Smithsonian American Art Museum Director Betsy Broun to Retire After 27 Years

It's been a long run, including two building renovations.

Elizabeth "Betsy" Broun.
Photo: Tony Powell, courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Elizabeth “Betsy” Broun, who has been director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery, in Washington, D.C., for some 27 years, will retire at the end of 2016. The museum announced her departure in a blog post.

Museum directors often hand over the mantle after updating their institutions. Broun oversaw the renovation of both the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery’s buildings, which are national historic landmarks.

The renovation of the museum’s main building, which it shares with the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, was a $283-million project that stretched from 2000 to 2006. The $30-million renovation of the Renwick, a close neighbor to the White House, was the museum’s first touch-up in some forty years. It was funded half by Congress and half by the museum’s own fundraising efforts, including a $5.4 million gift by financier David Rubenstein. It opened with the exhibition “Wonder,” which has gotten lots of love on social media and has broken attendance records at the institution, attracting nearly half a million visitors in five months.

She has also, according to the museum, secured funding for many other initiatives, including the Luce Foundation Center for American Art; it is DC’s only visible art storage and study center, with thousands of artworks on public display.

Broun has stressed the museum’s online activities, including distance learning, and told the New York Times that its new focus is shifting away from design objects by anonymous craftsmen and –women. “Instead,” she said, “we want artists even if they use computers in their design process.”

Before her time at the Smithsonian, Broun was curator and interim director at the Spencer Museum of Art, at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, for seven years before moving to the nation’s capital in 1983 to serve as chief curator and assistant director at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, ascending to the director position in 1989. She earned a PhD in art history from the University of Kansas.

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