Natural Beauty

When most people think of research, they think of scientists in white lab coats, determinedly peering into microscopes and stirring beakers full of brightly colored liquid. Thanks to an $815,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, UVA students and scholars are now enjoying increased opportunities for study in the arts.

The grant—which is the result of a cooperative effort between the College of Arts & Sciences, The Fralin Museum of Art, and the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection—provides four years of funding for the study of the indigenous arts of Australia and the Americas at UVA. The University has contributed an additional $886,000, bringing the total investment over four years to $1.7 million.

Although the initiative is large and multifaceted, the focal point is a new, interdisciplinary research center dedicated to the study of these art forms. In addition to centralizing the University’s research efforts, the center provides students with new opportunities for experiential learning, including object-oriented classes and internships.

The Mellon grant has also enabled the creation of two new curatorial positions—one specializing in Native American and Pre-Columbian art and the other in the indigenous arts of Australia. Adriana Greci Green, curator of Indigenous Art of the Americas (left), and Henry F. Skerritt, curator of the Indigenous Arts of Australia (right), fill these roles. In addition to overseeing the University’s renowned collections, these scholars are responsible for incorporating works into their teaching at the McIntire Department of Art.

Other initiatives made possible by the grant include a visiting residency program for scholars, artists, and curators; an arts fellows program for UVA faculty; paid internships for UVA students interested in museums and indigenous arts; and a summer curatorial program for visiting undergraduates interested in pursuing graduate studies.

Having devoted his professional life to the study of Aboriginal art, Skerritt is still amazed by the level of firsthand access the initiative provides students.

“It’s not every day that you get to take a class and have two Aboriginal elders just sitting around making art,” he said. “This is a truly special program, and we’re grateful to the Mellon Foundation for its support.”