From the MIA to the Smithsonian, via Iraq

Cori Wegener joined the Army Reserves right after high school to help pay for college. Little did she know just how far her military experience would take her.


MIA curator Corine Wegener has been called the 'Clark Kent of museum work'

Photo courtesy MIA

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Wegener, a curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, is moving to the Smithsonian at the end of the month. There she will use her mix of military experience and artistic expertise to lead efforts to protect cultural heritage worldwide.

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Wegener says she enjoyed her initial experience with the Army Reserves, and so she continued with college ROTC (studying both political science and art history) and eventually entered the Civil Affairs branch of the Army Reserve. She says her military training was great preparation for her work as a museum curator.

"You learn how to plan and execute operations (like exhibitions) and work as part of a team," says Wegener.

While at the MIA Wegener was called into service to work with the Iraq National Museum staff immediately after the looting in 2003.

Listen to Cathy Wurzer's 2008 interview with Cori Wegener on the five year anniversary of the Iraqi museum looting

In 2006, having retired from the military, Wegener formed the US Committee of the Blue Shield, the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross, providing an emergency response to cultural property at risk from armed conflict or natural disasters. Her work has taken her to Haiti after the earthquake and had her consulting with officials in Egypt, all the while maintaining her job as Associate Curator in the department of Architecture, Design, Decorative Arts, Craft, and Sculpture at the MIA.

Now the Smithsonian has created a new position - Preservation Specialist for Cultural Heritage - for Wegener to devote herself more fully to her cultural heritage work.

"What I find most exciting is the opportunity to promote the idea that there is a cultural heritage component to everything we do," says Wegener. "In disaster planning and response people always come first, but cultural heritage is often overlooked until it's too late to save it."

Wegener says she looks forward to working with her colleagues around the world to better coordinate efforts in what is still an emerging field.