Smithsonian Journeys Experts

Richard Kurin

photo of Richard Kurin

Dr. Richard Kurin serves as the Smithsonian Institution’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture with responsibility for most of its museums including the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Freer and Sackler Galleries, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Anacostia Community Museum, the National Museum of African Art, the National Postal Museum, and others including the soon to be built National Museum of African American History and Culture. He also oversees research and outreach programs, including the Smithsonian’s Traveling Exhibition Service, The Smithsonian Associates, the Smithsonian Channel, and the Smithsonian Affiliates—a network of 168 museums across the U.S.

A former Fulbright-Hays fellow who has conducted most of his research in India and Pakistan, Kurin earned his Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of Chicago, and taught at The Johns Hopkins University Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. He is the author of Hope Diamond: The Legendary History of a Cursed Gem, and Reflections of a Cultural Broker: A View from the Smithsonian, as well as numerous other books and scholarly articles. He served on the U.S. Commission for UNESCO, has been the keynote speaker for the International Council of Museums, and delivered the founder’s lecture for Harvard University'’s Peabody Museum.

He first worked for the Smithsonian in 1976 for the Bicentennial of the U.S. For decades he directed the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, responsible for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival held every summer on the National Mall, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and other cultural programs and products that have won Grammy, Emmy, Academy, and Webby awards. He'’s worked with all sorts of cultural figures, from Pete Seeger, Yo-Yo Ma, Mickey Hart, and Bernice Johnson Reagon to the Aga Khan and the Dali Lama. He helped draft an international treaty on safeguarding the world’s living cultural heritage now ratified by over 100 nations. He has produced major events for the Atlanta Olympics, the Smithsonian'’s 150th anniversary, the opening of the World War II Memorial, the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian, and programs for numerous presidential inaugurals, including that of President Obama. He represents the Smithsonian on the President’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities, the White House Historical Association and numerous other boards. Currently he is developing a major international museum professional training initiative and also leading U.S. efforts to help Haiti rescue and recover its cultural heritage damaged and endangered in the devastating January earthquake.