Crisscrossing the Silk Road, combing Afghanistan for endangered monuments—then saving them—Laura Tedesco’s job description reads more Hollywood heroine than government official. A trained archaeologist, the Atlanta native arrived at Afghanistan’s U.S. embassy in 2010 as cultural heritage program manager after 13 years at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The appointment precipitated a slate of cultural preservation projects, including the soon-to-be constructed new National Museum of Afghanistan.
Despite the drawdown of U.S. troops in 2014, Tedesco’s efforts in Afghanistan will continue: “It’s not either we build hospitals or we preserve a museum,” she says. “It all has to be thought of holistically. Culture needs a seat at the table, too.” On the heels of her success, the State Department recently expanded Tedesco’s purview to include projects in Pakistan. (She will still advise on programs in other countries in the region, namely Sri Lanka and Kyrgyzstan.)
As with Afghanistan, Tedesco, 44, sees her work as inextricably linked to a nation’s rehabilitation. “It’s easy to lose sight of culture when you don’t have a roof,” she says. “But once it’s repaired, you go back to your roots. Those are the seeds of strength to help one go on.”