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, 2012.
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.
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.
Gray spent 25 years in commercial banking, serving as executive vice president of First Interstate Bank of California in Los Angeles from 1987 until 1996. He worked for the Small Business Administration in Washington, D.C., for two years, 1997 to 1999—when he moved back to the West Coast to serve as president and CEO of the Autry Museum in Los Angeles. This was the beginning of his career in non-profit cultural organizations, which culminated in the creation of the Autry National Center of the American West, formed by the merger of three organizations.
He retired from the Autry National Center in late 2010 and currently lives in New Mexico.
Gray has a bachelor’s degree from C.W. Post College at Long Island University and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Colorado. He is currently enrolled in the master’s program in Eastern classics from Saint John’s College in Santa Fe.
“It is a great honor to be selected as steward of our national treasures,” said Gray. “Learning and understanding our shared histories as Americans are vital to living in and developing the American experience.”
Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough said, “John pulled together three organizations with different missions, leadership and boards, to form one new center whose mission is to tell the story of the American West as a place created by cowboys, Native Americans, women, Chinese laborers, Mexicans and many others. His passion for American history and scholarship is obvious, and it’s what will make him a great leader for our American History Museum.”
Clough made the appointment based on recommendations made by a search committee chaired by Richard Kurin, Under Secretary for History, Art and Culture at the Smithsonian. The search committee included American History Museum board chair John Rogers; vice chair Nick Taubman; board member and former Smithsonian Regent Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.); museum staff members Judith Gradwohl, Marvette Perez and Jeffrey Stine; National Museum of African American History and Culture director Lonnie Bunch; the Smithsonian’s director of advancement Ginny Clark; and Nina Archabal, former director of the Minnesota Historical Society.
Gray succeeds Brent Glass, who retired as director in August 2011. Marc Pachter, former director of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, has served as interim director since last August.
Gray will oversee 234 employees, a budget of more than $34 million and the renewal of the museum’s 120,000-square-foot west exhibition wing with its new exhibit spaces, interior public plazas, a Hall of Music for live performances, a modern education center and a gallery for the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation.