Cynthia Chavez Lamar
Director of the National Museum of the American Indian
Cynthia Chavez Lamar is the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. She is the first Native woman to head a Smithsonian museum. Chavez Lamar oversees the museum’s three facilities: the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the museum’s George Gustav Heye Center in Lower Manhattan and the Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland.
Chavez Lamar is an accomplished curator, author and scholar whose research interests are focused on Southwest Native art and the methodologies and practices involved in collaborating with Indigenous communities.
Since January 2021, Chavez Lamar has served as acting associate director for collections and operations at the museum. She was responsible for overseeing its collections, facilities, safety and information technology departments. She led efforts to ensure effective management of and care for the museum’s collection, which is composed of more than 1 million objects and photographs and more than 500,000 digitized images, films and other media documenting Native communities, events and organizations.
Chavez Lamar has been at the museum most recently since 2014, and earlier in her career was a museum intern (1994) and later an associate curator (2000–2005). From 2014 through 2020, Chavez Lamar served as assistant director for collections at the museum. She guided the overall stewardship of the museum’s collection, which is one of the largest and most extensive collections of Native and Indigenous items in the world. Chavez Lamar led museum efforts to improve collection access and availability by advocating for and encouraging an increase in the number of collections online. She supported the development of a collection-information system module to record access, care and handling instructions provided by tribal, nation and community representatives. Chavez Lamar also established and prioritized partnerships and collaboration with Native nations and tribes and developed a loan program for tribal museum and cultural centers that provides training and technical assistance to enhance collections stewardship and reconnects descendant communities with the museum’s collections.
Chavez Lamar was the director of the Indian Arts Research Center at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico, from 2007 to 2014. From 2006 to 2007, she was the director of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. From 2000 to 2005, she was an associate curator at the National Museum of the American Indian and the lead curator for “Our Lives,” one of the inaugural exhibitions in the Washington, D.C., museum when it opened in 2004. She collaborated with eight Native communities on the exhibition.
Chavez Lamar was a presidential appointee to the Institute of American Indian and Alaska Native Culture and Arts Development in 2011. She was a governor’s appointee as a commissioner to the New Mexico Arts Commission from 2009 to 2012. She currently sits on the advisory group for Indigenous North America at the Princeton University Art Museum, and she is a member of the advisory board at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College.
Chavez Lamar is an enrolled member at San Felipe Pueblo, and her ancestry also includes Hopi, Tewa and Navajo on the maternal side of her family. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Colorado College in studio art, a master’s degree in American Indian studies from UCLA and a doctorate in American studies from the University of New Mexico. She also received an honorary doctorate from Colorado College for her contributions to the museum field.
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