NMDCA Announces New Deputy Directors At Museum Of Indian Arts & Culture And Museum Of International Folk Art


Museum of Indian Arts & Culture and Museum of International Folk Art, both divisions of New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs (NMDCA), announced new deputy directors at each museum.

Melissa S. Powell, Ph.D. will serve as deputy director of MIAC and Laura J. Mueller, Ph.D. will serve as deputy director of MOIFA. 

“NMDCA is excited to have such distinguished and talented professionals join leadership,” said NMDCA Deputy Cabinet Secretary Michelle Gallagher  Roberts. “These women bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to their new roles on Museum Hill.” 

Melissa S. Powell, Ph.D. is a museum professional with more than twenty-five years of experience, including management of museum collections and facilities. Before arriving at MIAC, she was Curator of Collections and Assistant Research Professor at Anthropology Research Collections, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. There she managed museum collections including archaeological, bioarchaeological, and ethnographic materials located at multiple university facilities, and managed the curation and use of collections in research, publication, and exhibits. 

“I am honored to return to the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, where I will be dedicated to the responsible stewardship and care of the outstanding collections and facilities,” Dr. Powell said. “I look forward to working closely with the new Director and members of the museum’s Indian Advisory Panel (IAP), to support exhibitions and educational programs that highlight the vital cultural histories, arts, and languages of Native people of the Southwest.” 

Dr. Powell formerly served as the Curator of Archaeology at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture/ Laboratory of Anthropology and has previous experience at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, and the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology. Her professional background includes museum studies, archaeology and prehistory of the North American Southwest, ceramic production and exchange, consultation and collaboration with tribes and descendant communities, and the curation of exhibits and collections. She previously curated the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture exhibitions Huichol Art and Culture: Balancing the World and Secrets of Casas Grandes: Precolumbian Art and Archaeology of Northern Mexico. Before completing her doctorate in Anthropology at the University of New Mexico (UNM) in 2002, she completed an M.A. in Anthropology at UNM and a B.A. in Anthropology at University of Virginia. 

Before arriving at MOIFA, Laura J. Mueller, Ph.D. most recently served as Curator of Art at the Portland Japanese Garden directing the Art Department until the pandemic forced its closure. She previously resided in New York City for more than twelve years, first directing Joan B Mirviss Ltd Japanese Art for two years, before leaving to establish MyCurator LLC, a firm specializing in curatorial consulting, art advisory, and collections management. She has produced major exhibition projects including Garden of Unearthly Delights: Works by Ikeda, Tenmyouya & teamLab (Japan Society Gallery, NY), Competition and Collaboration: Japanese Prints of the Utagawa School (Brooklyn Museum of Art), Poetic Pastimes: Japan and the Art of Leisure (Newark Museum), and Strong Women, Beautiful Men: Japanese Portrait Prints from the Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo Museum of Art). She has published multiple exhibition catalogs and lectured widely in the USA and Japan. 

“The past two years have brought about a critical re-imagining of the role museums play in their communities and the constituencies that they serve, and the humanistic connections to folk art are the perfect catalysts to weave important stories, start challenging conversations, and build bridges for deeper understanding and appreciation of all peoples,” Dr. Mueller said. “I am thrilled to be working with MOIFA to address the specific challenges of our time through the nurturing of a strong sense of social responsibility, compassion, and empathy.” 

Before completing her doctorate in Japanese Art History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, she completed a dual degree M.B.A./M.A. in Arts Administration at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas; preceded by a B.A. in International Economics at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota. During the more than six years living and working in Japan, she was the recipient of both The Japan Foundation and Monbukagakushō Dissertation Fellowships for research at Gakushūin University in Tokyo. She has relocated to Santa Fe with her 9-year-old daughter, Amara Genet. 

Dr. Mueller has been hard at work in her role at MOIFA and Dr. Powell will begin with MIAC July 11. 

About the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture

The Museum of Indian Arts & Culture is a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs, under the leadership of the Board of Regents for the Museum of New Mexico. Programs and exhibits are generously supported by the Museum of New Mexico Foundation and our donors. The mission of the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture/Laboratory of Anthropology is to serve as a center of stewardship, knowledge, and understanding of the artistic, cultural, and intellectual achievements of the diverse peoples of the Native Southwest.  

About the Museum of International Folk Art

The Museum of International Folk Art is a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs, under the leadership of the Board of Regents for the Museum of New Mexico. Programs and exhibits are generously supported by the International Folk Art Foundation and Museum of New Mexico Foundation. The mission of The Museum of International Folk Art is to shape a humane world by connecting people through creative expression and artistic traditions. The museum holds the largest collection of international folk art in the world, numbering more than 130,000 objects from more than 100 countries.