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.
A prolific and widely published author, Bunch has written on topics ranging from the black military experience to the American presidency to 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’s Smithsonian experience spans three museums: the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of American History and the National Air and Space Museum.
Bunch held a number of positions at the National Museum of American History from 1989 through 2000. As the museum’s associate director for curatorial affairs from 1994 to 2000, he oversaw the curatorial and collections management staff. While assistant director for curatorial affairs (1992–94) at the museum, Bunch supervised the planning and implementation of the museum’s research and collection programs. As a supervising curator for the museum from 1989 to 1992, he oversaw several of the museum’s divisions, including Community Life and Political History.