Betty J. Belanus holds an MA and PhD in folklore from Indiana University and a BA in American studies from Smith College.
She began her professional career as State Folk Arts Coordinator for the Indiana Arts Commission from 1982-84. She worked on Folklore and Education and museum exhibition projects as an independent folklore contractor until she joined the staff of what is now the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in 1987 as curator of the Massachusetts Program of the 1988 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Her long career at the Center has included curating or co-curating twelve programs and five Family Activity areas for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the production of education kits and workshops, the Folklore Summer Institute for Community Scholars (1989 and 1990) and interface with the larger Smithsonian education community.
She was a founding member of the AFS Folklore and Education Section, and a board member of the Local Learning Network for twelve years. She was awarded a lifetime achievement award for her education service by the Smithsonian Office of the Undersecretary of Education in 2022.
Publications include the novel Seasonal (2002), the children’s book Caravan to America: The Living Arts of the Silk Road (2002) and numerous articles and book chapters on folklore subjects. Her recent research culminated in the web feature American Ginseng: Local Knowledge, Global Roots. She attended her first annual American Folklore Society meeting as an undergraduate in 1976, and has only missed four meetings since that time. She previously served on the AFS Board in the early 2000s.