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Alum Lonnie Bunch Receives Ambassador of Arts Award Bunch joins prestigious group honored by Washington Performing Arts

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Portrait of alumnus Lonnie Bunch against blue background.
Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Institution

College of Arts and Sciences alumnus Lonnie Bunch (BA history '74 and MA history '76) has been honored with the 2018 Ambassador of the Arts Award from Washington Performing Arts.

Bunch is the founding director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), which opened its doors to the public in September 2016. He is also a nationally known educator, curator, and author who has written extensively about the African American experience in the United States.

The Ambassador of Arts Award recognizes extraordinary achievement, service, and advocacy in the performing arts. Bunch was chosen for "his success in showcasing the transformative power of the performing arts and the role that African Americans played in shaping culture in America and around the world." Past recipients include American Grammy Award-winning soprano and recitalist Jessye Norman; legendary pianist, conductor, and educator Leon Fleisher; Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; and renowned mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves.

The Making of a Museum

In 2005, Bunch was hired as the founding director of the NMAAHC, and tasked with doing everything necessary to open the museum. He developed the museum's vision and mission, raised more than $500 million, oversaw building design and construction, managed staffing and publicity, and built key partnerships across the nation-all while collecting thousands of artifacts documenting several centuries of African-American life, art, history, and culture.

Bunch is the former president of the Chicago Historical Society. During his 30-plus year career, he has held several positions at the Smithsonian Institution, including associate director for curatorial affairs at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History (NMAH), where he led the team that developed the major exhibition The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden. Prior to that, Bunch served as the assistant director for curatorial affairs at NMAH, where he developed the Smithsonian's America exhibition, which explored the history, culture, and diversity of the United States. He also served as the curator of history and program manager for the California Afro-American Museum in Los Angeles.

Bunch will receive the award in a private ceremony at the National Building Museum at 6 pm on March 10.

Washington Performing Arts

As one of the most established and honored performing arts institutions in America, Washington Performing Arts celebrated its 50th Anniversary in the 2016-17 season, building upon a distinguished history of serving artists, audiences, students, and civic life. The city is truly its stage: in venues ranging from concert halls and clubs to public parks, it presents a tremendous range of artists and art forms, from the most distinguished symphony orchestras to both renowned and emerging artists in classical music, jazz, international genres, and dance.

Washington Performing Arts nourishes communities throughout the region by partnering with local organizations and other arts institutions, staging concerts and arts activities in the neighborhoods, involving internationally known main-stage performers in community programs, and presenting locally based artists to a wider audience. It also places a premium on establishing artists as a continuing presence in the lives of both young people and adults through sustained residencies and educational programs.