Michael Atwood Mason announced this week that he will step down as director of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage effective immediately.
In the coming months, the Smithsonian will form a search committee to select a new director for the Center. Dr. Richard Kurin, Smithsonian Distinguished Scholar and Ambassador-at-Large, will serve as interim director.
During his seven-year tenure, Mason oversaw the Center’s continued commitment to championing cultural diversity while increasing the organizational capacity to do so. Under his leadership, the Center’s Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections developed the Shared Stewardship Collections Policy, which affirms our commitment to consult and collaborate with source communities. Further amplifying the work of the Center, he led the revitalization of the archives staff and infrastructure. He also secured a $1.5 million gift from Ferring Pharmaceuticals to establish and scale the impact of the Cultural Sustainability Program, spanning the Language Vitality, Indigenous Media, and Cultural Industries initiatives. His team won multiple GRAMMY Awards, two research awards, and commendations from Congress and two foreign governments.
Beyond his directorial duties, Mason conducted extensive research on Catalan culture and served as curator for the 2018 Smithsonian Folklife Festival program Catalonia: Tradition and Creativity from the Mediterranean, for which he was honored with the International Prize for the Promotion of Catalan Culture.
Before joining the Center in 2013, Mason served as assistant director for exhibitions at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. He began his career at the Smithsonian in 1992, working at the Anacostia Community Museum.
Interim director Richard Kurin brings extensive cultural heritage and leadership experience to the Center. Prior to his current appointment at the Smithsonian, Kurin served as the Center’s director from 1987 to 2007, as Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture from 2007 to 2015, and as Acting Provost and Under Secretary for Museums and Research from 2015 to 2017. He was instrumental in the development of UNESCO’s treaty on Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage. Kurin has served as Smithsonian liaison to the U.S. President’s Committee for the Arts and the Humanities and the White House Historical Association and serves on the boards of several organizations including the ALIPH Foundation. The author of six books, he has been honored with numerous awards and is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
While at the Center, he will continue his other Smithsonian responsibilities including his oversight of the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative, his leadership role with the U.S. Department of State Cultural Heritage Coordinating Committee, and his advisory work at the Atlantic Council Arsht-Rockefeller Resilience Center.