Lonnie Bunch is the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and  took the helm of the entire Smithsonian Institution in June 2019.

Lonnie Bunch is the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and took the helm of the entire Smithsonian Institution in June 2019.

Lonnie Bunch is perhaps the only museum professional in the nation who is also a household name.

The founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture says that building that newest of the Smithsonian’s museums is the most important work he’s ever done, and that leading the entire Smithsonian Institution, his job for the last two years, is the most complicated.

During the Smithsonian’s 175th anniversary year, Lonnie Bunch discusses how the institution has met the challenges of the pandemic, and shares his vision for the years to come.

Produced by Lauren Markoe


  • Lonnie G. Bunch III Secretary, The Smithsonian Institution and Founding Director, National Museum of African American History and Culture; @SmithsonianSec


  • 12:00:15

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. The Smithsonian Institution in our own backyard is the largest museum education and research complex in the world, with 19 museums, a first class zoo, a magazine and television channel. Running the Smithsonian could be compared to governing a large city or a small nation. The job falls to historian Lonnie Bunch III, the Smithsonian's 14th Secretary. He took the helm in 2019, after spending 14 years launching the Smithsonian's newest museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Today, during the Smithsonian's 175 year, we're going to talk with Lonnie Bunch about the institution's history, it's response to the events of this past tumultuous year, and his vision for the future of this American treasure. Lonnie Bunch III is the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and the Founding Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Lonnie Bunch, good to talk to you again.

  • 12:01:16

    LONNIE G. BUNCH IIIIt's always great to be with you. How are you, my friend?

  • 12:01:19

    NNAMDII am doing pretty well, considering the circumstances we've been living under for more than a year now.

  • 12:01:25

    BUNCHI'll tell you, I think the key -- I tell people I'm doing okay, at least in my imagination.

  • 12:01:29

    NNAMDII hear you. Lonnie Bunch, even people who live in Greater Washington may not have a clear picture of the vast scope of the Smithsonian not just its physical footprint, but how it tries to teach about almost every part of the American experience. Can you kind of give us a bird's eye view of what the Smithsonian is and what it does?

  • 12:01:47

    BUNCHThe Smithsonian is both a place of wonder and a place of research and a place of scholarship. I'm always touched that, yes, I can come to the Smithsonian and learn history, learn African American history, learn Native American history. But I also can learn about the sciences. I learn about what natural history is doing around climate change or archeology. I learn what the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory is telling us about black holes. So, in some ways, for me, the Smithsonian is like the greatest university. We can touch every aspect of things that are interesting to all humans.

  • 12:02:24

    NNAMDII'm guessing when you took the helm of the Smithsonian nearly two years ago, there were parts of the institution that even you didn't know about, despite your long history at the Smithsonian. Can you tell us what may have been surprised you to discover -- what may have surprised you to discover?

  • 12:02:43

    BUNCHWell, there's no doubt that even though, you know, I've been in and out of the Smithsonian since I was a 26-year-old kid, there's always so much to discover. And for me part of that discovery was the amazing scientific research, the work that's being done in Panama at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the work that's being done in terms of helping us understand life beyond this planet, that you have in the observatory. So, for me, it was really tapping into the sciences as a part of the Smithsonian that I knew, but didn't know as well.

  • 12:03:17

    NNAMDIFor those who don't already know, can you talk about who pays for the Smithsonian and what it costs to run it?

  • 12:03:24

    BUNCHOh, you do. Basically, the Smithsonian is a federal instrumentality, which means that about 65 percent of its income comes from the federal government. But the rest of that is raised through private fundraising. At one point, through the sales in our restaurants and our shops. So, in essence, that the Smithsonian is really a sort of model of a public-private partnership. It needs the support of the federal government, but it also needs the support of the American public.

  • 12:03:55

    NNAMDIOur guest is Lonnie Bunch, the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Lonnie Bunch, before we talk about the Smithsonian and the present, let's talk a little bit about its history. How did it begin, and why is it called the Smithsonian?

  • 12:04:09

    BUNCHOh, my goodness. In the 19th century, there was a great deal of interest in Europe about this place called America. It was republic. It was new. And there was a man named James Smithson, who was a scientist, who had never been to the United States, but was fascinated by it. And so, he left in his will a certain amount of money that would come to create what he called the Smithsonian, an institution for the increase and diffusion of knowledge. But the challenge was that that was if he had no other heirs. And he had, you know, other heirs. But they died. And so, suddenly, this money came to the Smithsonian came to the U.S. government, and they were confused. "What do we do with this? Do we create a national university? Is it a museum?" So, there was a lot of debate about what the Smithsonian could become. And as a result of, really, 13 predecessors who were secretary before me, they began to define the Smithsonian as a place of research, as a place of education, as a place of -- and museums.

  • 12:05:10

    BUNCHSo, now, James Smithson is in the castle of the Smithsonian. When you first walk into the castle to your left, there he is. So, that, in essence, though he never came to America in his lifetime, his legacy has shaped the Smithsonian. He's here now.

  • 12:05:26

    NNAMDIWow. Even before you became secretary of the Smithsonian in 2019, your legacy at the institution was already secure as the Founding Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. When you began that project, how sure were you that the museum -- which became the hottest ticket in town -- would one day open? How do you feel now when you walk or drive past it? How do you feel about that mission that, you described in a book, as a fool's errand?

  • 12:05:55

    BUNCHWell, you know, in all honesty, I am overwhelmed that we pulled it off. I knew that the Smithsonian can do this, that the Smithsonian could bring the resources. And I knew that if I could hire gifted people who could, you know, take this museum in a place I couldn't imagine, we could do it. But to be honest, it was just a struggle every day, and that now when I walk by it, I cry. I cry because I am moved by all the people sacrificed 10, 12 years of their lives to build this museum. I'm moved by the thousands of people who became members and who supported it. And I'm moved every day by somebody will always come up to me and just say, "Thank you. You've helped to make sure that the story of America is a more inclusive, a fuller, a richer story." So, I am humbled every day by that museum.

  • 12:06:50

    NNAMDIWe should also mention that your leadership of that museum was hardly your first assignment or job at the Smithsonian. Where had you worked before that?

  • 12:06:59

    BUNCHI'm a lifer. I would say I'm the only person to have left the Smithsonian twice. So, I have had four different positions at the Smithsonian. I started out at the Air and Space Museum in the late '70s. Then I left. I came back to the Museum of American History, where I was curator and ultimately the associate director in charge of all the curators in the '90s. Then I left to run the Chicago Historic Society, and they asked me to come back to do this new museum, which I thought would be the end of my career. And suddenly, I finished that, and next thing I know, I'm secretary of the Smithsonian. So, I guess the lesson is I'm going to have to learn how to say no, at some point.

  • 12:07:42

    NNAMDISpeaking of secretary of the Smithsonian, we should note that next Wednesday, March 31st, we will be welcoming to the program Kevin Young, the new Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. We look forward to getting to know him. Right now, we're talking with Lonnie Bunch, the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Lonnie, this past year has been defined by uncertainty, tumult and hope. We're still in the midst of a pandemic that has shutdown much of the society. We've seen a nationwide groundswell of protests for racial equity. And we witnessed a violent attack on the Capitol and a spike in bigotry against Asian Americans. As the Secretary of the Smithsonian, do you feel the institution has a responsibility to respond to all of this upheaval?

  • 12:08:30

    BUNCHI think first of all at a time of crisis individuals and institutions really have to figure out how do they help a nation be made better. And the Smithsonian, in some way, is a trusted place. It's someway the glue that helps to hold the country together. So, I felt it was really important for the Smithsonian to not sort of be quiet during these times, but to really figure out, how do we help? How do we contextualize the violence? How do we use our educational material to help people understand questions of race or the vaccine and the pandemic? So, I really felt that it was important for the Smithsonian to have a contemporary residence, to be as much about today and tomorrow as it is about yesterday. And that's been the challenge. But I've been so proud of my colleagues at the Smithsonian who have really stepped up to say, we want to be a place that the public can dip into, a reservoir to help them grapple with the challenges they face, to help them through this very difficult moment.

  • 12:09:30

    NNAMDISpecifically on the pandemic, how has the Smithsonian tried to help Americans understand the pandemic?

  • 12:09:36

    BUNCHI think a couple of ways. I think, first of all, what we've done is put a lot of material online and we're really rolling out material that helps people understand, one, the history of vaccines. You know, what are vaccines? How are they made? We have scientists who have helped us understand how viruses went from animals to humans. We've begun to help people understand that we've had pandemics before, the polio pandemic, the flu epidemic in 1919, and really help people understand that if you come together, follow science, you're able to get through this. So, we really wanted to both help the public understand the history, but also understand the science. And then what we also wanted to do was to recognize that the pandemic would allow the Smithsonian to reimagine itself, to recognize that we'll never go back exactly the way it was before. So, we had to think of new ways. How do you serve the public?

  • 12:10:37

    BUNCHEven when you're open again, what's the number of people you can serve? How do you make sure people create the sense of social distancing and feel safe in museums? Because remember, one of the most important things that happens in museums is museums create informal communities. People come together who don't know each other, who get excited about an artifact and start talking to each other. And they have a conversation that changes them. Well, how do you that when people are worried about the virus? So, in essence we've used this to sort of reimagine how the Smithsonian serves the country virtually, how the Smithsonian could serve the country when they come back into the buildings. So, this has been an opportunity for us to reimagine the Smithsonian, not just to survive, but to reimagine so we're a much more nimble organization going into the 21st century.

  • 12:11:25

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation with Lonnie Bunch. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:11:57

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Lonnie Bunch, the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and the Founding Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Allow me to go directly to the phones. Here, now, is Turner in Charles County, Maryland. Turner, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:12:14

    TURNERYes. Thank you so much, Kojo. I was wanting to ask Mr. Bunch, Secretary Bunch, I'm from Bertie County, North Carolina -- eastern North Carolina -- and I'm putting a project together. It's called the Bertie Education Entrepreneurial and Empowerment Center. And I just wanted to get an idea, how do you curate and bring things from the community to display? What are some of the steps that you would go about in trying to bring a community together and showcase some of the history like Windsor, North Carolina, let's say?

  • 12:12:52

    BUNCHI know Bertie County well. So, what I would suggest is create a relationship with some other museums, if you would, to be able to ask people to bring out an artifact that allows them to tell a story of their family or of the community. And what that does is that allows people to sort of realize that their story is a story that is more than their family, that it helps us understand a community. People are very excited when you say, "Let me understand more about that quilt your grandmother made," or "Tell me a little bit more about that union button that your father had." So, I think that would be one of the best ways to get people engaged. Ask them to share their stories through the lens of a particular artifact.

  • 12:13:40

    NNAMDITurner, thank you very much for your call, and good luck to you. Here, now, is Michael, in Washington, D.C. Michael, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:13:47

    MICHAELGood afternoon, Kojo and Lonnie. Mr. Bunch, I'd like to thank you for putting in the hard work and years of struggle to make sure the African American museum had a rightful place at the Smithsonian. I know it couldn't have been easy. And while you're the keeper of things of antiquity, I hope you will consider the gentleman who is on the air, as well, Kojo Nnamdi. Not that he's a relic, but the fact he is an institution in Washington, D.C. and has for years provided some of the best outstanding coverage, and maybe you can bring in a microphone or a jogging shirt or a helmet from him.

  • 12:14:22

    NNAMDII recognize that voice. This would be Michael Nelson, isn't it?

  • 12:14:26

    MICHAELYes, sir.

  • 12:14:29

    NNAMDIMichael Nelson used to be a producer of my show that I did at Howard University called "Evening Exchange." And, actually, you're supposed to be at work now, Michael, so hopeful -- or hasn't your shift started yet?

  • 12:14:41

    MICHAELI'm on lunch.

  • 12:14:43

    NNAMDIOkay. Here's Lonnie Bunch.

  • 12:14:47

    BUNCHI think it's important that -- you're right. I'm really honored to be on Kojo's show, and I'm really honored to be able to make sure we collect this story, because his story has shaped this community for more than two decades. So, I agree with you very much.

  • 12:15:03

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Michael. As a friend of mine used to say, that's my story, and I'm sticking with it. Here now is Chris in Falls Church, Virginia. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:15:15

    CHRISHi. Thanks, Kojo and Secretary Bunch. And my question is, Secretary Bunch, is someone documenting this wonderful achievement at Pfizer and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson? I mean, it's phenomenal to get vaccines in less than a year. This is scientific history. I know they're too busy, you know, doing the research and trying to bring up the vaccine manufacturing, but is someone kind of work -- going in there and collecting the documents and the videos and all that?

  • 12:15:54

    BUNCHYou've put your finger on something really important that the public doesn't realize, that part of a job of a museum is to collect today for tomorrow. So, we've had staff already, you know, we collect the 3D model of the coronavirus that belonged to Dr. Fauci. We actually have the vials that were used for the first known COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. So, we've made real clear that these stories are stories we need to collect. And so, our hope is that we'll be able to help people understand the process, understand that in essence this has really been a moment where American comes together at its best. So, for us, this is really part of the job, collecting today for tomorrow.

  • 12:16:37

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Chris. Less than a year after you became secretary of the Smithsonian, the pandemic hit. Can you talk about those early days when it was not clear whether the Smithsonian -- which welcomes millions of visitors from around the world each year -- would have to close? What were you thinking, at the time?

  • 12:16:57

    BUNCHWell, I had been in San Francisco, and I had seen, you know, the beginning of the impact of this. But I'm lucky. I have amazingly gifted museum directors and scientists who said, you know, "This is really something that you want to get in front of." And the most important thing for me was, how do we protect the staff and the visitors? And we knew that museums, in some ways, could be petri dishes. So, we closed, really, right around this time, a year ago. And we used that to basically say the buildings were closed, but the Smithsonian was still open. And that's when we pivoted to doing much more virtually. Helping teachers teach. Helping parents who became teachers, educate their children. So, in essence, the key was this was unknown territory. But the overriding sense was keep everybody safe, and then think about: What do we need to do to basically survive this moment and to really come out of it changed?

  • 12:17:54

    NNAMDIThough the Smithsonian's 19 museums and the National Zoo are closed, many outdoors exhibits are open. Can you tell us about that?

  • 12:18:03

    LONNIE BUNCHWell, I think that, you know, all of the exterior is open. I was in the gardens this past Sunday and, you know, everybody was taking advantage of the beautiful gardens that the Smithsonian has, the sculpture court. So, in essence, what we want to do is slowly reopen the Smithsonian so we can do it safely. But my goal is to have the Smithsonian continue to serve the public in many ways, whether it's opening our doors or whether it's sharing our content online. And so, in essence, the Smithsonian will always be there to serve the public, regardless of whether we do it actually or virtually.

  • 12:18:43

    NNAMDISpeaking of gardens, here is Janice in Alexandria, Virginia. Janice, your turn.

  • 12:18:49

    JANICEYes, how appropriate. I'm just calling to ask you to please leave the gardens behind the Smithsonian Castle. They are so lovely. When I've been to an all-day symposium on the Smithsonian Associates Program, just to sit out there and eat lunch. And I know one day we'll get back to do in-person Smithsonian associates programming. They're delightful. And I'll miss Kojo so much.

  • 12:19:15

    NNAMDIThank you very much. Lonnie Bunch, the garden?

  • 12:19:18

    BUNCHWell, I think that, you know, I mean, obviously I love the gardens. And my goal is that as the Smithsonian modernizes, that it's also able to maintain and protect things that people love, like the gardens. So, I'm a big fan of the gardens.

  • 12:19:33

    NNAMDIHere, now, is Joanne in Rockville, Maryland. Joanne, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:19:39

    JOANNEYes. Hi, Secretary Bunch. I have a question about the repatriation of African artifacts back to African Nigeria, in particular, the Benin bronzes that are held in several museums, as they are now creating a museum in Benin City, Nigeria. And the architect is David Adjaye, who, of course as you know, was the architect for the African-American History and Culture Museum. And I wondered what your position was on that, and if you've had any conversations with any of the curators or directors at the Smithsonian regarding repatriation back to Africa. As you know, both Germany and France are really taking the lead on this. Thank you.

  • 12:20:34

    BUNCHMm-hmm. I think the issue for us is that we are developing the relationships that we have in Africa. We have looked at repatriation, whether it was through Native American material, through African material. So, in essence, our goal is to be both a good steward and to make sure that we're being supportive of the work that's being done in Africa. And because David is, you know, our old friend and obviously someone very close to me, we're very involved in the discussions.

  • 12:21:04

    BUNCHSo, I think our hope is to make sure that there are ways that Smithsonian collections are going to enrich what's going to happen in Benin. And so, I think that that's part of where we are now, just having those conversations.

  • 12:21:17

    NNAMDIAs a historian of the black experience in America, what do you see as the Smithsonian's role in helping Americans understand the black lives matter movement?

  • 12:21:26

    BUNCHOne of the great strengths of the Smithsonian, one of the great strengths of the African-American Museum is that it really is a place that tells the unvarnished truth. So, therefore, what we hope we can do is help people understand this moment, understand that black lives matter, that it was not birthed without standing on the shoulders of a John Lewis or of a Fredrick Douglass or a Sojourner Truth.

  • 12:21:52

    BUNCHAnd that what we want people to understand is that this is a moment where you can make profound change, that there have been moments throughout our history where African Americans and those that are allies in support of them have been able to dramatically change a nation. But the other thing you want people to recognize is that the struggle for fairness and racial equity in this country is a struggle that will happen as long as this country exists.

  • 12:22:20

    NNAMDIThe pandemic also impacted the Smithsonian's budget. How so, and what needed to be cut?

  • 12:22:26

    BUNCHWell, as I said, you know, almost 40 percent of the Smithsonian resources comes from non-federal sources. And a great deal of our resources came from our restaurants, the great restaurants in the African-American Museum, for example. And so, we had to recognize two things. One is, we had to make budget cuts, because we were going to lose a lot of resources. So, you know, I asked senior staff, and I took the largest pay cut, so that we could make sure we could protect that trust income that we needed. We did hiring freezes, the standard things one would expect to do.

  • 12:23:04

    BUNCHBut what we also did was use this moment to reimagine our business models. What should the Smithsonian be doing in terms of online? How should we use social media to help us generate resources? So, we use this as a moment to say, wow, we're in some pain, but let's think about how we use this to be different when we reopen again. And that's been our goal.

  • 12:23:30

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation with Lonnie Bunch. If you have called, stay on the line. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:23:53

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Lonnie Bunch III, the 14th secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and the founding director of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. Alex in Springfield writes: I grew up in the D.C. area and have been to, I believe, every Smithsonian museum in D.C. I also worked as an intern in 2019 at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute on giraffe conservation. The Natural History Museum and Zoo have always been the most magical places in the world to me, but one of my favorite places to visit all year is the hop garden behind the castle during the magnolia tree blossoming season.

  • 12:24:30

    NNAMDIA previous caller also talked about the garden. Sarah sent us this message on Facebook, Lonnie Bunch. Please talk about the Smithsonian Magazine. I have had a subscription for years and given it as gifts repeatedly. How do subscriptions support the institution?

  • 12:24:46

    BUNCHSmithsonian magazine supports the institution in several way. Obviously, the subscriptions are about part of the revenue we have. It also allows us to convey the work we're doing. Interesting stories on the scholarship of Native American people, for example, something we did in recent Smithsonian magazines.

  • 12:25:06

    BUNCHSo, the Smithsonian magazine is one of the many arms we use to help people understand what the Smithsonian can present. So, I'm a big fan of the Smithsonian magazine, and I want it to always be a place that will have publications for people outside the Smithsonian, but will also help people understand the research that's at the heart of the Smithsonian.

  • 12:25:29

    NNAMDIAre you now having discussions about when Smithsonian museums might be able to open their doors again?

  • 12:25:36

    BUNCHI think I've had discussions about when we reopen the Smithsonian from the day we closed. I think that, as you know, when we closed last year, we opened in the summer. And then as the numbers rose in November, we closed again. And now we're looking at both what the numbers are in the District but also in New York because, you know, we have museums in New York, Cooper Hewitt and the National Museum of the American Indian.

  • 12:25:59

    BUNCHAnd so, my expectation is that as it gets warmer, the Smithsonian will begin to reopen gradually, if it's safe. But that's my goal, is to continue to serve the public both by the online work and by ultimately opening our doors in a safe way.

  • 12:26:17

    NNAMDIA lot of Smithsonian workers can do their jobs from home, but some have to work in person. I'm thinking in particular about the people who care for the animals at the National Zoo and the extensive plant collections. But maybe paintings and museum artifacts need ongoing care, too. Can you tell us about the work at the Smithsonian that has to be continued in person, despite the pandemic?

  • 12:26:39

    BUNCHWell, as we pivoted to more of a digital working space, most of the staff was able to telework. But you're absolutely right. Some of the real heroes are the people who had to come to work to take care of the animals. But also, our security guards, our maintenance, they were the people that had to be frontline. So, in many ways, I'm proud of the Smithsonian staff, generally, but I'm really proud of those who had to not telework, but to be there actually to serve the public or to serve the animals. So, those are the real heroes, in my mind.

  • 12:27:18

    NNAMDIHere now is Mark in Washington, D.C. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:27:24

    MARKHello. This is a great opportunity for me. I'm a longtime supporter of the Smithsonian and used to be a docent at the insect zoo. But the reason I'm calling today is because when the Museum of African-American History opened, I tried to get them to address something that's missing, and that's the record of the Howard University taekwondo team presenting the first taekwondo Olympics way back in the 1980s. And it's something that is not featured in the museum at all and not addressed. I've tried to call and have people address the issue, but no one has ever contacted me back. I'm wondering what the procedure is.

  • 12:28:11

    NNAMDI(overlapping) What's the -- that's the question I was going to ask, Lonnie Bunch, yes, the procedure.

  • 12:28:16

    BUNCHWell, the procedure is that, first of all, no museum can tell every story. And the best thing about a museum is it evolves overtime. So, what one always does is formally reach out to the curators to raise issues that you think they need to explore. And there are times the curators are able to move quickly. Other times, the process is much slower.

  • 12:28:38

    BUNCHBut the reality is that what you want to do in a museum is give a core that gives the broad overview, and then give yourself flexibility to tell other stories over time. And that's what will happen. The great strength of Kevin Young coming in now replacing me as the director of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture is that museum will evolve in ways that I couldn't have imagined. And so, there'll be stories that will be told.

  • 12:29:05

    BUNCHBecause the most important thing to keep in mind is the museum is four years old, but it will also mean that as long as there's an America, that museum will be on The Mall, and that museum will be able to tell a variety of stories.

  • 12:29:18

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Mark. Indeed, the Smithsonian is turning 175 this year. What is it doing to mark the occasion?

  • 12:29:28

    BUNCHBesides recognizing how old we all are, (laugh) what's important to me is to remember that the Smithsonian has always been a gift to America. It's always been something that has helped America understand itself, understand its environment, understand its universe. So, we're doing a variety of things.

  • 12:29:47

    BUNCHI mean, the signature program is really reopening the arts and industries building to do an exhibition called Futures. Because, in some ways, the Smithsonian was always about the future, helping the public re-imagine what it meant going forward. And so, this is a great exhibition that will look at how the Smithsonian will help you reimagine the future. What do you hope for the future?

  • 12:30:10

    BUNCHIn addition, we're obviously going to do some things around 175. So, we're going to have major exhibitions and digital work on 175 people, objects and moments that made the Smithsonian. But also, we're going to do things, because I believe strongly in our issues of sustainability, is we're actually going to try to plant 175,000 trees to help the country and, you know, a variety of things.

  • 12:30:37

    BUNCHWe're going to ask the public to tell us their favorite story about the Smithsonian. What does the Smithsonian mean to them? As well as doing the kind of oral interviews of our own staff, which is rarely done. So, in essence, what we want to do is do a variety of exhibitions, a variety of programs both in Washington and around the country that, not just celebrate the Smithsonian, but celebrate America through the lens of the Smithsonian. Celebrate our history, celebrate the amazing scientific creativity that the Smithsonian has contributed to, and then ultimately let people know that the Smithsonian has served the country well for 175 years, and is now repositioned to continue to serve it well for the next 175 years. But the key is, I'm not going to be secretary.

  • 12:31:29

    NNAMDIHere's Kevin in Washington, D.C. Kevin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:31:34

    KEVINThank you, Kojo, and thank you, Mr. Bunch. I'm just calling about the Smithsonian (unintelligible) program. I'm a potential supplier for the Smithsonian. I've struggled to make meaningful contact for the past two-and-a-half years. It's been very, very, very hard to get anybody to ask me to have a proper sit down with. And I'm an unusual person, because I am talking about giving more revenue to the Smithsonian, and I cannot secure a meeting in two-and-a-half years. None of your people replied to emails or voicemails, nothing.

  • 12:32:09

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Kevin, you earlier described yourself as a supplier. Is that what you said?

  • 12:32:13

    KEVINYes. I have a proposal for the Smithsonian, especially the National Zoo. I've made a proposal, and I've been unable to get a single meeting in two-and-a-half years.

  • 12:32:22

    NNAMDI(overlapping) I guess we're talking procedures again, Lonnie Bunch.

  • 12:32:26

    BUNCHYeah, I don't know. I mean, I think that the key is usually everybody in the Smithsonian knows to respond very quickly. I think if it's about a supplier or business issues, reach out to our supplier diversity folks, and they can begin to sort of funnel it where it needs to be.

  • 12:32:43

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Kevin, and good luck to you. Here is Jeanine, in Columbia, Maryland. Jeanine, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:32:52

    JEANINEThank you so much, Kojo. Secretary Bunch, I'm so honored to speak with you, and you, too, Kojo, because I'm going to miss you.

  • 12:33:02

    NNAMDIThank you.

  • 12:33:03

    JEANINESecretary Bunch, one of the things that endears me to the Smithsonian is the Museum Day, which is phenomenal, and which is such a great idea. And last year, when I went and, of course, I had printed up all these tickets and all that, our families from all across the country were able to come. I'm wondering if, if you're not able to open, are you considering a virtual Museum Day? That's question number one.

  • 12:33:34

    JEANINEAnd the second question is, will you ever do anything -- and I loved how you were talking about your staff as heroes that were working onsite. Have you thought about doing anything virtually to honor them? That's the second question.

  • 12:33:51

    NNAMDIOkay, okay. Okay. Go ahead, please, Lonnie Bunch. (laugh)

  • 12:33:55

    BUNCH(laugh) Well, I mean, I think that clearly we spend a lot of time letting my colleagues know how pleased I am, how we honor them. We're also thinking about: What are ways we virtually honor all those (word?) that have been lost to the pandemic? So, it's really important for the Smithsonian to shine that light and acknowledge both good work and acknowledge the impact of this moment on us.

  • 12:34:20

    BUNCHAnd your first question was? I'm sorry.

  • 12:34:25

    NNAMDIJeanine, what was your first question?

  • 12:34:28

    JEANINEMy first question is, is the Museum Day being held virtually?

  • 12:34:33

    BUNCHYeah, I think a lot of what we're doing, whether it's the Museum Day for educators, Museum Days generally, are going to be held virtually. Our goal is to sort of come back with a hybrid model, that I think that we realize we reach even more with the virtual. So, we will probably, in the future, have both actual programs, but also a virtual component to make sure we reach the broadest audience possible.

  • 12:34:59

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Lonnie Bunch III is the 14th secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and the founding director of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. Lonnie Bunch, always a pleasure. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:35:13

    BUNCHWell, thank you. And thank you for all that you've done. We really respect what you've done for decades. And I just want you to know how fortunate the city is, how fortunate I am to have a chance to listen to you for all these years. So, thank you.

  • 12:35:27

    NNAMDIYou're more than welcome, Lonnie. Today's conversation with Smithsonian secretary Lonnie Bunch was produced by Lauren Markoe. Coming up tomorrow, former President Trump's critics say his commitment to deregulation left some agencies understaffed, underfunded and, in some instances, unable to function properly. And then the pandemic hit, which highlighted the harmful consequences of deregulation during a crisis. So, with a new administration, is it time to reinvent the government? That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening, and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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