As operator of buildings, a custodian of priceless artifacts, a welcomer of millions of visitors, and a research and educational organization — it’s a lot. This was all on my mind when I interviewed the Secretary of the Smithsonian, Lonnie Bunch III. The title conjures up images of formality and starched collars. A bearded Bunch on this day was pandemically and teleworkingly casual in a golf shirt from his home when we spoke over Zoom.
A towering figure in the museum world, Bunch is also disarmingly down to earth. His energy and foresight marshaled and directed the forces that formed the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The resulting museum has been nearly universally acclaimed. It was discussed for decades, but it required tectonic forces to will such a place into being. After having built it, Bunch was a natural to run the Smithsonian as a whole.
I asked Bunch whether the Smithsonian had a financial loss in the pandemic, since the museums don’t charge admission. But souvenir and food concession sales stopped, costing the Smithsonian millions. “Souvenir” might not be the best word, given the high end books, jewelry and art items available at the Smithsonian locations. Regardless, the Smithsonian is also a retailer. Bunch said the staff is exploring ways to meet some of that demand, such as curbside pickup.
Interview: “Smithsonian Chief Ponders Reopening Strategy”
Filed by August 7, 2020on