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Cynthia Chavez Lamar. Photo: Walter Lamar.
Cynthia Chavez Lamar. Photo: Walter Lamar.

Cynthia Chavez Lamar to Lead National Museum of the American Indian

Cynthia Chavez Lamar has been named director of the National Museum of the American Indian, becoming the first Native woman to helm a museum under the aegis of the Smithsonian Institution in the 175 years since that organization’s founding. Chavez Lamar, who is of Hopi, Navajo, and Tewa descent and a member of the San Felipe Pueblo in central New Mexico, had since last year served as acting associate director for collections and operations for the museum, which has outposts in New York; Washington, DC; and Suitland, Maryland. She will assume her new role on Valentine’s Day.

“I don’t see this as something that I have achieved on my own,” Chavez Lamar told the New York Times earlier this week, adding, “There are many Native and Indigenous peoples before me who have been in prominent roles who have struggled and persevered to ensure that our stories and our perspectives as Native people were heard.”

Chavez Lamar previously worked for the National Museum of the American Indian from 2000 to 2005 as an associate curator. After leaving to hold a variety of positions, including those of director of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque and of the Indian Arts Research Center at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico,  she returned to the museum in 2014 as an assistant director of collections. In this capacity, she worked to make the institution’s holdings more accessible and to build relationships with Indigenous communities.

“Dr. Chavez Lamar is at the forefront of a growing wave of Native American career museum professionals,” noted Lonnie Bunch, secretary of the Smithsonian, in a statement. Among Native arts professional who have recently stepped into top roles are Patricia Marroquin Norby, who in 2020 became the first full-time curator of Native American art at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art; Sandra Benites, who in 2019 became the first Indigenous curator to work at a major arts institution in Brazil when she was tapped as adjunct curator for Brazilian art at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand; and John G. Hampton, who in 2018 joined the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan, before being named director of that institution in 2021.