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Cultural Heritage Forward

A Shared Stewardship and Ethical Returns Exchange Program

Call for Applications

Download this call for applications in:

English (PDF)

French / Français (PDF)


Around the world, communities and museums of various sizes and kinds are engaged in a growing conversation about ethical stewardship of cultural heritage. From this conversation, new modes of inclusive museum practice are emerging that reexamine whose stories are told in museums, who tells these stories, who is considered to be part of the audience, and how these stories are relayed to audiences. To further and deepen the sharing of ideas about museums and cultural heritage stewardship, the U.S. Department of State and the Smithsonian Institution (SI) are launching Cultural Heritage Forward, a new exchange program for museum professionals and community-based cultural heritage practitioners.

Cultural Heritage Forward will:

  • examine a range of topics including equity, access, inclusion, shared stewardship, and ethical returns;
  • provide technical assistance and professional development for its participants, rooted in a multi-directional exchange of ideas and approaches;
  • build the capacity of individuals and institutions to conserve, manage, and display and interpret objects; and
  • build and strengthen networks of dialogue around these key topics.

Cultural Heritage Forward is funded by the Cultural Heritage Center (CHC) in the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The program was developed and is managed by the Cultural Heritage Center and the Office of Global Affairs (OGA) at the Smithsonian.

The Department of State and the Smithsonian are excited to invite applications from the following countries to participate in the inaugural exchange cohort: Cameroon, Nigeria, New Zealand, Vietnam, Chile, and Peru.

Program Structure

The exchange program will involve three distinct phases that take place over two years – a virtual discussion series; an in-person, experiential learning exchange in Washington D.C.; and a follow-on, hybrid applied learning period. Each of these three phases is outlined in more detail below. Participants will be partnered with a Smithsonian unit that will serve as host and organize significant parts of the shared learning program. Specifically:

  1. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art (NMAfA) will serve as host for approximately 8 participants from Nigeria and Cameroon;
  2. The Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (CFCH) will serve as host for approximately 8 participants from New Zealand and Vietnam;
  3. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) will serve as host for approximately 8 participants from Chile and Peru.

The Smithsonian’s Office of Global Affairs is serving as overall coordinator of the Cultural Heritage Forward program.

Program Phases

In the virtual discussion series (Phase I), the entire Cultural Heritage Forward cohort from all participating countries and Smithsonian units will collaborate in discussions and activities. In the experiential learning exchange (Phase II), program organizers and host units will coordinate regional and community-specific activities in Washington, DC. In the final hybrid series (Phase III), the host units and program organizers will support participants as they plan and implement activities and programs in their countries. Phase III will also include virtual activities involving the entire cohort as global colleagues working together to navigate complex museum issues and explore what it means to be ethical and responsible stewards of cultural heritage.

There will be simultaneous interpretation available for virtual activities in Phases I and III, between English and Spanish and between English and French. There will be simultaneous interpretation available between English and Spanish for the site visit and participants working most closely with NMAI. A solid proficiency in English (spoken and written) and comfort working in a professional context in English is recommended but not required.

Once all site visits are complete, the Smithsonian will convene one final virtual gathering, a capstone meeting, to spotlight a handful of participants and SI staff who have executed “capstones,” new programs or approaches to demonstrate the impact of exchange; this could include jointly presented ideas from cohort members and SI colleagues together. Cohort members are encouraged to participate in conferences, symposia, or publication to further amplify and advance discourse on these issues surrounding shared stewardship and ethical returns. Other potential outcomes may include collection metadata enhancement, exhibition updates or corrections, shared stewardship including shared stewardship agreements, and integration of community-based (or community-informed) collections care protocols.


As the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex with a mission to increase and diffuse knowledge, the Smithsonian Institution is continually examining how to share information and reach audiences in more accessible ways – and, more broadly, how to respond to our changing world.

In 2022, SI released an official Institution-wide policy on ethical returns and shared stewardship that aligns with global conversations around the ethical stewardship and acquisition of museum collections, particularly as they relate to historic and colonial collecting practices. In doing so, SI has stepped into an important leadership role in the conversations taking place worldwide surrounding the ethical care of museum collections and inclusive museum practice. With this leadership role comes the responsibility and opportunity to share with and learn from others, as museum professionals and cultural heritage practitioners continue to grow and adapt their museum practice to continue to be ethical stewards of the past and the present.


Applicants must be from Cameroon, Nigeria, New Zealand, Vietnam, Chile, or Peru. Applicants from Cameroon or Nigeria will be applying to work most closely with the National Museum of African Art. Applicants from New Zealand and Vietnam will be applying to work most closely with the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Applicants from Chile and Peru will be applying to work most closely with the National Museum of the American Indian.


Applicants should have all the following to be considered for selection:

  • Ability to participate in all phases of the program, including ability to travel to the United States from 7-18 October 2024 (for participants from Nigeria, Cameroon, Vietnam, and New Zealand) or the spring of 2025 (dates to be determined for participants from Chile and Peru)
  • A valid passport at the time of application or the ability to obtain a passport in advance of international travel.
  • Access to reliable internet for the duration of the program for participating in regular online meetings organized by the Smithsonian Institution.
  • Ability to participate in occasional virtual meetings outside of the hours of 09:00 – 17:00 to connect with the cohort and program organizers.
  • Must self-identify as a cultural heritage steward or practitioner from Cameroon, Nigeria, New Zealand, Vietnam, Chile, or Peru.
  • Proficiency in spoken English is suggested, but not required.

Learn More

Interested applicants may watch recordings of information sessions held on March 19 and 20 featuring representatives from OGA, CFCH, NMAI, NMAfA, and CHC at the links below.

Session 1: English [ passcode: sG#^4Y6n ]

Session 2: English [ passcode: WhqXx4Z@ ]

Session 2: Spanish / Español (audio) [ passcode: WhqXx4Z@ ]

Session 2: French / Français (audio) [ passcode: WhqXx4Z@ ]

The slides from the information sessions are available here.


How to Apply

Interested individuals should submit the below, each as a separate Microsoft Word document (four documents in total), in English, Spanish, or French, to Global@si.edu with the subject line “Cultural Heritage Forward Program Application” and the name of the Smithsonian unit host to which you are applying to work (as defined in the Participants section above) no later than 11:59 pm ET on 10 April 2024: 

  1. statement of purpose (no more than one (1) page, 12-point font, single-spaced) explaining your current role, and how this exchange will inform or enhance your work in your community and/or museum’s mission. Please include a brief mention about how you wish to or can contribute to this particular exchange.
  2. Resume, CV, or list of relevant work experience. Please feel free to include up to three press clippings as part of this and/or up to two video or sound clip links.
  3. Letter of support (letter can speak to applicant’s creative process(es), engagement with the community, and ability to collaborate). Letters may be provided from a colleague or professional familiar with your work or your supervisor.
  4. Answers to the following questions (no more than one (1) page total, 12-point font, single-spaced)
  • How do you envision the future of inclusive museum practice and cultural heritage management work at your museum or in your community in the next few years?
  • How do you plan to contribute to the aims of the Smithsonian Institution host unit (NMAI, NMAfA, CFCH) with which you will work?
  • What impact do you think inclusive museum practices will have on the field of cultural heritage management in the coming years?

Applicants must submit all requested materials listed above by the deadline to be eligible for selection. Applicants will be evaluated based on suitability for the program and materials provided. Final applicants may be invited to participate in a virtual interview. Due to the volume of applications, only finalists will likely be contacted.