Smithsonian names new chief; Lonnie Bunch first African American in role

D.C.’s world-famous complex of museums and art galleries is getting a new leader.

Historian Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, has been selected to lead the Smithsonian Institution.

Bunch will be the first African American and also the first historian to serve as secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in its nearly 175-year history.

As secretary, Bunch is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day running of the Smithsonian’s 19 museums and art galleries and the National Zoo.

The move, which followed a vote by the Smithsonian Institution’s board of regents, was announced Tuesday morning.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who also serves as the chancellor of the Smithsonian Institution’s board of regents, cited Bunch’s efforts over a decade to bring a Smithsonian museum focused on African American history to the National Mall. The African American history museum, which has compiled a collection of 40,000 objects and drawn massive crowds, opened in September 2016.

“Lonnie Bunch guided, from concept to completion, the complex effort to build the premier museum celebrating African American achievements,” Roberts said in a statement.

“I look forward to working with him as we approach the Smithsonian’s 175th anniversary, to increase its relevance and role as a beloved American institution and public trust.”

In a statement, Bunch said he was “humbled and honored” to serve as Smithsonian secretary and said he planned to work to make the Smithsonian “even more relevant and more meaningful and reach more people in the future.”

Bunch’s appointment will take effect June 16. He is the first museum director to take the top role in 74 years. Before being named director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2005, he held a number of positions at the National Museum of American History and the National Air and Space Museum.

Bunch succeeds David Skorton, who is leaving the Smithsonian to become president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

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