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The founding president of the Autry National Center of the American West, a group of museums in Los Angeles and Denver, has been named director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, the museum complex announced Tuesday.
John Gray will lead one of the nation's most popular museums, which is on track to host 5 million visitors this year, beginning July 23. Gray had a 25-year career in commercial banking and served in the U.S. Small Business Administration in the Clinton administration before joining the museum field.
In 1999, Gray became CEO of a museum devoted to the legacy of movie star Gene Autry in Los Angeles and is credited with transforming it into a major cultural center. Gray merged it with Colorado's Women of the West Museum and Los Angeles' Southwest Museum of the American Indian.
Smithsonian officials said they were drawn to Gray's experience transforming the Autry museum to tell a fuller story of American history.
"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," said Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian's undersecretary for history, art and culture, in announcing the appointment.
The National Museum of American History, which is home to the flag that inspired the national anthem and holds Dorothy's ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz," has been criticized for not representing the full scope of U.S. history. Ten years ago, a blue-ribbon commission called the museum's layout confusing and questioned its less-than-inclusive presentation, noting that religion, immigration and slavery were underrepresented. It is in the midst of a major overhaul of its exhibition wings to broaden its scope.
Gray succeeds Brent Glass, who retired as director in August 2011. Glass had led the museum since 2002, overseeing a major renovation of the museum's central core and Star-Spangled Banner gallery. He also brought costumed historical characters into the museum to engage visitors.
Gray will oversee 234 employees at the museum with an annual budget of more than $34 million.
National Museum of American History: http://americanhistory.si.edu/
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