Wonderful Women Wednesday: Effie Kapsalis

Each week, the Archives features a woman who has been a groundbreaker at the Smithsonian, past or present, in a series titled Wonderful Women Wednesday.

Digital strategist Effie Kapsalis was dedicated to building bridges between Smithsonian collections and audiences. In a Smithsonian career spanning nearly twenty years, Effie mobilized her colleagues to share more diverse stories, break down barriers to access, and fight for gender and racial equity in the cultural heritage sphere. Sadly, we lost Effie on December 11, 2022. She was our friend and inspired all of us.

Effie Kapsalis

Effie’s Smithsonian career began in 2005 as Senior Digital Producer with the Smithsonian Photography Initiative (SPI). In 2009, SPI merged with the Smithsonian Institution Archives. Effie’s role expanded, and she became the Head of Web, New Media & Outreach, and later Chief of Content and Communications Strategy.

Effie authored the inaugural blog post of The Bigger Picture, initially launched as the mouthpiece of SPI. Over the course of the early 2010s, Effie guided the blog’s transition to its current thematic focus on the work of the Archives.

Effie increased the Archives’ digital footprint not only through The Bigger Picture, but also through collaborations with the Transcription Center, Flickr Commons, Wikipedia, Historypin, and the Smithsonian mobile app. Effie also rolled out the first social media accounts for the Archives: on Facebook and YouTube in 2010, then Twitter and Instagram in 2014.

Effie moved to the Office of the Undersecretary for Museums and Culture in 2018. As Senior Program Officer for the American Women’s History Initiative, she redefined its “digital-first” approach as an equally “audience-first” strategy.

At the same time, Effie led efforts across the Institution to launch the Smithsonian’s Open Access Initiative. On February 25, 2020, nearly 3 million images and datasets were released into the public domain with a Creative Commons Zero license. These materials spurred countless “remixes” spanning art and design, technology, science, and history.

“The Information Age has not turned out to be the great equalizer of information access as originally envisioned,” Effie wrote last year. “As we look to the next phases of Smithsonian Open Access, it’s imperative to reflect on how open, open cultural heritage really is.” Effie shared more of her thoughts on the future of Open Access in an appearance on the “Open Minds…from Creative Commons” podcast.

Effie’s dedication to broadening what she termed the “Smithsonian ‘canon’” garnered her numerous honors, including Wikimedia DC’s Distinguished Service Award and the Secretary’s Innovative Spirit Award. She held a master’s degree in industrial design and pervasive technology from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA.

Effie made us engage more deeply with Smithsonian and American history. In addition to her innumerable contributions to the field of cultural heritage, both online and off, Effie Kapsalis was the creator of the blog feature Wonderful Women Wednesday. We will continue to carry on Effie’s work, and we will miss her very much.

Effie Kapsalis pictured with Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough.

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