What is a Museum? An Exploration in Six Parts
Thursday May 13, 2021
12pm EST

Reference Guide from presentation

ICOM-US Members can view the recording here.   

Museums are often perceived as solid institutions with a slow adjustment to change. What is the future of museums in a fast-changing world of economic uncertainty, social disruption, health challenges and climate change? What is the essence that should define us now? What lessons have we learned from the needs of the communities we claim to serve and how can we better adapt to shift our priorities in a faster and efficient way?

Lonnie G. Bunch, III, Secretary of The Smithsonian Institution and ICOM-US Co-Chair

ICOM-US Museum Definition Committee Members

    • Kathy Dwyer Southern, Bill Eiland, Lyndel King, Diana Pardue, Alejandra Pena, Kate Quinn, and Rick West.
ICOM-US Program Committee Members



Lonnie G. Bunch, III

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.