The Smithsonian Institution, the world-renowned museum and research complex of Washington, D.C., has named Lonnie G. Bunch III as its new leader, making history by choosing the first-ever black person to hold the position.
Bunch III, who is a historian, is known as the founding director of Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is the largest of its kind in the U.S.
He previously served as an education specialist at the National Air and Space Museum in the late 1970s and worked in the National Museum of American History office of curatorial affairs between 1989 and 2000.
Bunch will now be in charge of the entire institution consisting of 19 museums, 21 libraries, the National Zoo, nine research centers, and education units as of June 16. These include the Natural History Museum and the Air and Space Museum.
Our Founding Director Lonnie G. Bunch III was today named the Secretary of the @Smithsonian Institution. As Secretary, Bunch will oversee 19 museums, 21 libraries, the National Zoo, numerous research centers, and several education units and centers. Congrats to Secretary Bunch! pic.twitter.com/2ZET3X1hWo
— Smithsonian NMAAHC (@NMAAHC) May 28, 2019
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday, Bunch stated that his immediate goals for the Smithsonian Institution included “further democratizing the experience of the free museums.”
“You actually create a Smithsonian without bricks and mortar — not an individual museum but a Smithsonian writ large,” he said, adding that he wanted to put much effort into the physical museum, as much as the virtual version.
“I am cognizant of the challenges that the institution faces during the next decade, but more importantly I am excited by the potential,” Bunch said in a speech on Tuesday, following a press release by the museum announcing his new role, according to the Washington Post.
“I revel in the opportunity to work closely with the regents and with my gifted and dedicated colleagues — from scientists to curators, to educators, to security officers to volunteers — to help the Smithsonian become the institution American needs and America deserves,” he continued.
The Smithsonian currently has a lot of maintenance work, and is under pressure for adding new sections od American Latinos and women.
Bunch’s appointment received many positive comments on the social media. Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the American University, praised the decision by the museum on Twitter. Film director Ava DuVernay and radio personality Donnie Simpson were also among those offering messages of congratulations to Bunch.
— Sylvia M. Burwell (@SylviaBurwell) May 28, 2019
A historic day! The new head of the Smithsonian's 19 museums, 21 libraries + the National Zoo is a wildly talented + deserving black man for the first time ever. A gentleman + a scholar. Worked with him when he commissioned me to make a film for @NMAAHC. Good soul. Bravo to him! https://t.co/7LWHJ8cYiO
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) May 28, 2019
I got an email from Lonnie Bunch III yesterday, informing me that he had been named the new Secretary of The Smithsonian Institution. He’s only the 14th Secretary in 173 years and the 1st African American. I’m so proud I could burst! This photo was taken opening night at NMAAHC. pic.twitter.com/P2g4MpGi8J
— Donnie Simpson (@DonnieSimpson) May 29, 2019