Marsha MacDowell
(517) 355-2370

101 MSU Museum
409 West Circle Dr
East Lansing, MI 48824

FacultyArt, Art History, and Design

MSU Museum Curator

Art History & Visual Culture


I received my B.F.A, M.F.A. and Ph.D. from Michigan State University and have been employed as a curator since 1977 at the Michigan State University Museum. There, in addition to my curatorial activities, I have served as coordinator of the Michigan Traditional Arts Program, a state folk art partnership of the MSU Museum and the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs and the founding director of the Great Lakes Folk Festival.

Within the Department of Art, Art History, and Design, I have taught courses (including summer abroad programs), regularly lectured in art history courses, and co-founded the MSU Museum Studies program where I have served as interim director, coordinator of internships, E-newsletter editor, and as chair of the faculty advisory committee. I have curated over 30 exhibitions, some local and some international; those of note include ones at the Smithsonian Institution, American Folk Art Museum (NYC), Nelson Mandela Museum, and many at the Michigan State University Museum.

Currently I am invited curator for a national touring exhibition that will feature the recipients of the National Heritage Awards, the National Endowment for the Arts’ highest award for artists in this country.

I have served in many different professional service capacities in the museum, folklore, and quilt study field, including the following: founding and current editor, H-Quilts; founding board member, The Alliance for American Quilts; past-president, American Quilt Study Group; current elected member of the Executive Board of the American Folklore Society; current member, international editorial board for Museum Anthropology; and current member, international program planning board for the 2011 South African Visual Art s Historians (SAVAH) Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art (CIHA) Colloquium at University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

Artist Statement

My work, as a publicly-engaged scholar, 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, my work has been largely focused on the documentation and analysis of the production, meaning, and use of traditional material culture (especially that of Hmong-Americans, Native Americans, South Africans, and women); the analysis of the role of museums in contemporary society; the development of educational resources and public arts policies related to traditional arts; the development of curriculum materials related to community-based knowledge; and the creation of innovative ways, including digital repositories, the increase of access to and use of traditional arts materials.

The overwhelmingly majority of my 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.

Major recent and current research activities for which I have served as PI or co-PI:

The Quilt Index (, a digital repository of distributed data on American quilts, quiltmakers, and quiltmaking (funded by NEH and IMLS National Leadership grants);

South African Quilt History Project (funded by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln, International Quilt Study Center Fellowship)

Oral History in a Digital Age, a national collaboration of the MSU Museum, MSU MATRIX, the Smithsonian Institution, t he Library of Congress/American Folklife Center, and the American Folklore Society to establish best practices for creating, preserving, and using digital orality (funded by an IMLS National Leadership Grant);

MichiganCraftWORKS!, a statewide cultural economic development research and policy development initiative.

Carriers of Culture: Native Basket Traditions – a national project to document and present the basketmaking tradition s of living Native artists;

Dear Mr Mandela, Dear Mrs Parks: Children’s Letters: Global Lessons , an exhibition collaboration of the MSU Museum and the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha, South Africa (funded by an AAM Museums and Communities/International Program grant).

University News

Afrofuturism & Quilting Exhibition: Exploring Connections Within Teaching, Learning, and Quilt Praxis
Published April 17, 2024 in College of Arts & Letters
Stitch by stitch, quilt making has played an integral role in African American history. But the storytelling embedded in the quilts themselves is more than mere tradition.In the Afrofuturism &…Read now »
Several College of Arts & Letters Projects Supported by HARP Grants
Published December 13, 2023 in College of Arts & Letters
A collage of photos of various different people in front of a collection of backgrounds.
Twelve College of Arts & Letters faculty members currently are working on projects supported by 2023 Humanities and Arts Research Program (HARP) Grants. The projects range from mixed media…Read now »
Faculty Receive Excellence in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Awards
Published February 8, 2023 in College of Arts & Letters
Four faculty members from the College of Arts & Letters are being honored by the University as recipients of 2022-2023 Excellence in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Awards. These awards,…Read now »
AAHD Professor and Museum Curator Honored by American Folklore Society
Published January 29, 2021 in College of Arts & Letters
woman wearing a black top with short curly hair smiling at the camera with a bookshelf in the background
The American Folklore Society (AFS), the country’s professional society for folklorists, has awarded Marsha MacDowell, Professor in MSU’s Department of Art, Art History, and Design and MSU Museum…Read now »
The Quilt Index Relaunches and Expands Its Collection
Published November 15, 2018 in College of Arts & Letters
This past October 2018, a new iteration of the Quilt Index, a digital repository of thousands of images, stories, and information about quilts and their makers drawn from hundreds of…Read now »
Alumna Coordinates Exhibits at Lansing Art Gallery
Published April 24, 2018 in College of Arts & Letters
photo of a woman with brown hair smiling while holding the big, black hat on her head
Last year, Michigan State University alumna Katrina Daniels was named the Exhibitions and Gallery Sales Director for the Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center. Daniels has two…Read now »
Chicago Folklore Prize Awarded to Book Co-Authored by AAHD Professor
Published November 17, 2017 in College of Arts & Letters
Illustration that depicts Civil Rights Movements
Four colleagues at the MSU Museum, including a Professor in the Department of Art, Art History and Design, recently received the prestigious Chicago Folklore Prize from the University of…Read now »
CAL Alumni Association Presents Faculty Awards
Published April 22, 2016 in College of Arts & Letters
group picture of faculty with awards
Joined by the College of Arts & Letters Alumni Association Board (photo bottom right), and CAL staff members, Acting Dean Elizabeth H. Simmons presented the 2015 CAL Alumni Association Faculty…Read now »
‘Hmong Memory at the Crossroads’ Film Premiere
Published January 13, 2016 in College of Arts & Letters
graphic for film premiere
The College of Arts & Letters Department of Romance and Classical Studies will premiere the documentary film Hmong Memory at the Crossroads at 4:00 pm, Monday, February 15, 2016 in the…Read now »
AAHD’s Marsha MacDowell Named American Folklore Society Fellow
Published December 1, 2015 in College of Arts & Letters
portrait of a woman with blonde hair
Dr. Marsha MacDowell, Michigan State University Professor of Art, Art History, and Design and MSU Museum Curator of Folk Arts has been named a fellow of the American Folklore Society (AFS), in…Read now »