Smithsonian Names Directors of Consortia for the Four Grand Challenges of the Strategic Plan

July 16, 2010
News Release
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Following a yearlong strategic planning process, the Smithsonian identified four Grand Challenges that would be the focus of its efforts in the coming decade. Secretary Wayne Clough has named four Smithsonian scholars to serve as directors of the consortia described in the Institution’s strategic plan, “Inspiring Generations through Knowledge and Discovery.” The plan outlines the broad areas of concentration for the Smithsonian: mysteries of the universe, biodiversity, the American experience and world cultures.

The directors of the consortia all currently hold positions at the Smithsonian:

  • Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe—Christine Jones Forman, senior astrophysicist, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

  • Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet—John Kress, curator and botanist, National Museum of Natural History

  • Understanding the American Experience—Michelle Delaney, curator, National Museum of American History

  • Valuing World Cultures—Robert Leopold, director, National Anthropological Archives at the National Museum of Natural History

“In the 19th century, the Smithsonian was defined by the growth of its national collections, and the 20th century saw a growth of museums and science centers, each excellent in their own field,” said Clough. “For this century, we must integrate all our parts—science, history, art and culture—and look holistically at the four broad themes as areas in which the Smithsonian can make the greatest contribution.” At the center of this effort, Clough added, is the creation of these four consortia, each headed by a prominent scholar who will work collaboratively across the Institution and with outside partners and funders. The result will be a “cultural transformation of the Smithsonian poised to address critical issues facing the world today.”

The Grand Challenges are the overarching priorities that will guide the Smithsonian’s work over the next decade, and the consortia are the vehicles that will draw from all fields of the Institution to develop interdisciplinary programs, exhibitions and research and to attract foundations and other donors to support the Institution’s initiatives.

Forman and Kress will report to Under Secretary for Science Eva Pell (mysteries of the universe and biodiversity) while Delaney and Leopold will report to Under Secretary for History, Art and Culture Richard Kurin (American experience and world cultures). Consortia directors Delaney and Leopold will also serve as senior program officers in the Under Secretary’s office. They will leave their current museum positions. Forman and Kress will divide their time between the science consortia and their home organizations, Natural History and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. The consortia offices will be located in the Smithsonian Castle.

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