Activating Heritage 2023 – March 6



Kaoru Watanabe is a nurse by training and has worked in various multidisciplinary environments throughout her professional career in Japan, Egypt, and the United States. She is currently the Associate Director at the National Cambodian Heritage Museum & Killing Fields Memorial, where she integrates understanding of holistic approach to health; knowledge of intergenerational transmission of culture, history, and trauma; and strong belief in the power of the arts in healing into the museum practice and programs. She was one of the project members, who developed the museum’s permanent exhibition, “Remembering the Killing Fields.” The exhibit was a collaborative work among the community, academics (NIU), artists and filmmakers, museum professionals, and many other supporters. The exhibition, which opened in 2011, continues to provide a forum for intergenerational dialogues among Cambodians and a unique environment for students from local and regional schools and universities to learn Cambodian history and culture.    

Maria Klimchak,  a philologist, author, and educator, has been the curator and creative force of Chicago’s Ukrainian National Museum (UNM) for two decades. Born and raised in Lviv, Ukraine, she was always fascinated by art and storytelling. Maria decided to study languages and literature, and she holds a Master’s Degree in French Philology from Lviv University, Ukraine, and speaks Ukrainian, Russian, French, Polish, and English. In 1993, Maria started a new chapter by immigrating to the United States. Maria received her Artifact Collection Care Certificate from the University of Chicago. Her work as a curator of the Ukrainian National Museum is multidisciplinary, she manages exhibitions, writes museums newsletters, plans, and hosts most museum events. Ms. Klimchak is highly knowledgeable in Ukrainian folk art, history, and the vast museum collections of historical artifacts. Maria is also in charge of the museum’s social media presence.

She and her husband have hosted the Ukrainian Wave Radio program on WSBC Chicago since 1993. She co-produced with Motria Melnyk four documentary films on the history of the parish of St. Volodymyr and Olha in Chicago, the film “Shevchenko and the Maidan” (2021), as well as produced the films “Museum’s Pathway” and “From the Museum Chest” (17,096 views), dedicated to the history of the Ukrainian National Museum in Chicago.

Maria is a member of the Ukrainian Heritage Consortium of North America Ukrainian National Women’s League of America and is in charge of the cultural connections of the Chicago City Sisters Chicago-Kyiv Committee. She is an active volunteer and community fundraiser and has collaborated with volunteer organizations in Ukraine to help the Ukrainian Army and orphanages. She was awarded a commemorative medal for the 100th anniversary of the Ukrainian Navy from the Ukrainian Volunteers Organization.


Moderator: Briana Thomas – Abrahamic Center for Cultural Education