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Cynthia Chavez Lamar Becomes First Native Woman to Lead a Smithsonian Museum

Cynthia Chavez Lamar (San Felipe Pueblo) has been named the director of the National Museum of the American Indian , which has locations in Washington, D.C., New York, and Suitland, Maryland. Since January 2021, she had been the museum’s acting associate director for collections and operations.
The National Museum of the American Indian is part of the Smithsonian Institution, which also includes the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the National Portrait Gallery, and more. Through the appointment, Chavez Lamar will become the first Native woman to lead a Smithsonian museum in the consortium’s 175-year history.
Chavez Lamar, who is of Hopi, Tewa, and Navajo ancestry, previously worked as an associate curator at the National Museum of the American Indian, where she held that post from 2000 to 2005. She has also directed the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the Indian Arts Research Center at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Between 2014 and 2020, Chavez Lamar worked as assistant director for collections at the National Museum of the American Indian, where she worked to improve access to the institution’s holdings and focus on building relationships with Indigenous communities. In a statement, she said that she and the museum’s staff would continue to “amplify Indigenous knowledge and perspectives all in the interest of further informing the American public and international audiences of the beauty, tenacity and richness of Indigenous cultures, arts and histories.”
Lonnie Bunch, secretary of the Smithsonian, said in a statement, “Dr. Chavez Lamar is at the forefront of a growing wave of Native American career museum professionals.”
That wave includes Patricia Marroquin Norby (Purépecha), who in 2020 became the first-ever full-time curator of Native American art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and Danyelle Means (Oglala Lakota), who was named director of the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe last year. Abroad, it also includes Sandra Benites, who became the first Indigenous curator to be hired by a Brazilian museum when she was named adjunct curator for Brazilian art at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo in 2019, and John G. Hampton (Chickasaw Nation), who became director of the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, Canada, in 2021.

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