Director, National Museum of American History
John Gray is the Elizabeth MacMillan Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Gray oversees 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 Invention and Innovation.
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’s 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 National Center of the American West, formed by the merger of three organizations. He retired from the Autry National Center in late 2010.
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. His master’s degree in Eastern classics from Saint John’s College in Santa Fe is in process.
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