President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities gets new leader

Tsione Wolde-Michael, most recently the founding director of the Smithsonian’s Center for Restorative History, has been named executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

Under a new Executive Order issued by President Biden, PCAH has been established to engage the nation’s artists, humanities scholars, and cultural heritage practitioners on ways to promote excellence in the arts, the humanities, and museum and library services and demonstrate their relevance to the country’s health, economy, equity, and civic life.

Wolde-Michael, the youngest and first Black individual to direct PCAH, will lead a high-profile committee of 25 non-federal leaders in the arts, humanities, and museum and library services, expected to be named by the White House in the coming weeks. Under her direction, the committee will advise the president on policy objectives, public/private partnerships, and programs to enhance support for the arts, humanities, and museum and library services across the country—a first, since 2017.

“I’ve spent my career as a public historian launching large-scale projects from the ground up and working to transform understandings of our nation’s past,” said Wolde-Michael. “President Biden’s new executive order supports telling a fuller, more expansive American story through the arts and humanities; it recognizes that these areas are essential to the vitality of our democracy while centering equity, accessibility, and the inclusion of historically underserved communities in an unprecedented way. I look forward to applying my experience to ensure that PCAH reflects that strong vision.”

Wolde-Michael will use her vast experience bringing marginalized voices into public dialogue to lead strategy and engagement for PCAH, while working with the Institute of Museum and Library and Services (IMLS) Director Crosby Kemper, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chair Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Chair Shelly C. Lowe.

“The National Endowment for the Arts is pleased to welcome Tsione Wolde-Michael to the federal arts and humanities family,” said NEA Chair Jackson. “We look forward to working with her and PCAH to strengthen our nation’s arts and cultural ecosystems, ensuring that the arts continue to contribute to the health and well-being of individuals and communities.”

Wolde-Michael began her career at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, where she was part of a team that produced the landmark inaugural exhibition Slavery and Freedom–the nation’s first comprehensive exhibit on the history of enslavement. Her international projects include “The Slave Wrecks Project” and working with national and local museums to reinterpret colonial collections. Most recently as the curator of African American Social Justice History, she developed a theory and method for museum practice grounded in the principles of restorative justice. This work helped the Smithsonian National Museum of American History diversify its collections and exhibitions and establish long-term community partnerships and led to the establishment of the Center for Restorative History—the Smithsonian’s first center dedicated exclusively to community-based redress work.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in women and gender studies from Macalester College and a master’s degree in history from Harvard University. Her position will be hosted at IMLS.