Smithsonian Journeys Experts

Richard Kurin

photo of Richard Kurin

Richard Kurin is the Smithsonian’s Acting Provost and Under Secretary for Museums and Research and a key leader in the Institution’s senior management team. He is responsible for all of the Institution’s museums, including the Anacostia Community Museum; Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art; Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (New York City); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; National Air and Space Museum and its Udvar-Hazy Center; National Museum of African American History and Culture; National Museum of African Art; National Museum of American History Kenneth E. Behring Center; National Museum of the American Indian and its George Gustav Heye Center (New York City); National Museum of Natural History; National Portrait Gallery; National Postal Museum; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery. He also oversees the National Zoological Park. Kurin is also responsible for the Smithsonian’s scientific research centers, including the Museum Conservation Institute; Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory; Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute; Smithsonian Environmental Research Center; and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

In addition, Kurin oversees several of the Smithsonian’s arts and humanities research centers and outreach programs, including the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the Archives of American Art, the Smithsonian Latino Center and the Asian Pacific American Center as well Smithsonian Libraries, Smithsonian Institution Archives, the Office of Fellowships and Internships, the National Collections Program and the Scientific Diving Program that support the Institution’s major research and educational activities.

Kurin is also responsible for the programmatic aspects of the Smithsonian Channel, the Institution’s cable television partnership with Showtime.

Kurin first worked for the Smithsonian in 1976 for the Bicentennial of the United States. For decades he directed the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and was 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.

Kurin has served as the executive producer for several major special events, including the National World War II Reunion on the Mall to mark the dedication of the World War II Memorial (2004) and the grand-opening celebration and six-day festival on the Mall for the National Museum of the American Indian in 2004. He also co-produced the Smithsonian’s 150th Anniversary “Birthday Party on the Mall,” several presidential inaugural festivals and the Southern Crossroads Festival in Centennial Olympic Park for the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

Kurin represents the Smithsonian as liaison to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the White House Historical Association and other boards. He led a U.S. and international project to rescue Haiti’s cultural heritage following the devastating 2010 earthquake. The effort saved nearly 35,000 artworks, artifacts and archival works, trained some 150 Haitians, led to the establishment of a Cultural Conservation Center at Quisqueya University in Port-au-Prince and resulted in a book, Saving Haiti’s Heritage: Cultural Recovery after the Earthquake. He oversees similar Smithsonian efforts to help save heritage in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Mali, Nepal and other nations as well as in the United States. Kurin served on the U.S. Commission for UNESCO and continues to advise that organization and the U.S. Department of State. He helped UNESCO draft an international treaty on safeguarding the world’s living cultural heritage now ratified by more than 160 nations. He has been honored by the International Council of Museums, Harvard University’s Peabody Museum and the American Anthropological Association among others. He has been awarded the Smithsonian Secretary’s Gold Medal for Exceptional Service, the Botkin Prize for lifetime achievement in public folklore by the American Folklore Society and the Robert Mills Prize for inspired scholarship by the Smithsonian American Art Museum Commission. In 2015 he was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. A former Fulbright fellow, Kurin earned his doctorate in cultural anthropology from the University of Chicago and taught at The Johns Hopkins University’s Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. He is the author of Hope Diamond: The Legendary History of a Cursed Gem; Reflections of a Cultural Broker: A View from the Smithsonian; Madcap May: Mistress of Myth, Men, and Hope; Smithsonian Folklife Festival: Culture Of, By, and For the People and scores of scholarly articles. His latest book, The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects, was published by Penguin Press. It appeared on many best-seller lists and has been the subject of numerous lectures and radio and media features. The book forms the basis of a series of lectures for The Great Courses titled “Experiencing America: A Smithsonian Tour through American History,” which won a Telly Award, and a SmithsonianX massive open online course with EdX called “Objects That Define America.”