You are here
Home > Arts & Entertainment > Cynthia Chavez Lamar to lead NMAI as Smithsonian’s first Native female museum director

Cynthia Chavez Lamar to lead NMAI as Smithsonian’s first Native female museum director

Cynthia Chavez Lamar

Cynthia Chavez Lamar (Pueblo of San Felipe) has been named director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), effective Feb. 14.

The Smithsonian Institution, whose 19 museums include the NMAI, made the announcement Wednesday. Chavez Lamar is the first Native woman to be a Smithsonian museum director.

“I am looking forward to leading and working with the museum’s experienced and dedicated staff,” Chavez Lamar said in a statement. “Together, we will leverage the museum’s reputation to support shared initiatives with partners in the U.S. and around the world to amplify Indigenous knowledge and perspectives all in the interest of further informing the American public and international audiences of the beauty, tenacity and richness of Indigenous cultures, arts and histories.”

Chavez Lamar will oversee the museum’s three facilities: the NMAI on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the museum’s George Gustav Heye Center in Manhattan and the Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland.

Chavez Lamar’s experience at the NMAI stretches back to the mid-1990s when she served as an intern at the museum. She has worked for the museum in various roles at different periods, including her current position as acting associate director for collections and operations. She oversees its collections, facilities, safety and information technology departments. She was associate curator from 2000 to 2005. From 2014 through 2020, she served as assistant director for collections.

Her previous work experience also includes being director of the Indian Arts Research Center at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and director of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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.

“Dr. Chavez Lamar is at the forefront of a growing wave of Native American career museum professionals,” Lonnie Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian, said in a statement. “They have played an important role in changing how museums think about their obligations to Native communities and to all communities. We look forward to Cynthia’s leadership as the NMAI enters a new phase of service to the Native Peoples of the Western Hemisphere.”

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.

Chavez Lamar is an enrolled member of Pueblo of San Felipe. Her family’s ancestry on the maternal side includes Hopi, Navajo and Tewa.

Chavez Lamar is the third director of the NMAI. Kevin Gover (Pawnee) served as director from 2007 to 2021 before being named the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for Museums and Culture. W. Richard West Jr. (Southern Cheyenne) led the museum from 1990 to 2007. Machel Monenerkit has served as acting director of the museum since January 2021.

Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is senior editor. He has worked for The Seminole Tribune since 2014. He was previously an editor, photographer and reporter for newspapers in Southwest Florida and Connecticut. Contact Kevin at