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PARSA CF Awards $370,000 to Museums and Institutions for Preserving and Advancing Persian Arts

PARSA-logo-iAs a part of its Mehrgan 2010 Grant Cycle and its steadfast commitment to preserving and promoting Persian arts and culture, PARSA Community Foundation is pleased to announce four grants to major museums and institutions to further expand and grow their stellar programs.


The-Oriental-Institute-of-the-University-of-ChicagoThe Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, which is the recipient of two previous PARSA CF grants, has been awarded a $200,000 grant for their important work on capturing, recording, and distributing the information from the famous tablets of the Persepolis Fortification Archive (PFA). The archive is comprised of some 30,000 clay tablets and fragments found in 1933 by the Oriental Institute archeologists, examining and clearing the ruins of Persepolis palaces of kings Darius and Xerxes and their successors, near Shiraz.

The tablets contain close to 20,000 original texts in cuneiform and Elamite language, Aramaic script and language, and seal impressions, and are currently on loan from Iran at the Oriental Institute.

PFA is the largest and most consequential single source of information on the Achaemenid Persian Empire at its zenith. It provides a very important portal into the languages, art, society, administration, history, geography and religion in the heart of the Persian Empire in the time of Darius I, around 500 BC. It has fundamentally transformed every aspect of modern research on Achaemenid history and culture.

The PFA Project at the Oriental Institute is responsible for carefully cleaning these important ancient tablets, taking high resolution digital imagery of the texts on the tablets, exploring various technologies for the best imaging of the tablets such as 3D, laser, and CT scanning),  and recording the texts and impressions. An editorial team within the group reviews and prepares editions of the texts, and all of the tablets, texts and impressions are carefully cataloged for publication and archiving. At this point more than 8000 tablets are completed, resulting in almost 40 Terabytes of data, and the team expects to grow the collection to approximately 11,000 over the next two years.

The tablets have been subject to a long legal battle where plaintiffs suing the Iranian government are asking for the ancient tablets as compensation. With the fate of the archive hanging in balance, the PFA Project has been under pressure to clean, scan, and record as many tablets as possible and as fast as possible. The grant from PARSA CF helped the PFA Project during an urgent time, since the project was in critical need for servers and other resources. An appellate court ruling a while later at the end of March came out with favorable result for the PFA, although the battle still continues.

The PFA project has received support from many other organizations besides PARSA CF, including the Andrew Melon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Iran Heritage Foundation is also working closely with the PFA project, and supports and promotes their work.

“After almost eighty years, the Persepolis Fortification Archive is producing a growing stream of new information, deeper understanding, and surprising discoveries. Making sure that this stream continues to flow repays the trust and hope that Iran’s loan of the Archive to the Oriental Institute entailed, magnifies the cultural heritage of which these tablets are the humble vessels, and lays that heritage before its cultural heirs and before the civilized world” said Matthew W. Stolper, Director, Persepolis Fortification Archive Project.

The-Freer-Gallery-of-Art-and-the-Arthur-M-Sackler-GalleryThe Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian’s Asian art museums in Washington, DC, are renowned for their collections of Iranian art, including rare illuminated manuscripts, Sassanian silver, ancient ceramics, and archival material on Persepolis and Tehran. The chief curator of the Freer and Sackler galleries, Dr. Massumeh Farhad, is also a world renowned curator of Persian and Islamic art. The $100,000 Persian Cultural Outreach Initiative grant from PARSA CF will enable the Freer and Sackler galleries to create understanding and grow appreciation of Iranian art and cultural history.

The Persian Cultural Outreach Initiative includes two major programs: the annual Iranian Film Festival and a new website, Iran in Photographs.  The Iranian Film Festival is among the most popular public events at the Freer and Sackler galleries, with an audience of more than 12,000 every year.  The films often complement an exhibition, and when possible are accompanied by talks and Q&A sessions with film directors who provide social, cultural, and historical context for the films.

This year the funds from PARSA CF have allowed the Freer and Sackler galleries to bring Granaz Moussavi, the director of the film “My Tehran for Sale” to a full house for two screenings. The Iranian Film Festival provides opportunities to explore contemporary Iran in ways that defy stereotypes, and creates engagement opportunities to familiarize the audience with Iran’s respected cinematic profile.

Iran in Photographs builds on the collection of nearly 1,000 photographs in the Freer and Sackler Archives by the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century photographer, Antoin Sevruguin.  With the grant from PARSA CF, the Freer and Sackler galleries will hire a researcher to develop materials for the website that will place these photographs in historical and cultural framework. Through interactive Web 2.0 elements, users will be able to comment on the photographs, identify individuals in the photographs, and even add their own stories. The goal is to help write an oral and digital history of Iran, while at the same time encouraging a younger generation to increase its understanding and appreciation of Iranian heritage.

The Freer and Sackler galleries are also the first institutional partner of Iran Heritage Foundation (IHF), a major grantee and strategic partner of PARSA CF. As announced previously, PARSA CF has made a grant to IHF to institutionalize its relationship with the Freer and Sackler galleries as well as PARSA CF’s other arts and culture grantees in order to raise the profile of Persian arts in the United States.


With a collection of over 17,000 artworks spanning 6,000 years of history, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco is the largest Asian art museum in the US and one of the largest museums in the Western world devoted exclusively to Asian Art. The museum’s Persian World and West Asia collection includes ceramics from the Neolithic period all the way to the 19th century, Luristan and Islamic bronzes, miniature paintings and manuscripts. PARSA CF’s $50,000 grant will boost Asian Art Museum’s efforts to build more presentation capacity and expand its content and programs.

As a part of a program called “A Trade and Exchange along the Silk and Spice Roads,” the museum will create Persian arts and history content to align with sixth and seventh grade curriculum standards in history, social science, and visual arts. School teachers will receive training on the new material related to Persian arts in March of 2012.

A portion of the grant will enable the museum to revise and re-publish a family guide to the Persian World and West Asia Gallery. The guide will also be published on the museum’s website as a downloadable PDF booklet. Another part of the grant will enable the museum to incorporate four lectures, focused on Persian and West Asian art, into its docent training program enabling the docents to provide better and more accurate Persian arts information to visitors.  Last but not least, the grant will enable the museum to incorporate material on Persian arts, and specifically Shahnameh, into its K-12 art teacher training curriculum. The lectures for docent training and teacher training will be recorded and made available to the public through the museum’s iTunes UChannel.

“The Asian Art Museum is more than just an art museum. Here you can travel through 6,000 years of history, trek across seven major regions, and sample the cultures of numerous countries. Our education and outreach program connects art to life by creating a stimulating environment for learning and by delivering an enriching and enjoyable experience. The PARSA Community Foundation grant will enable us to showcase the contributions of Persian culture to the world by foregrounding our collections in this area, making it possible for our educators to partake in the latest scholarship on Iranian art, and inviting a multi-cultural community to enjoy Persian art programming” said Jay Xu, director of Asian Art Museum.

Los-Angeles-County-Museum-of-ArtLos Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has been awarded a $20,000 grant for research, cataloging, and publication of a book focused on its ancient Iranian art collection. This grant builds on a 2008 PRASA CF grant for a curator of ancient Near Eastern and Persian art. LACMA’s ancient Iranian and Near Eastern collection, which was acquired in 1976 and has been expanded and improved over the years, consists of some 1200 objects spanning more than four thousand years. According to Linda Komaroff, the Museum’s Curator of Islamic Art, it is the largest collection of ancient Iranian and Near Eastern artworks in the West Coast of the United Sates. However, despite the importance and uniqueness of this collection, it has never been fully presented in an accessible, published form to scholars and the general public.

The collection catalogs important historical events of ancient Iran from the rise of complex urban societies (seals and writing; ceramic art forms; metallurgy) to the manifestation of great Iranian empires (royal architectural elements from Assyrian palaces and Persepolis; Parthian and Sassanian silverware). Notably, it contains a unique group of ancient Iranian nomadic art reflected in the Bronzes of Luristan and its pre- and proto-historic Iranian pottery includes examples of the distinguished pottery styles and forms from 5000 to 3000 years ago, which are among the earliest examples of ceramic productions on view in North America.

The grant from PARSA CF is being used to catalog this collection and publish the catalog in paper and digital forms, in order to make it accessible to scholars, professionals, and the general public.  The text of the book is under development and the illustrations have been chosen for most of the objects. The team at LACMA expects to publish the book by the end of the year.

PARSA Community Foundation could not be more appreciative of Drs. Stolper, Farhad, Xu, and Komaroff and the efforts they lead to share wisdom, beauty and history with the global public as well as utilize the arts to create understanding and tolerance amongst all people” enthused Noosheen Hashemi, founder and chairman of PARSA CF.  “Their institutions are guardians of our collective past and catalysts to our peaceful future.”