Portrait of Richard Kurin
Office of the Secretary

Richard Kurin

Smithsonian Distinguished Scholar and Ambassador-at-Large

Richard Kurin started his Smithsonian career working on America’s Bicentennial celebration in 1976. He is currently distinguished scholar and ambassador-at-large, focused on strategic and special initiatives, institutional representation and philanthropic support. He previously served for more than a decade as Under Secretary overseeing all of the Smithsonian’s national museums, scientific research centers and educational programs. He has played major roles in the development and/or renovation, and transformation of most of the museums.

For decades before that he served as director of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, which produces the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall and the legendary Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. He has also produced major events for the opening of national museums and memorials, presidential inaugurals and the Olympics.

Kurin also founded the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake and has worked to save cultural heritage endangered by natural disasters and human conflict. In the U.S., he leads the Smithsonian’s partnership with FEMA on the Heritage Emergency National Task Force that responds to damage to cultural resources in natural disasters. Internationally, he helped draft an international treaty to safeguard living cultural heritage now ratified by 180 countries. He has worked closely with the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security and with local partners in Iraq, Syria, Mali, Afghanistan and currently Ukraine to safeguard heritage, identify looted art and monitor terrorist activity and war crimes directed against cultural targets. 

He has served as Smithsonian liaison to the White House Historical Association, the U.S. President’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities, the intergovernmental Cultural Heritage Coordinating Committee and the Federal Interagency Panel for World Heritage. 

An anthropologist with a doctorate from the University of Chicago, Kurin has authored seven books, including The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects, taught at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council of the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Resilience Center.

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