Clifford Murphy Named Director of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

March 10, 2023
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Clifford Murphy has been named the director of the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, effective April 10. Murphy, a career academic and public servant, is currently the director of folk and traditional arts at the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage is a research and educational unit of the Smithsonian Institution that promotes greater understanding and sustainability of cultural heritage across the United States and around the world through research, education and community engagement. The center produces the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, cultural sustainability initiatives, exhibitions, documentary films and videos, symposia, publications and educational materials. It also maintains the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, conducts ethnographic and cultural heritage policy-oriented research and provides educational opportunities through fellowships, internships and training programs.

“As an educator, public servant and musician, Cliff has demonstrated a lifelong commitment to preserving and promoting the world’s rich cultural traditions,” said Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie G. Bunch III. “As director of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Cliff will demonstrate the broad diversity of living traditions, how they have shaped us and what they mean for our future.”

As director of folk and traditional arts at the National Endowment for the Arts, Murphy manages a grant portfolio of $4 million in Grants for Arts Projects, Folk Arts Partnerships, the National Heritage Fellowships and the National Folklife Network. He formulates policy and develops guidelines and criteria to serve national strategies in folklife and cultural heritage programs, research and curation. In addition, Murphy serves as the agency’s point of contact for Tribal Consultation, providing national leadership to develop short-term and long-term goals for the field of folklife, cultural heritage and Native arts.

Murphy has published three books, four book chapters and seven articles on vernacular music and culture, applied ethnomusicology and public folklore. He has also recorded, released and co-produced 13 full-length albums of original music as a member of an Americana rock band and as a solo artist. Murphy also launched and produced the Maryland Traditions Folklife Festival from 2011 to 2015 and co-produced features on Maryland folklife for public radio. At the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Murphy aims to elevate awareness of living traditions across the U.S. and the globe and demonstrate how integral these traditions are to the cultural moments that take place in today’s society.

“Folklife and cultural heritage is a wellspring of strength and knowledge for a thriving society,” Murphy said. “As a nation with Indigenous and global roots, our complex and intertwining heritages demand us to be in dialogue with one another and with our larger global family. I am humbled and inspired by the opportunity to be a part of that conversation at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.”

Previously, Murphy was the director of Maryland Traditions at the Maryland State Arts Council and an adjunct professor of American studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Murphy holds a Bachelor of Arts from Gettysburg College and a master’s and doctorate in ethnomusicology from Brown University. 

Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian’s distinguished scholar and ambassador-at-large, has served as interim director.

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