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Former Bellevue resident named director of Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History
Kirk Johnson, chief curator and vice president of research and collections at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, has been appointed the Sant Director of the National Museum of Natural History, effective Oct. 29.
Johnson grew up in Bellevue and his father is a psychiatrist and long time Bellevue resident.
As a vice president of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Johnson is part of a team that leads the museum and manages its $40 million annual budget. The museum, which receives 1.4 million visitors per year and has a staff of 400, launched a $170 million capital campaign in 2005.
“Kirk brings an established national and international reputation as a top scientist, educator and museum administrator to the National Museum of Natural History,” said Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian. “He is a perfect match to lead the museum—among the very best in the world—into the next decade.”
Johnson succeeds Cristián Samper, who is leaving the Smithsonian to become president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society headquartered in New York City.
Johnson will oversee more than 460 employees, an annual federal budget of $68 million and a collection of more than 126 million specimens and artifacts — the largest collection at the Smithsonian. The Natural History Museum hosts an average of 7 million visitors a year. Its scientists publish about 500 scientific research contributions a year.
“With his extensive experience in research, collections and use of social media for public outreach, Kirk will greatly enhance all we do at the National Museum of Natural History,” said Eva J. Pell, Smithsonian Under Secretary for Science. “I look forward to working with him.”
Johnson has a bachelor’s degree in geology and fine arts from Amherst College, a master’s degree in geology and paleobotany from the University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate in geology and paleobotany from Yale University.
“Natural history museums are incredible places where people have the opportunity to interact with scientists, scientific discovery and to experience the wonders of the world,” said Johnson. “As a scientist and a communicator, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to lead the nation’s natural history museum into the 21st century.”
As chief curator at the Denver museum, Johnson oversees a 70-person research and collections division (including curators, registrars, librarians, archivists, conservators, technicians, administrators and assistants) and manages its $3.5 million annual budget. He is responsible for the museum’s 24 collections, and he led the completion of the museum’s first comprehensive long-term collections and research plan. He has served as a curator of paleontology since he joined the museum in 1991.
Johnson’s research includes the study of the geology and fossil plants of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains from 34 million to 145 million years ago. He also studies the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary extinction event and the origin of major ecological communities known as biomes. Between October 2010 and July 2011, he led an excavation in Snowmass Village, Colo., that recovered more than 5,400 bones of mammoths, mastodons and other ice age animals.