Lectures and Workshops

Over and Out: Rick West Reflects With Secretary Lonnie Bunch

Aired Live Thursday, June 24, 2021


About the Event

Recorded Session

Join for a wide-ranging conversation between Rick West, Autry President and CEO, and Lonnie G. Bunch III, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, as we celebrate and honor our outgoing leader’s legacy at the Autry and beyond. As you may have heard, after ten years at the helm, Rick is retiring from the Autry at the end of June. Longtime friends and colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution and fellow founding directors of Smithsonian museums, Secretary Bunch will interview and honor Rick during this one hour live virtual session. 

Introduced by Steve Aron, the Autry’s incoming President and CEO, this event promises to be one that fans of the Autry, the Smithsonian, and museums in general will not want to miss. The past, present, and future of diverse cultural institutions in a changing society will be discussed against the backdrop of West’s experiences and distinguished career. 


W. Richard West Jr.
President and CEO, Autry Museum of the American West

W. Richard West Jr. is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Autry Museum of the American West. He is responsible for all operations at the Autry from collections development and financial sustainability to institutional growth and visitor experience. He oversees a team of 160 professionals as well as 300 volunteers, all dedicated to the Autry’s core mission. West has devoted his professional life and much of his personal life to working in the national and international museum communities, and with American Indians on cultural, educational, legal, and governmental issues. West is also the Founding Director and Director Emeritus of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, where he served as Director from 1990-2007.

West practiced law at the Indian-owned Albuquerque, New Mexico, law firm of Gover, Stetson, Williams & West, P.C. (1988-1990). He also was an associate attorney and then partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson (1973-1988). He served as counsel to numerous American Indian tribes, communities, and organizations. In that capacity, he represented clients before federal, state and tribal courts, various executive departments of the federal government, and the Congress.

West’s current board affiliations and memberships include: International Coalition of Sites of Conscience (2007-present); Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums (2015-present); California Association of Museums (2019-present); Denver Art Museum (2021-present); UCLA Institute of Environment and Sustainability (2021-present); Center for Large Landscape Conservation (2021-present). He also has served on the boards of trustees of the Ford Foundation, Stanford University, and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

He served as chair of the board for the American Alliance of Museums, the nation’s only national membership organization representing all types of museums and museum professionals, from 1998-2000. From 1992-1995 and 1997-1998, he served as member-at-large of the Alliance’s board of directors and in 1995-1996 as vice chair of the board of directors. West also was a member-at-large (2004-2007) and Vice President (2007-2010) of the International Council of Museums.

West, who grew up in Muskogee, Oklahoma, was born in San Bernardino, California, the son of American Indian master artist, the late Walter Richard West Sr., and Maribelle McCrea West. He earned a bachelor’s degree (major in American history) magna cum laude in 1965 and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Redlands in California. He also received a master’s degree in American history from Harvard University in 1968. West graduated from the Stanford University School of Law with a doctorate of jurisprudence degree in 1971, where he also was the recipient of the Hilmer Oehlmann Jr. Prize for excellence in legal writing and served as an editor and note editor of the Stanford Law Review.  

West is a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in the State of Oklahoma.  He also is a member of the Southern Cheyenne Society of Peace Chiefs.

He is married to Mary Beth West, who retired from the U.S. Department of State in 2005. They have two adult children, Amy and Ben.

Lonnie G. Bunch III
Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution

Lonnie G. Bunch III is the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian. He assumed his position in June 2019. He oversees 19 museums, 21 libraries, the National Zoo, numerous research centers and several education units and centers. 

Previously, Bunch was the founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. When he started as director in July 2005, he had one staff member, no collections, no funding and no site for a museum. Bunch transformed a vision into a reality. The museum has had more than 7 million visitors since it opened in September 2016 and compiled a collection of nearly 40,000 objects. 

Before his appointment as director of the museum, Bunch served as the president of the Chicago Historical Society (2001–2005). 

A widely published author, Bunch has written on topics ranging from the black military experience, the American presidency and all-black towns in the American West to diversity in museum management and the impact of funding and politics on American museums. His most recent book, A Fool’s Errand: Creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the Age of Bush, Obama, and Trump, chronicles the making of the museum that would become one of the most popular destinations in Washington. 

Bunch has previously worked at the Smithsonian, holding several positions at its National Museum of American History from 1989 through 2000, where he oversaw the curatorial and collections staff that developed a major permanent exhibition on the American presidency. 

Born in Belleville, New Jersey, Bunch has held numerous teaching positions across the country, including at American University and George Washington University, both in Washington, D.C., and the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth. 

Among his many awards, he was appointed by President George W. Bush to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House in 2002 and reappointed by President Barack Obama in 2010. In 2019, he was awarded the Freedom Medal, one of the Four Freedom Awards from the Roosevelt Institute, for his contribution to American culture as a historian and storyteller; the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal from the Hutchins Center at Harvard University; and the National Equal Justice Award from the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund.

Bunch received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the American University in Washington, D.C.