News & Politics

Smithsonian Names Founding Director of New Women’s History Museum

Currently president of the Museum of Chinese in America, Nancy Yao will begin June 5.

Nancy Yao will be founding director of the Smithsonian's American Women’s History Museum. Photograph courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.

The Smithsonian’s American Women’s History Museum may not have a permanent home yet, but it does has a founding director: Nancy Yao, the current president of the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) in New York City. 

As director of an entirely brand new museum, Yao will unsurprisingly have a lot on her plate as she oversees both conception and development. On her to-do list, according to a Smithsonian press release: source a national collection; curate permanent and rotating exhibitions; and create education resources that will be available virtually prior to the museum’s physical opening.

Yao has been president of MOCA since 2015. While there, her sustainability and conservation efforts helped salvage over 98 percent of the museum’s collection following a major fire. Under her leadership, the museum, which has faced some controversy, also raised $60 million, effectively securing a permanent home to what’s considered the largest collection of Chinese American artifacts and objects in the country.

Prior to her time at MOCA, Yao was executive director of the Yale-China Association, a nonprofit that works to build and improve U.S.-China relations, where she led more than 20 arts, education, and health programs. Prior to that, she was managing director of corporate programs at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Museums play a critical role at the nexus of scholarship and public access,” Yao said in the Smithsonian press release. “Creating voice for the stories of American women will take intentional conversations, creative inputs and energetic curation.”

According to the Smithsonian, the yet-to-be-built American Women’s History Museum currently has a staff of 14, a federal budget of $2 million, and more than $55 million raised. In October, the Smithsonian selected two potential sites for the museum’s brick-and-mortar building on the National Mall but is waiting for Congress’s approval.

Jessica Ruf
Assistant Editor