John Gray Named Director of National Museum of American History

John Gray, founding president of the Autry National Center of the American West, a consolidation of three cultural organizations in Los Angeles and Denver, has been appointed the Elizabeth MacMillan Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, effective July 23.

Gray was known for his leadership in banking and government service until he became director of the Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Los Angeles. He enlarged the museum’s mission and scope, and, in 2002, merged the museum with Colorado’s Women of the West Museum and, in 2004, with Los Angeles’ oldest museum, the Southwest Museum of the American Indian. The new organization became the Autry National Center of the American West based in Los Angeles.

“John comes to the Museum of American History with a track record of transforming the organizations he has led,” said Richard Kurin, head of the search committee and Under Secretary for History, Art and Culture at the Smithsonian. “He took a museum of the American West, including the collections of Gene Autry and transformed it into an institution representing a broader, inclusive and complicated vision of the American West. He enlisted outstanding scholars, supported serious research and exhibitions, and robust educational activities.”

“Anyone who knows museums will know that this was a great accomplishment, supported by an expanded Board of Trustees and a large capital campaign spearheaded by John,” Kurin added. “He is enthusiastic and intellectually curious and supportive of scholarly research that serves the public programs—exactly the traits we wanted for a director of our American History Museum on the National Mall.”

The Autry National Center has more than 500,000 objects, a 130-member staff and an annual budget of about $16 million. It is accredited by the American Association of Museums and gained national prominence during Gray’s tenure.

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