Marla Berns, the Shirley & Ralph Shapiro Director of the Fowler Museum at UCLA, will retire at the end of the 2020-21 academic year, the museum announced Friday.

During her tenure, Berns has overseen more than 170 exhibitions, 44 publications, and thousands of public programs at the Fowler.

UCLA said it will be announcing a search for a new director of the Fowler Museum shortly.

“Marla Berns has been an exceptional leader of the Fowler Museum for nearly 20 years, and a scholar of art history and world cultures with a profound commitment to justice and equity,” said Brett Steele, dean of the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture. “Under Marla’s leadership, the museum didn’t just bring global cultures to our doorstep, it awakened us to a richer diversity of human experience.”

Berns, born and raised in Los Angeles, is a triple alumna of UCLA. She received her bachelor’s degree in art history in 1973, her masters in art history in 1976, with a focus on the arts of Africa and Oceania, and a doctorate in art history in 1986, specializing in African art.

“I’m grateful to have spent so many years sharing my love for global arts and cultures with a wide audience on and off campus,” Berns said. “I look forward to seeing the Fowler continue to be a hub for discovery and innovation and community engagement. Our world needs to respect and honor the power and beauty of cultural diversity now more than ever.”

Prior to her tenure at the Fowler, Berns was director of the University Art Museum at UC Santa Barbara for 10 years.

Her research and writing has concentrated on women’s arts of northeastern Nigeria, where she did fieldwork in the early 1980s, and encompasses ceramic sculpture, decorated gourds and programs of body scarification. She has published and lectured widely on those topics.

Berns’ initial engagement with the Fowler dates back to 1978, when she was the first African art intern at the previously named UCLA Museum of Cultural History. She organized her first major traveling exhibition at the museum in 1986 accompanied by her first exhibition catalogue, co-authored with Barbara Rubin Hudson, called “The Essential Gourd: Art and History in Northeastern Nigeria.”

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