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Johnson Museum lands $500,000 NEH challenge grant for new wing and renovation of Asian collection floor

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Cornell University's Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art has been awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) challenge grant of $500,000 to support construction of a new study center wing and renovation of the building's vaunted fifth floor, which contains the museum's Asian collections. Museum architect I.M. Pei's original designs for the Johnson included plans for an underground wing extending to the north. Current plans call for building on that model.

The $12 million project is scheduled for completion by 2009 and will be designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, with John Sullivan, Cornell Class of 1962, as architect in charge.

The challenge grant will be awarded in stages as additional funds are raised, said Franklin Robinson, the Richard J. Schwartz Director of the Johnson Museum. "People already have begun to respond to this extraordinary opportunity, and they are responding quite generously," he said. Prior to the NEH award, the museum had succeeded in raising more than $7 million for the project from private foundations, bequests, donations and other sources, Robinson said.

That level of support and commitment was an important element in qualifying for the award. The NEH is an independent grant-making agency of the U.S. government dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation and public programs in the humanities. The Johnson was the only art museum to receive such a challenge grant in the agency's recent award cycle.

"NEH challenge grants are awarded only after a demanding peer review process," NEH chairman Bruce Cole stated in the award letter. "Evaluators were especially impressed with the museum's thoughtful use of its Asian collections; they also praised the museum's programming overall. … The new wing was deemed a much-needed and imaginative response to the academic demands on the museum and is appropriately adapted to the museum's landmark building."

The 13,000-square-foot study center will include a lecture and performance space, seminar and workshop rooms, additional exhibition space, library, office space and storage, and an area of open storage available for study by the public. Simultaneously, the main building's fifth-floor Asian art galleries will be renovated to create additional public space.

"The National Endowment for the Humanities is one of the most respected public institutions in this country; to receive this grant is an honor for us," said Robinson. "We have previously received significant support from the NEH for several projects, including enhanced digital cataloging of the Asian collection, the complete renovation of our Asian storage and our landmark Byrdcliffe exhibition. Just this simple recital of how the NEH has helped one university museum in recent years gives a sense of the range of what they do and its extraordinary impact on American cultural life."

The Johnson Museum has a permanent collection of over 30,000 works of art from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America. Funds for the 62,000-square-foot building, which opened in 1973, were donated by the late Herbert F. Johnson, a Cornell alumnus who was president and chairman of SC Johnson.

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