Dr. Wali was born in India and received her B.A. from Radcliffe College, Cambridge, MA, and Ph.D. in Anthropology from Columbia University, New York City. Dr. Wali is currently Curator of North American Anthropology in the Science and Education Division of the Field Museum. She was the Director of the Center for Cultural Understanding and Change (CCUC) from 1994-2010, when it merged with the Environment and Conservation Program to create the Environment, Culture and Conservation Division. Read More
As Director of CCUC, she was responsible for coordination of programs designed to enhance interdisciplinary work at the Museum, strengthen public programming on cultural issues, and promote efforts to link the Museum closer to the Chicago Community.
Under her leadership, cultural understanding programmatic activities grew into a lively operation that had a staff of over 15 full-time professionals, obtained grants totaling over $3million and trained over 100 students in qualitative research between 1995-2004. She pioneered the application of an asset-based approach to community engagement in everything from conservation programs in biodiversity rich regions to community building using arts programs in mixed-income residential developments in poor communities.
As Curator, she explores research themes of how changing social contexts impact identity and forms of activism within the urban context. She was Principal Investigator for a two- year project studying the social impact of the informal arts in Chicago, which has been widely cited and was used in developing the arts and cultural strategy for the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s GOTO2040 Plan. She has also been actively involved in the social and ecological sustainability efforts in the Andes/Amazon region.
In 2005, she was the Principal Investigator for a major study of the social, cultural and artistic assets of recent Mexican Immigrants. From 2006-2009 she led the Field Museum’s innovative work on building social cohesion in a mixed-income residential project, using arts programs and arts based strategies.
She has worked on numerous temporary and permanent exhibits on contemporary culture for the Museum, most recently, “Fashion and The Field Museum Collections. Maria Pinto”. In 2010, she assumed curatorial responsibilities for the North American Anthropology collections. She has also launched a major initiative to build a collection of urban material culture that will document the diversity and vibrancy of urban life, arts and crafts.
Dr. Wali has received major grants from the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Rockefeller Foundation, the National Science Foundation and from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. She has spoken at numerous community organizations around the City and appeared on public radio and television station programs. She is the author of two books, several monographs and over 30 articles. Together with Co-author Leith Mullings, she has written a book on the Harlem Research titled Stress and Resilience: The Social Context of Reproduction in Central Harlem (2001), published by Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers. Dr. Wali is active in anthropology professional organizations.