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A $500,000 prestigious national grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will transform how the museum and the library work together.

By Jana Cunningham, communications specialist, University Marketing & Communications

The J. Willard Marriott Library and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts at the University of Utah have been awarded a $500,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The grant will provide partial funding for a four-year collaborative project that will establish the U as a global resource hub for artists and scholars studying the West and create access to the U’s remarkable collections, resources and knowledge.

The project entitled “Landscape, Land Art, and the American West: A Joint Research and Engagement Initiative of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts and the J. Willard Marriott Library,” will transform how the library and museum work together. As leaders in the region for scholarly research, exhibition design and collections care, the library and museum curate extensive – but  separate – holdings related to environmental and cultural histories of the Intermountain West. Through this new initiative, these collections will be linked in ways that enable students, faculty and researchers to systematically mine content for innovative learning and teaching.

“We are delighted that the Mellon Foundation recognizes the tremendous opportunity this collaboration represents and the capability of the library and museum to deliver and lead transformative change,” said Ruth Watkins, university senior vice president for academic affairs.

The award is the largest Mellon Foundation grant the U has ever received and the only Mellon grant the U has been awarded in the arts and humanities. The half-million-dollar grant will be matched by $200,000 from the Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and additional support from across campus, including from the colleges of Fine Arts, Health, Humanities and Mines and Earth Sciences.

“The project will increase the visibility and value of these overlapping collections, focus our contributions toward the academic goals of the university, energize faculty and support students to excel as informed and engaged citizens,” said Alberta Comer, dean of the J. Willard Marriott Library and university librarian.

UMFA executive director Gretchen Dietrich says the initiative “will transform how these two institutions work together in ways that are significant not only for campus but for thinkers and creators worldwide.”

Together the library and museum will develop shared technology to promote the discovery and use of both collections and create initiatives to support faculty and student research. They will also appoint two joint positions to research the collections and increase communication, collaboration and the use of these key resources.

The collections research curator position and the art and archive metadata librarian position are posted on the University of Utah website at

This one-time grant is intended to support structural change that will sustain the UMFA and Marriott Library collaboration beyond the grant period, which runs from Jan. 1, 2018, through 2021.

The grant, one of seven awarded this year, is the result of a competitive national solicitation run jointly by the Scholarly Communications and Arts and Cultural Heritage programs of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Among other criteria, the grant was selected for its potential to develop a new model for academic museum and library collaboration.

The UMFA is the fine arts museum for both the state and the university. It is the only institution in Utah that acquires, interprets and exhibits a comprehensive fine art collection from ancient to global contemporary objects. Its mission is to inspire critical dialogue and illuminate the role of art in people’s lives.

The Marriott Library, the flagship academic library for the Utah State System of Higher Education, is the largest state-funded academic library in the six-state region of Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. As the primary service hub and destination for students, it is integral to the teaching, research and public life missions of the university. Its mission is to inspire the creation, discovery and use of knowledge for Utah and the world.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation endeavors to strengthen, promote and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies. To this end, it supports exemplary institutions of higher education and culture as they renew and provide access to an invaluable heritage of ambitious, path-breaking work.

*Image credit, Albert Bierstadt, Untitled (Wasatch Mountains), ca. 1863, oil painting, on loan from Mrs. Frank G. Wangeman, UMFAL2007.48.1