W. Richard West Jr. is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Autry Museum of the American West. He is responsible for all operations at the Autry from collections development and financial sustainability to institutional growth and visitor experience. He oversees a team of 160 professionals as well as 300 volunteers, all dedicated to the Autry’s core mission. West has devoted his professional life and much of his personal life to working in the national and international museum communities, and with American Indians on cultural, educational, legal, and governmental issues. West is also the Founding Director and Director Emeritus of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, where he served as Director from 1990-2007.
West practiced law at the Indian-owned Albuquerque, New Mexico, law firm of Gover, Stetson, Williams & West, P.C. (1988-1990). He also was an associate attorney and then partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson (1973-1988). He served as counsel to numerous American Indian tribes, communities, and organizations. In that capacity, he represented clients before federal, state and tribal courts, various executive departments of the federal government, and the Congress.
West’s current board affiliations and memberships include: International Coalition of Sites of Conscience (2007-present); Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums (2015-present); California Association of Museums (2019-present); Denver Art Museum (2021-present); UCLA Institute of Environment and Sustainability (2021-present); Center for Large Landscape Conservation (2021-present). He also has served on the boards of trustees of the Ford Foundation, Stanford University, and the Kaiser Family Foundation.
He served as chair of the board for the American Alliance of Museums, the nation’s only national membership organization representing all types of museums and museum professionals, from 1998-2000. From 1992-1995 and 1997-1998, he served as member-at-large of the Alliance’s board of directors and in 1995-1996 as vice chair of the board of directors. West also was a member-at-large (2004-2007) and Vice President (2007-2010) of the International Council of Museums.
West, who grew up in Muskogee, Oklahoma, was born in San Bernardino, California, the son of American Indian master artist, the late Walter Richard West Sr., and Maribelle McCrea West. He earned a bachelor’s degree (major in American history) magna cum laude in 1965 and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Redlands in California. He also received a master’s degree in American history from Harvard University in 1968. West graduated from the Stanford University School of Law with a doctorate of jurisprudence degree in 1971, where he also was the recipient of the Hilmer Oehlmann Jr. Prize for excellence in legal writing and served as an editor and note editor of the Stanford Law Review.
West is a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in the State of Oklahoma. He also is a member of the Society of Southern Cheyenne Peace Chiefs.
He is married to Mary Beth West, who retired from the U.S. Department of State in 2005. They have two adult children, Amy and Ben.