Return to Authors and Participants


Marsha L. MacDowell, Michigan State University

MARSHA L. MACDOWELL is curator, Michigan State University Museum and professor, art, art history and design and curator, MSU. In that capacity she serves as a core member of Museum Studies faculty, the coordinator of the Michigan Traditional Arts Program (a statewide arts partnership with Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs), director of the Great Lakes Folk Festival, and director of the Quilt Index (, a digital repository of stories and data on quilts and quilt artists.

As a publicly engaged scholar, her work is grounded in an interdisciplinary approach to material culture and is informed primarily by art historical, folkloristic, and ethnographic theories and methodologies. For many years, her work has largely focused on documentation and analysis of the production, meaning, and use of traditional material culture (especially that of Hmong-Americans, Native Americans, South Africans, and women); analysis of the role of museums in contemporary society; development of educational resources and public arts policies related to traditional arts; development of curriculum materials related to community-based knowledge; and creation of innovative ways, including digital repositories, to increase access to and use of traditional arts materials. The overwhelmingly majority of her work has, by design and philosophy, been developed and implemented in collaboration with representatives of the communities and cultural groups whose cultural heritage is focused on. Many of the projects are strategically developed to have a positive impact on identified societal needs. While the focus of the majority of her activities has been in Michigan and the Great Lakes region, some projects have been national and international in scope. She is one of four PIs at Michigan State University heading the United States-Africa Strategic Partnerships in Cultural Heritage (funded by the MSU Foundation and with additional support from the Smithsonian, American Association of Museums, IMLS, Association of African American Museums, and AFRICOM).

MacDowell has been a PI on over 100 projects funded by various agencies, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, Institute for Museum and Library Services, Michigan Humanities Council, Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, Kellogg Foundation, Mellon Foundation, and Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund. Outcomes have included publications for scholarly and lay audiences, festival programs, digital repositories, social media and multimedia resources, and exhibitions.

She has served as a committee member of or consultant to many organizations, including the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, Smithsonian Institute Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the Mandela National Museum, Local Learning, and the National Roundtable on Folk Arts. She has served as founding board member, The Alliance for American Quilts; past-president, The American Quilt Study Group (AQSG); executive board member of the American Folklore Society; and board member of the Michigan Folklore Society. She is also long-time member of Michigan Oral History Association, Michigan Museums Association, American Association of Museums, National Art Education Association, and International Council of Museums. She is founding and current editor, H-Quilts, is on the editorial board of Museum Anthropology Review, and regularly serves as a member of the editorial board of AQSG. In 1991 she received a Fulbright for short-term consultations in Thailand, in 2004, was awarded the Américo Paredes Award by the American Folklore Society, and in 2010 received a fellowship from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln/International Quilt Study Center to pursue a study of quiltmaking in South Africa.

OHDA Works


Permanent link to this article: