prairie ecosystem, one of the most diverse and endangered ecosystems outside of the rainforest. Focused on making connections between both the intricacies of the prairie ecosystem and the human body, Antoni is working on creating a labyrinth in the shape of a human ear. 

People will be able to walk a path and discover their own connections with the earth.

Mike Gunnoe Artist Janine Antoni is pictured at left during a field burning of KU Field Station last spring to begin her ARI project with researchers.

The second project involves Brooklyn-based artist Stephanie Dinkins, Berlin-based artist Simon Denny, and AT&T Foundation Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Perry Alexander. The trio is utilizing blockchain technology, an innovative way to digitally store data or information.

The Institute for Information Sciences, one of the largest research centers at KU, and The History of Black Writing, a research unit aimed at recovering and preserving Black literature, have collaborated on this project to explore concepts of “parallel histories, reparations, technology, art and more,” according to KU’s news release.

Silva’s gift, which will be administered through KU Endowment, is instrumental in advancing these current projects as well as laying groundwork for more to come. Silva co-founded and funded from 1995-2015 a nonprofit contemporary art space in Kansas City, Missouri, called Grand Arts, and has been personally advocating in support of artists for more than 30 years.

“I’m delighted to continue to support the important work of ARI at the Spencer,” Silva said in KU’s news release. 

“Art and artists have an incredible way of asking big questions, challenging current and outmoded thinking, motivating change, and creating solutions for seemingly intractable problems. I have proudly supported daring, provocative, and forward-looking art projects over many years and am continuing that personal mission with my contributions to this initiative. I look forward to engaging with the many upcoming projects and ideas that will result from ARI’s exciting work.”

Read more about the museum and its initiatives at this link.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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