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Director, National Museum of the American Indian

Smithsonian Institution
District of Columbia, United States
$300,000.00 - $350,000.00
Posted Date
Jun 1, 2021

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Position Type
Jobs Outside Academe, Non-profit & Government Organizations
Employment Level
Employment Type
Full Time
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In partnership with Native peoples and their allies, the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) fosters a richer shared human experience through a more informed understanding of Native peoples.  NMAI is a primary forum and leading voice on issues that affect Native peoples.  NMAI’s strategic objectives center around the themes of Engage, Inform, Excel, and Advocate.

Established by Congress in 1989, the NMAI inherited the assets of the Museum of the American Indian—Heye Foundation, which was established in New York in 1916. The NMAI opened its George Gustav Heye Center in New York in 1994, its Cultural Resources Center in Suitland in 1999, and its museum on the National Mall in 2004.  The Museum is comprised of all three facilities, working together toward mutual goals.

The Museum has one of the most extensive collections of Native American arts and artifacts in the world, representing over 14,000 years of history and more than 1,700 indigenous cultures throughout the Americas. In addition to the object collections, the NMAI’s archival holdings include approximately 2,200 cubic feet of manuscripts and 500,000 photographs from the 1860s to the present, as well as over 7,000 media items. NMAI research and scholarship focuses primarily on the preparation of material for public presentation through NMAI outlets (exhibitions, symposia, public programs, and publications), and study of the NMAI collections.  A key element of NMAI research is in response to requests from tribes for repatriation of items from our collections.

NMAI educators create programs and exhibitions for school-age visitors at both of our museums. Both museums have an ImagiNATIONS Activity Center featuring unique learning experiences. In addition, NMAI has embarked on a multi-year project, Native Knowledge 360, to create and publish materials for classroom use by teachers across the United States.

The Museum’s engagement with tribal communities takes many forms. NMAI engages with the Tribes’ political and cultural leadership on an ongoing basis and remains current on the social, economic, political, and cultural issues affecting the Tribes and their people. One of the Museum’s largest and most impactful ongoing projects is the provision of technical assistance and collections loans to tribally-run museums and cultural centers. The Museum take special pride in seeing items from  its collections return to their home communities, where they can be interpreted and displayed by the Tribes themselves.

The Museum is assisted in its work by a Board of Trustees established by its authorizing legislation. The board has 25 members and includes the Secretary of the Smithsonian, the Undersecretary for Museums and Culture, and 23 persons appointed by the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian, at least 12 of whom must be citizens or members of federally-recognized Indian Tribes or Native Hawaiian Organizations. The board includes Native cultural leaders, Tribal political leaders, scholars, artists, educators, business leaders, and advocates. The board exercises certain statutory powers, most notably regarding the management of the collections. The board advises the director and staff on strategy, management, and operations of the museum through five standing committees of the board: Advancement, Policy and Budget, Collections and Scholarship, Repatriation, and Governance. An Executive Committee consisting of the board’s officers and committee chairs carry out these duties when the full board is not in session.


The Director of the National Museum of the American Indian is responsible for promoting, sustaining and further developing a more informed understanding of Native peoples using a “One NMAI” approach linking all three facilities and following the guiding philosophy of being a place where the voices of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas are primary in the interpretation of Native histories and cultures. The Director must understand and promote the Museum’s role, through exhibits, education, scholarship, publications, convenings and online platforms, in affirming the centrality of Indigenous Peoples and cultures in shaping our past, present and future. 

The Director of the National Museum of the American Indian will lead and inspire the Museum’s dedicated staff, steward and improve the Museum’s financial health, oversee day‐to‐day management, maintain the Museum’s relationships with the Tribal Nations, provide strategic direction for the organization, and be a leading voice on Native American cultural affairs.  The Director will supervise and manage a senior leadership team of Associate Directors responsible for the detailed management of the Museum’s Assets and Operations, Scholarship and Research, Learning and Programs, Advancement and Administration. The Director will also be supported be an experienced and dedicated Deputy Director. The Director will play a crucial role in fundraising, and work in close collaboration with the Museum’s Board of Trustees and committed donor community. The Director represents the NMAI in Smithsonian leadership forums and engages with the leaders of other Smithsonian museums and research units and administrative offices on matters of common concern.


  • Successfully maintaining the values and focus of NMAI while supporting audience growth and enhanced philanthropy
  • Addressing the evolving needs of the complex, nuanced set of communities making up the Indigenous peoples of the Americas so that the museum remains relevant and audience-focused
  • Continued significant growth in impact, including a focus on the educational reach of the museum
  • Continued significant growth in access to, and engagement with, the collections of the museum by communities, including object loans and consultations
  • Ensuring the museum plays a prominent role in pan‐Smithsonian priority setting, initiatives, and programs, including participation in Our Shared Future: Reckoning With Our Racial Past, American Women’s History Initiative and Open Access, among others
  • Building on NMAI’s role as a leading voice of Native peoples in national conversations on major issues such as biodiversity, race, identity, access to health care, environmental quality, education, governance, etc.


Subject Matter Expertise: With a national reputation for thought leadership, the Director must also possess deep, textured knowledge of Native Peoples’ histories and cultures, combined with the ability to frame those histories and experiences as a broader story that impacts America and the world in profound ways.  Demonstrated ability to manage and cultivate national and international community relationships with finesse and strategic thinking will be key to successful institutional leadership.

Relevant Leadership Experience: The Director must have relevant experience and the capacity to lead and manage a purpose‐driven and complex organization. Experience in a museum, a cultural organization or higher education is helpful, but not required.  Recommended skills include the ability to demonstrate responsiveness to evaluation and audience engagement as well as digital comprehension and ability to plan for evaluation and digital needs.

Profile and Fundraising Record: The Director serves as the lead fundraiser for the museum and must have presence in working with volunteer leadership and funders (individual and institutional). A track record of success in raising philanthropic dollars, ideally from both public and private sources, is essential.

Communications Expertise: The Director will have strong interpersonal, media and presentation skills, and will be able to inspire and elicit support from a wide spectrum of people from different social and cultural backgrounds.


Vision and Strategy
The Director will articulate a vision and direction for NMAI that engages and energizes current and potential audiences, supporters, and partners. The Director will develop and implement a strategy that embraces its role in education and its potential to partner with and support museums around the world in framing the stories and narratives of Indigenous peoples and their impact on and importance in global history and culture. An updated Strategic Plan for the organization will be ready to assist with grounding vision in the goals of the organization.

Collaborating and Influencing
Strategic partnerships expand the museum’s influence and enhance the quality of its products. The Director must be a strong collaborator and relationship builder who welcomes partnership with stakeholders across the Smithsonian and with other cultural and educational institutions across the country, including schools and universities. The Director must possess strong negotiation skills, demonstrating a genuine give‐and‐take approach; invest the time to identify and understand all stakeholders in order to develop a collective consensus; and proactively seek opportunities to build relationships.

Management and Leadership
By embodying a leadership style that promotes a collaborative culture across three unique locations, values teamwork, and facilitates open communication, the Director will partner with a dedicated leadership team to successfully bring a “One NMAI” approach to meeting all the museum’s goals. The Director will identify necessary changes in staffing structure and policies, define explicitly what must change and why, and effectively communicate changes to different audiences so that changes are understood and accepted.


  • Total Employees: 260 (202 federal, 31 trust, 27 vacancies)
  • Annual Budget (federal and trust) FY2021 is approximately $50 million, of which $34.8 million is federal
  • Permanent Collection: Approximately 825,000 items, representing more the 1,700 indigenous cultures throughout the Americas. 13,000 items are available on the NMAI website
  • On view: about 2,900 objects are on display, including artifacts on loan
  • Visitors: 1.3 million in person visits annually; 2 million web visitors; 189K followers on Facebook; 76K Twitter followers; 36K Instagram followers; 28,000 YouTube followers
  • Endowments: 27 endowment accounts totaling $71.7 million

The NMAI stewards one of the world’s most extensive collections of Native American materials, including art and artifacts, archives, and photographs representing Native and Indigenous Peoples of the Western Hemisphere from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego. The object collections of approximately 825,000 ethnographic, archaeological, and contemporary art objects include outstanding holdings in:

  • Plains garments, painted hides, pipes, shields, horse gear, winter counts, and ledger book drawings;
  • Woodlands quilled and beaded items, birchbark art, and basketry plus early 20th-century paintings by Absentee Shawnee artist Ernest Spybuck;
  • Southwestern ceramics and weavings plus silver, turquoise, and shell jewelry;
  • California featherwork, shellwork, and ceremonial clothing plus baskets by master artists Mary and William Benson (Pomo) and Elizabeth Hickox (Karuk);
  • Arctic and Northwest Coast masks, hunting and fishing gear, carvings, and sculptures;
  • Mexican and Central American masks, clothing, weavings, and dance costumes;
  • Amazonian featherwork, headdresses and ornaments, dance outfits and masks;
  • Andean weavings plus Patagonian hunting and fishing equipment and masks;
  • Southeastern and Southwestern archaeology, including important collections from Moundville, Spiro, Hawikuh, Pueblo Bonito, Grand Gulch, and Lovelock Cave sites;
  • Western Mexico archaeology, especially Casas Grandes, plus extensive Valley of Mexico collections, including figurines, stone sculptures, and turquoise mosaics;
  • Costa Rican, Panamanian, and Colombian archaeological ceramics, gold and jade ornaments, and monumental stone sculptures and animal-effigy metates;
  • Caribbean wooden sculptures, ceramics, and bone and shell ornaments;
  • Andean archaeological textiles, textiles and weaving tools, basketry, featherwork, musical instruments, stone thrones, and jewelry in gold and shell;
  • Contemporary traditional arts, including exceptional basketry, pottery, beadwork and dolls, garments and blankets, jewelry and sculpture made since 1950;
  • Expanding holdings of Native contemporary fine arts in all media, including painting, drawing, prints, sculpture, photography, video, and digital formats, including significant holdings by early leaders in the field such as Allan Houser, George Morrison, Norval Morrisseau, Kay WalkingStick plus many mid-career and emerging artists.

NMAI’s Archive Center strengths include:

  • Institutional records of the Museum of the American Indian–Heye Foundation, including primary collections documentation, fieldnotes, museum history, and other records;
  • Records of Native American artists, writers, activists, and organizations, such as the National Congress of the American Indian; the Reuben Snake Papers, the American Indian Tribal Court Judges Association; and the National Tribal Chairman’s Association;
  • Historic photographs from the 1860s onward including outstanding holdings of early 20th-century field photography and studio portraits;
  • Moving images and audio recordings, including 1920s educational films on the Zuni, black-and-white footage documenting indigenous lifeways in the Andes from the 1920s through the 1950s, and more recent footage.
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