WASHINGTON D.C. – The Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents announced today it elected Lonnie G.
Bunch III, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, as the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian, effective June 16.
Bunch is the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in September 2016. He oversees the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural destination devoted exclusively to exploring, documenting and showcasing the African American story and its impact on American and world history.
Bunch’s election is unprecedented for the Smithsonian: He will be the first African American to lead the Smithsonian, and the first historian elected Secretary.
In addition, he will be the first museum director to ascend to Secretary in 74 years.
“Lonnie Bunch guided, from concept to completion, the complex effort to build the premier museum celebrating African American achievements,” said John G. Roberts, Jr., Smithsonian Chancellor and Chief Justice of the United States.
“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.”
Bunch, a public historian, has spent more than 35 years in the museum field, where he is regarded as one of the nation’s leading figures in the historical and museum community. He and the Board of Regents are committed to driving forward the priorities and direction of the Smithsonian’s 2022 strategic plan.
“I am humbled and honored to become the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution,” Bunch said. “I am excited to work with the Board of Regents and my colleagues throughout the Institution to build upon its legacy and to ensure that the Smithsonian will be even more relevant and more meaningful and reach more people in the future.”
The Regents’ 11-member search committee was co-led by Board Chair David Rubenstein and Board Vice Chair Steve Case.
“Lonnie is a deeply respected scholar, educator and leader,” Rubenstein said. “In looking for someone who would shepherd the Institution into the future, we wanted to find a special person with equal parts talent and passion. Fortunately, the ideal choice for our next Secretary was already an integral part of the Smithsonian family.”
“After working at the Smithsonian in various capacities over three decades, and then birthing a wildly successful startup within the Smithsonian, Lonnie has the benefit of knowing the Smithsonian intimately,” Case said. “Now Lonnie will bring his insights and passion to reimagining the Smithsonian of the future, and creating a culture of agility and innovation to expand the Institution’s impact. The Regents stand ready to support Lonnie’s vision for driving cross-institutional collaboration to create a virtual Smithsonian that can reach everybody, everywhere.”
Under Bunch’s leadership, the National Museum of African American History and Culture came to life. When he started as director in 2005, he had one staff member, no collections, no funding and no site for a museum. Driven by optimism, determination and a commitment to build “a place that would make America better,” Bunch transformed a vision into a bold reality. The museum has welcomed about 4 million visitors and compiled a collection of 40,000 objects.
The museum is the first “green building” on the National Mall. He rallied donors of every level and worked with Congress to fund the museum through a public-private collaboration.
Previously, Bunch was the president of the Chicago Historical Society, one of the nation’s oldest museums of history (2001–05). There, he led a successful capital campaign to transform the Historical Society in celebration of its 150th anniversary, managed an institutional reorganization and began an unprecedented outreach initiative to diverse communities.