Tag: Lonnie G. Bunch III

Lonnie Bunch, Founding Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, to Become New Secretary of Smithsonian

Lonnie G. Bunch, III, Founding Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, moderates a panel on the “Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement: Views from the Front Line” at the Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library. (Photo by Lauren Gerson via commons.wikipedia.org)

Lonnie G. Bunch III, the founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), was appointed the new Secretary of the Smithsonian on Tuesday. According to dcist.com, Bunch is the fourteenth person to hold the position in the Smithsonian’s 173-year history, and the first African American.

As Secretary, Bunch will manage the administration of the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, 21 libraries, and the National Zoo. He is also responsible for its $1.5 billion annual budget. Bunch succeeds David J. Skorton, who announced his resignation in December.

“Lonnie has spent 29 years of his life dedicated to the Smithsonian, so he knows the institution inside and out,” said David Rubenstein, the chair of the Smithsonian Board of Regents on Tuesday. The Board met at the Supreme Court earlier in the day unanimously elected Bunch as Secretary.

“He’s also highly regarded by members of Congress and highly respected by our donor base,” Rubenstein added, while also citing Bunch’s “incredible character” and his leadership of the NMAAHC as major assets.

“You’re going to make a historian cry,” Bunch said when he spoke at Tuesday’s press conference. “This is an emotional moment, because the Smithsonian means so much to me personally and professionally.”

Bunch was the first curator for the California African American Museum in Los Angeles in the 1980s and previously served as president and director of the Chicago History Museum from 2000 to 2005. In 2005, Bunch came to the Smithsonian to steward NMAAHC from conception. He shepherded both the David Adjaye-designed structure, did tireless fundraising, and helped build up and curate the museum’s collection from scratch.

The museum has been such a huge success that tickets are still largely required more than two years after opening, with visitors staying for hours longer than at other facilities. In its first year of operation, NMAAHC welcomed nearly 2.4 million visitors and was the fourth-most visited Smithsonian institution.

“It tells the unvarnished truth,” Bunch told DCist on the one-year anniversary of the museum’s opening. “I think there are people who were stunned that a federal institution could tell the story with complexity, with truth, with tragedy, and sometimes resilience.”

Over his tenure, Bunch and his team of curators made it a point to continue building a collection for the museum’s future, including acquiring artifacts from the Black Lives Matter movement, and to integrate D.C.’s own rich history into the fabric of the museum.

Read more: https://dcist.com/story/19/05/28/the-smithsonians-next-secretary-will-be-lonnie-bunch-the-head-of-the-african-american-history-museum/

Oprah Winfrey to be Honored by The National Museum of African American History and Culture With Exclusive Exhibit Opening Friday

Oprah Winfrey at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (photo via cbsnews.com)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

Come Friday, we can all watch the seeds of the future, stand-alone Oprah Winfrey Museum be sown.

Opening June 8 and running through June 2019, the “Watching Oprah: The Oprah Winfrey Show and American Culture” exclusive exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture will, according to The Washington Post, feature video clips, interview segments, movie costumes, and personal photographs and journals to explore what has influenced Winfrey and how her work has shaped America.

“What’s interesting is the same way America thought about Walter Cronkite — you could trust Walter Cronkite and his opinion — they trust Oprah,” said museum director Lonnie G. Bunch III. “An African American woman becomes the person America turns to.”

Winfrey donated $12 million to the $540 million museum as it was being built, making her its largest individual benefactor (its theater is named in her honor). But her role as benefactor did not influence the exhibition, Bunch said. “We made sure there was a bright line, that this was done by the museum and museum scholars,” he said. “The fundraising was not through Oprah’s people.”

Curators Rhea L. Combs and Kathleen Kendrick worked with Winfrey and her staff on arranging loans for the exhibition and on fact-checking and background information. “In terms of content and narrative and the way the story is told, it’s the museum’s product,” Kendrick said. “The way we approached it was the way we approach all of our exhibitions.”

The exhibit balances Winfrey’s humble personal story with her achievements. “We’re providing a context for understanding not only who she is, but how she became a global figure, and how she is connected to broader stories and themes,” Kendrick said.

The first section of the show, which is in the Special Exhibitions gallery, explores Winfrey’s childhood and early career and how the cultural shifts of the 1950s and 1960s informed her worldview.

“Civil rights, the women’s movement, the media and television landscape, she’s at this distinct intersection of all of these dynamic moments,” Combs said. “She becomes someone at the forefront of dealing with ideas, of discussing hot-button topics like racism and sexual orientation.”

The middle section looks at the 25-year run of the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” the highest-rated talk show in U.S. television history. Using artifacts from Winfrey’s Harpo Studios in Chicago, where the show was filmed, this section focuses on its evolution, its variety of subject matter and guests, and its reach into social issues such as racism and equality.

“She used television as a social medium, convening conversations and creating these interactive experiences with people,” Kendrick said. “She’s offering lessons for living, social guidance in a way.”

The third section looks at Winfrey’s role as cultural influencer and tastemaker in the movies she has made (“The Color Purple,” “Beloved,” “The Butler”) the books she promoted in her television book club and her philanthropic work.

The timing of the high-profile exhibition was planned to coincide with the last quarter of the African American Museum’s second year, when officials expected a drop in attendance. Instead crowds are regularly at capacity and timed passes to enter are still required. Since opening Sept. 24, 2016, the museum has welcomed 3.8 million visitors, making it one of the most popular Washington D.C. attractions.

“I really thought after the first year it’d be business as usual, so at the end of the second year I’d do something to give it visibility,” Bunch said. “I didn’t anticipate we’d have the same crush of crowds.”

Bunch said he hopes the exhibition will encourage visitors to think about what Winfrey has represented over the years.

“There are so many issues, about women, power, media, body image,” he said. “This should be a popular show because of the impact of this person, but it is also a show that allows us to think about what it means that a woman who doesn’t fit the TV look could build a media empire and become an entrepreneur.”

Quiet Billionaire Robert Smith Makes Some Noise with $20 Million Gift to National African American Museum

In 2013, when the founders of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture were seeking donors, people directed them to one man: Robert F. Smith.

“We kept wondering, ‘Who is this Robert Smith?’ ” said Adrienne Brooks, director of development for the museum. Meeting Smith became a priority, said Lonnie G. Bunch III, the museum’s founding director. “We wanted to meet him. And soon,” Bunch said, laughing.

Soon many more people will know Robert Smith by name as the museum celebrates its grand opening this weekend. The private-equity financier was the museum’s second-biggest private donor, with a $20 million gift. Oprah Winfrey was No. 1, with $21 million.

Smith has built a fortune that’s made him one of the nation’s richest men — worth $2.5 billion, according to Forbes — but until now he has kept his work and philanthropy relatively quiet.

Even the website of his company, Vista Equity Partners, does not have a picture of him. Better, he had thought, that investors and executives know him first by his abilities. If they saw only the caramel skin of an African American, he might lose out on opportunities.

As Vista’s chairman and chief executive, he is in the business of buying, growing and selling off software companies. Vista’s portfolio has 35 companies with $26 billion in assets under management. He is the majority shareholder of Vista’s management company.

Beyond Wall Street and Silicon Valley, Smith long enjoyed moving in relative obscurity. That changed last fall when Forbes magazine put him on its cover, with an article for which he declined to be interviewed.

Now in an exclusive interview with The Washington Post, he’s ready to talk about his life’s work and the powerful social force that has pulled him out of the shadows: the racial tension escalating across the nation. Smith said he grew fearful that the very fabric of the country that allowed his parents to earn doctorate degrees and him to build a successful business is vulnerable.

Watching TV news, he saw the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., after the 2014 fatal shooting of an unarmed black youth, Michael Brown, by police. Last year he watched the turmoil following Freddie Gray’s funeral in Baltimore. Across the land, he feared, a sense of opportunity is giving way to rising hopelessness and despair.

“The vision I was sold as a kid is unraveling. I see the little tears in the fabric of society every day. This cannot be,” Smith said in the interview.

His philanthropic efforts go back years. Through the Fund II Foundation, of which he is the founding president, he has supported nonprofit groups that focus on African American culture, human rights, music education and the environment.

It was time to emerge, he thought, and do more. “We have to do something,” he said. “We have to do something for our community.”

To read full article, go to: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/who-is-this-robert-smith-a-quiet-billionaire-makes-some-noise-with-20-million-gift-to-the-african-american-museum/2016/09/23/547da3a8-6fd0-11e6-8365-b19e428a975e_story.html

FEATURE: How the Decades-Long Fight for a National African-American Museum Was Won

The museum, foreground, was designed by David Adjaye and sits on the National Mall near the Washington Monument, right. (MATT ROTH FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES)
The museum, foreground, was designed by David Adjaye and sits on the National Mall near the Washington Monument, right. (MATT ROTH FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES)

article by Graham Bowley via nytimes.com

Eleven years ago, Lonnie G. Bunch III was a museum director with no museum.  No land. No building. Not even a collection.

He had been appointed to lead the nascent National Museum of African American History and Culture. The concept had survived a bruising, racially charged congressional battle that stretched back decades and finally ended in 2003 when President George W. Bush authorized a national museum dedicated to the African-American experience.

Now all Mr. Bunch and a team of colleagues had to do was find an unprecedented number of private donors willing to finance a public museum. They had to secure hundreds of millions of additional dollars from a Congress, Republican controlled, that had long fought the project.

And they had to counter efforts to locate the museum not at the center of Washington’s cultural landscape on the National Mall, but several blocks offstage.  “I knew it was going to be hard, but not how hard it was going to be,” Mr. Bunch, 63, said in an interview last month.

Visitors to the $540 million building, designed to resemble a three-tiered crown, will encounter the sweeping history of black America from the Middle Passage of slavery to the achievements and complexities of modern black life.

But also compelling is the story of how the museum itself came to be through a combination of negotiation, diplomacy, persistence and cunning political instincts.  The strategy included an approach that framed the museum as an institution for all Americans, one that depicted the black experience, as Mr. Bunch often puts it, as “the quintessential American story” of measured progress and remarkable achievement after an ugly period of painful oppression.

The tactics included the appointment of Republicans like Laura Bush and Colin L. Powell to the museum’s board to broaden bipartisan support beyond Democratic constituencies, and there were critical efforts to shape the thinking of essential political leaders.

After Congress authorized the new museum, the Smithsonian's Board of Regents considered four possible locations before choosing a site on the National Mall near the Washington Monument. (Source: Smithsonian Institution. By Anjali Singhvi, The New York Times)
After Congress authorized the new museum, the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents considered four possible locations before choosing a site on the National Mall near the Washington Monument. (Source: Smithsonian Institution. By Anjali Singhvi, The New York Times)

Long before its building was complete, for example, the museum staged exhibitions off-site, some on the fraught topics it would confront, such as Thomas Jefferson’s deep involvement with slavery. A Virginia delegation of congressional members was brought through for an early tour of the Jefferson exhibition, which featured a statue of him in front of a semicircular wall marked with 612 names of people he had owned.  “I remember being very impacted,” said Eric Cantor, then the House Republican leader, who was part of the delegation.

Mr. Bunch said that he hoped the Jefferson exhibition pre-empted criticism by establishing the museum’s bold but balanced approach to difficult material. “Some people were like, ‘How dare you equate Jefferson with slavery,’” he recalled. “But it means that people are going to say, ‘Of course, that is what they have to do.’”

And the museum began an exceptional effort to raise money from black donors, not only celebrities, like Michael Jordan ($5 million) and Oprah Winfrey ($12 million), but also churches, sororities and fraternities, which, Mr. Bunch said, had never been asked for big donations before. Continue reading “FEATURE: How the Decades-Long Fight for a National African-American Museum Was Won”