SAH Contact: Christopher Kirbabas
, Director of Programs
Michelle Joan Wilkinson
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Michelle Joan Wilkinson, PhD is a curator at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Wilkinson co-curated two of the inaugural exhibitions for the new museum: A Changing America: 1968 and Beyond
and A Century in the Making: Building the National Museum of African American History and Culture
. Wilkinson is also developing the museum’s collections in architecture and design.
Prior to NMAAHC, Wilkinson spent six years as Director of Collections and Exhibitions at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture. In that capacity, she curated over twenty exhibitions, including A People’s Geography: The Spaces of African American Life
and two award-winning shows—Material Girls
and For Whom It Stands.
She has also worked at the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Studio Museum in Harlem.
In 2012, as a fellow of the Center for Curatorial Leadership, Wilkinson completed a short-term residency at the Design Museum in London. Wilkinson’s current research project, “V is for Veranda,” about architectural heritage in the Anglophone Caribbean, has been presented to international audiences in Suriname, England, India, and the United States. She holds a B.A. from Bryn Mawr College and a Ph.D. from Emory University.
Zena Howard Principal and Managing Director
Zena Howard, FAIA is a Principal and Managing Director of the North Carolina practice of global architecture and design firm Perkins+Will. An award-winning architect, strategist, mentor and team builder, Zena is known for her success leading visionary, complex, and culturally-significant projects including the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, several libraries for Durham County in Durham, NC, the Anacostia and Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Libraries in Washington, DC, the Motown Museum Expansion in Detroit, MI, and the New Brooklyn Village development initiative in Charlotte, NC.
She is also Managing Principal and Lead Facilitator for the City of Vancouver Hogan’s Alley initiative and the City of Greenville Town Common Sycamore Hill project. Zena is helping these and other clients envision and create cultural destinations that will celebrate the history and context of displaced, forgotten communities.
Zena is an advocate for diversity within the architecture profession, a field where minority and women professionals are historically under-represented. She is a founding member of Perkins+Will’s Diversity + Inclusion Council, and associate professor of architecture at North Carolina State University College of Design.
A North Carolina native, Zena earned her undergraduate degree in architecture from the University of Virginia.
Deputy Director of the Construction Division
Office of Planning, Design and Construction
Derek Ross, RA, LEED AP is Deputy Director of the Construction Division Office of Planning, Design and Construction within the Smithsonian Facilities (SF) at the Smithsonian Institution. The Office is responsible for all the construction projects throughout the 19 museums, 9 research centers and the National Zoological Park of the Smithsonian.
Ross has served as the Associate Director / Chief of Construction on the construction efforts over the last 25 years. He joined the Smithsonian Institution in 1992 as a Construction Manager responsible for all construction projects on the South Mall. In 1996 Ross was selected as Chief of Construction. The construction of the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, The National Museum of the American Indian, and the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture were completed under his leadership. In addition to his duties as Deputy Director, Ross is the Institution’s Senior Construction Executive on National Museum of African American History and Culture. During his tenure as the Chief of Construction of the Smithsonian, over $1 billion in design and construction has been completed.
Ross earned a Bachelor of Architecture at The University of Miami, holds current Architecture registrations in the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia, is certified in Erosion and Sediment Control for the State of Maryland and is an accredited professional in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED AP).