Podcast Interview with Michael Atwood Mason, Director of Smithsonian Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage

Smithsonian’s Michael Atwood Mason on Curating the World’s Culture

Michael Atwood Mason is Director of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage and is responsible for the Folklife Festival on the National Mall, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections and educational and cultural programs at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

Michael was appointed director at the center in 2013. Previously he worked at the National Museum of Natural History, which he joined in 1994 as an exhibit developer and co-curator on the “African Voices” exhibit. In 2007, he became the chief of exhibit development and project management, then in 2009 the director of exhibitions. During this time he was instrumental in the development and opening of the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins in 2010. Michael first joined the Smithsonian in 1992, working at the Anacostia Community Museum as a researcher and exhibit developer for the “Black Mosaic” exhibition. A champion of cultural sustainability, Michael is one of the leaders of the Smithsonian’s Recovering Voices Initiative, a signature program of the Consortia for Understanding the American Experience and World Cultures.

Michael earned his bachelor’s degree in American studies at the University of Oregon. Trained as a folklorist, he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees at Indiana University. He has been studying the cultures of the African diaspora since 1987. His book, Living Santeria: Rituals and Experiences in an Afro-Cuban Religion, was published by the Smithsonian Institution Press in 2002 and was nominated for the Victor Turner Award for Ethnographic Writing. He is also part of the founding faculty of the Masters of Arts in Cultural Sustainability Program at Goucher College in Towson, Md.

I know you’ll enjoy Michael’s insights on the importance of community involvement to the Center’s cultural sustainability initiatives and what is involved in curating a museum exhibit to effectively tell a story, and cultural topics ranging from an overview of the Santería religion, the revitalization of endangered languages, the impact of technology on cultural transmission, maintaining cultural identity amidst the accelerating movement of people, and much more!