Nora Atkinson is the Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator-in-Charge for the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. She oversees acquisitions, exhibitions, research, publications, patron relations and staff at the gallery. In 2018, she was named Washingtonian’s “Best Boundary-Pushing Curator” for her work on the critically-acclaimed exhibitions, No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man (2018) and Murder Is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death (2017).
Since joining the museum in 2014, Atkinson has organized exhibitions that point to new directions in the field of craft. Her most recent project, No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man (2018), created a sensation and attracted record-breaking crowds, more than doubling attendance at the Renwick that year to nearly 850,000 visitors. The exhibition brought cutting-edge artwork created at the annual desert gathering to the nation’s capital for the first time.
Her other recent notable exhibitions include the popular Murder is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death (2017), Rick Araluce: The Final Stop (2018) and Visions and Revisions: Renwick Invitational 2016. She oversaw the installation of the permanent collection galleries, Connections: Contemporary Craft at the Renwick Gallery, in 2015, following a two-year closure of the Renwick Gallery for renovation, and again in 2019 following the building take-over by the No Spectators exhibition.
Atkinson is the author of Craft for a Modern World: The Renwick Gallery Collection (2015) and a co-author of the exhibition catalogue accompanying Visions and Revisions (2016). Her research interests center on contemporary art and craft, humanism, and the role of the handmade in the digital age.
Atkinson has written and spoken extensively about her work. She presented a TED talk, “Why art thrives at Burning Man,” in Vancouver in 2018.
Atkinson was a curator at the Bellevue Arts Museum in Bellevue, Washington, from 2006 to 2014. She earned a bachelor’s degree (2002) and a master’s degree (2006) from the University of Washington, Seattle. She is a 2018 graduate of the Getty Leadership Institute’s executive leadership program.
About the Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is home to one of the most significant and inclusive collections of American art in the world. Its artworks reveal America’s rich artistic and cultural history from the colonial period to today. The museum’s Renwick Gallery, a branch museum dedicated to contemporary craft and decorative arts, is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. The museums are open on a modified schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic; check for current hours and admission information. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Website: americanart.si.edu.