Photo: Lonnie Bunch. Credit: Jaclyn Nash / Smithsonian Institution

Lonnie Bunch to lead Smithsonian

Simon Stephens, 31.05.2019
Organisation operates 19 museums in the US
Lonnie Bunch, the director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington DC, is to become the secretary of the Smithsonian.

The Smithsonian operates 19 museums, including the NMAAHC, and the National Zoological Park. Bunch will be the first African American to lead the organisation, becoming its 14th secretary on 16 June.

“It is important for the public to view the Smithsonian not simply as an addict of nostalgia, but as a cauldron of ideas, of innovation and understanding that can be transformative for a country,” Bunch said. “The Smithsonian is today poised to be of even greater value and greater relevance.

“To accomplish this, though, the Smithsonian must become a much more nimble entity. It must be an institution that is ripe with technology, an institution better suited to serve 21st century audiences, and an institution of research, of great collections and of wonder that helps America understand itself and its world.”

Bunch is the founding director of the NMAAHC, which opened in September 2016. He started there as the director in 2005 when it had one staff member, no collections or funding and no site for a museum. The museum has welcomed around 4 million visitors since opening and has a collection of 40,000 objects.

Bunch is a former president of the Chicago Historical Society, one of the oldest museums of history in the US. He has written on topics such as the black military experience, the American presidency and the impact of race in the American West. He has also written extensively about diversity in museum management and the impact of funding and politics on American museums.

Bunch began his Smithsonian career as an education specialist and historian at the National Air and Space Museum from 1978 to 1979. He has served on the advisory boards of the American Association of Museums, the Association of African American Museums, the American Association for State and Local History, and ICOM-US.

Bunch succeeds David Skorton, who is a cardiologist as well as an arts administrator and is leaving the Smithsonian next month to become president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

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