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James Pepper Henry

Director & CEO

Heard Museum



James Pepper Henry (Kaw/Muscogee Creek) began work as director and CEO of the Heard Museum on Aug. 5, 2013. During his first week here, he was happy to answer these five questions about himself and his impressions of the Valley and the Heard. Following his answers is a news release issued in April 2013 about his appointment.


1. You come to the Heard after six years as a museum director in Anchorage, Alaska. Other than temperature, what is different about Phoenix and Arizona? What is the same?

Anchorage, and Alaska in general, has a strong sense of community. There literally is about one degree of separation between people. Both Alaska and Arizona have strong indigenous communities that are still tied to their respective geographic areas. Both places are known for harsh climates, but beautiful, natural landscapes. And, Sarah Palin makes a home in both places (wink).

2. What did you know about the Heard Museum that led you to seek to become its director? What have you learned about it since getting the job?

As a Native artist, I've always admired the Heard Museum for its unique collection of contemporary and traditional American Indian art. I first visited the Heard Museum nearly 30 years ago during a spring break trip while attending the University of Oregon. As a museum professional over the past 25 years, I've had several interactions and collaborations with the Heard, and have always been impressed with the knowledge and professionalism of the museum staff. I was actually recruited to be the next Director/CEO of the Heard Museum by a professional search firm based out of New York, and was honored to be a candidate for the position.

3. Name three things about the Heard that you believe set it apart from other museums.

Three things that set the Heard Museum apart from others is (a) its unparalleled collection; (b) its unique relationship with Native constituencies and artists, and (c) its unique facility/architecture.

4. You will be meeting many people in your first weeks and months here. What particular things would you like people to know in advance about you?

I wish for people to know that I am dedicated to broadening the audiences of the Heard Museum and ensuring its relevancy for current and future generations.

5. What impressions and knowledge would you like people to leave with after their visit to the Heard?


Our priority at the Heard Museum is for our visitors to have a quality and enlightening experience.  This includes gaining insight and new perspectives about the indigenous peoples of the Americas and an appreciation of the diversity, creativity, and contributions of the many cultures within community.



PHOENIX, Ariz. (April 9, 2013) – James Pepper Henry has been named as the Heard Museum’s director and CEO. Pepper Henry comes to the Heard after a successful six-year tenure at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, Alaska’s premier art, history and science institution. There, he oversaw the completion of the museum’s $110 million, 80,000-square-foot expansion, including the debut of the new Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center exhibition hall and the new Imaginarium Discovery Center.

“We are very pleased to announce that Jim Pepper Henry will become the new director of the Heard Museum,” said Heard Museum Board of Trustees Chair Mark Bonsall. “An extensive national search was conducted to find the person who will lead us into the future.”

Bonsall adds, “Jim brings a wealth of museum experience; he comes to us from his current post as director and CEO of the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center and has also held leadership positions at several other museums, both Native and non-Indian. Jim is a sculptor in his own right and an enrolled member of the Kaw Nation. We are thrilled to announce his appointment as the executive director of our beloved Heard Museum, and very much look forward to his leadership of this preeminent institution.”

“I am honored to have been selected as the next director and CEO of the Heard Museum, one of the premiere institutions of American Indian art and culture and an American treasure,” said Pepper Henry. “I look forward to working with the board, staff and community to present exciting exhibitions and programs, expand its audiences and steward the Heard into a new era.”

Pepper Henry formerly served as an associate director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) where, for nearly 10 years, he managed a wide variety of American Indian community-oriented programs, services, and traveling exhibitions. Pepper Henry played a pivotal role in the establishment and launch of NMAI, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., that opened to the public in 2004.

Pepper Henry served as the founding director of the Kanza Museum in Kaw City, Okla.; interim curator of American Indian Art at the Portland Art Museum; gallery director at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center in Portland, Ore.; and gallery director for the Institute of Alaska Native Arts in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Pepper Henry is a member of the Kaw Nation of Oklahoma and Muscogee Creek Nation. He is co-founder and president of the Kanza Ilóshka Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to the perpetuation of the cultural life-ways and traditions of the Kaw people. Pepper Henry is also an active American Indian traditional dancer and is co-founder of the Kaw Nation Traditional Dance Society.

He is a graduate of the University of Oregon and a recipient of the University’s prestigious Council for Minority Education Leadership Award. He is also a graduate of the Museum Leadership Institute at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, California.

Pepper Henry has contributed essays to various publications including Stewards of the Sacred, co-published by the American Association of Museums and Harvard University, and Native Universe: Voices of Indian America, co-published by the Smithsonian Institution and the National Geographic Society.

Pepper Henry will assume his duties on August 5.

For more information, or to arrange an interview with James Pepper Henry, please contact Debra Krol, senior communications manager, at 602.251.0218 or email dkrol@heard.org.

About the Heard

Since 1929, the Heard Museum, a private non-profit organization, has enchanted visitors from around the world with the art, culture and history of American Indians, with an emphasis on tribes of the Southwest. With more than 40,000 fine artworks and cultural artifacts in its permanent collection, 12 long-term and changing exhibit galleries, an education center, an award-winning Shop, the Books & More boutique bookstore, Coffee Cantina and Courtyard Café, the Heard Museum is a place of learning, discovery and unforgettable experiences. In addition to its flagship Phoenix location, the Heard Museum also operates a community museum in North Scottsdale.

Exhibit, event and program funding are provided in part by the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the Arizona Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture.

View bio for the incoming director and CEO of the Heard Museum
For more information, or to arrange an interview with James Pepper Henry, please contact Debra Krol, senior communications manager, at 602.251.0218 or email dkrol@heard.org
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