NMAI Director Announces Resigns

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NMAI Director Announces Resigns
W. Richard West Jr.

NEW YORK.- W. Richard West Jr. (Southern Cheyenne), director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian for 17 years, announced his resignation today, effective November 2007. “I have been privileged to serve as the founding director at the National Museum of the American Indian: a museum that I believe is truly like no other,” West said. “One of my most poignant memories was the museum’s spectacular opening on the National Mall two years ago, when 25,000 Native Americans and non-Native supporters staged what is believed to be the largest gathering of Native Americans in the nation’s capital in modern history.”

West told his staff and the museum’s board of trustees, “Now is the time for the museum to have new leadership, as it embarks on the second phase of its journey. My resignation next year will enable me to take on new special projects and pursue interests that I have yet to explore.”

Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small said of West’s tenure, “The National Museum of the American Indian has risen to international prominence, thanks to Rick West’s steadfast dedication, tireless drive and inspired leadership as founding director. He started with an idea and turned it into a reality. The Smithsonian Institution, the American people and visitors from around the world have benefited greatly from his talents, creativity and wisdom. We’ll be forever grateful to him for all that he’s done.”

A nationwide search for a new director will begin immediately in hopes of finding West’s successor within the one-year time frame, according to Sheila Burke, the Smithsonian’s Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer. West’s work at the museum began with the premise that this would be a place to show that Native American culture is alive ( his “living museum” concept ) and that the exhibitions and programs would present the Native voice and views. A collaboration with tribes and Native communities—on everything from the design of the building to exhibitions—became the cornerstone of the museum’s mission.

Under West’s leadership, the museum implemented the concept of a “museum of living cultures,” presenting Native peoples from the first person rather than the third-person anthropological approach. As a result, West believes the National Museum of the American has emerged as a leader and model for other museums and cultural centers in the field.

West, 63, joined the National Museum of the American Indian in January 1990, shortly after an Act of Congress created the museum as part of the Smithsonian Institution. The legislation committed federal funds to cover a portion of the cost of construction of the building, and it was up to the Smithsonian to raise the remaining funds, and to plan for both museums, in Washington and New York City, and for care of the collection.

West oversaw the creation, completion and successful opening of the three facilities that comprise the National Museum of the American Indian—the museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 2004; the Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Md., in 1999, which houses the museum’s 800,000-object collection; and the George Gustav Heye Center in New York City, in 1994, a permanent exhibition and education facility.

The National Museum of the American Indian has more than 300 staff members in its three locations and an annual budget of $46 million. The museum hosts a variety of free cultural arts programs that illustrate the breadth and diversity of Native peoples from throughout the Americas, including Native music, dance and theater performances, artist demonstrations and lectures, at its museum on the National Mall and at the Heye Center in New York.

Before becoming founding director, West practiced law in the Indian-owned law firm of Gover, Stetson, Williams & West, P.C., in Albuquerque, N.M.; and before that, he was a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. West grew up in Muskogee, Okla. He is the son of the late American Indian master artist Walter Richard West Sr. and Maribelle McCrea West. He has a bachelor’s degree in American history from the University of Redlands in California, a master’s degree in American history from Harvard University and a law degree from the Stanford University School of Law. From 1998 to 2000, West served as chair of the board for the American Association of Museums, the nation’s only membership organization representing all types of museums and museum professionals.

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