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Elizabeth Broun

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Elizabeth Broun
Broun, standing in the Smithsonian American Art Museum courtyard, in 2016.
Broun, standing in the Smithsonian American Art Museum courtyard, in 2016.
Born (1946-12-15) December 15, 1946 (age 77)
Occupation(s)Art historian
Academic background
Alma materUniversity of Kansas
ThesisAmerican Paintings and Sculpture in the Fine Arts Building of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893 (1976)
InfluencesCharles C. Eldredge
Academic work
DisciplineArt history
Sub-disciplineAmerican art
InstitutionsSpencer Museum of Art
Smithsonian American Art Museum

Elizabeth "Betsy" Broun (born December 15, 1946, in Kansas City) is an American art historian and curator. Broun served as the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum from 1989 to 2016, and is the longest-serving female director in the history of the Smithsonian Institution.


Born in Kansas City, but raised in Independence, Kansas, Broun completed all of her degrees from the University of Kansas: a Bachelor of Arts in French and art history in 1968, a Master of Arts in art history in 1969, and a Doctor of Philosophy in art history in 1976. Her doctoral dissertation examined American sculptures and paintings at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893.[1][2]

In the early 1970s, Broun began her career in museums as a Ford Foundation Curatorial Fellow at the Walters Art Museum.[3] After completing her doctorate, she remained at the University of Kansas as Assistant Professor of Art History, as well as the Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Spencer Museum of Art until 1983. In her final year at the museum, Broun also served as acting director, succeeding Charles C. Eldredge, who went on to become director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.[4]

In 1983, Broun followed Eldredge to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and became Chief Curator and Assistant Director there. Five years later, she succeeded him and was elevated to Margaret and Terry Stent Director, becoming the first female to serve in that role. Broun held the post until retirement in 2016, making her one of the longest standing directors and the longest serving female director in the history of the Smithsonian Institution. She was succeeded by Stephanie Stebich. Broun oversaw two major museum renovations during her tenure, including the $250 million main building project from 2000 to 2006, and refurbishing the Renwick Gallery from 2013 to 2015. Major exhibitions under her directorship included The West as America (1991) and The Art of Video Games (2012).

In 2017, Broun was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her own curatorial work has concerned artists such as Thomas Hart Benton, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Pat Steir, and Anders Zorn.[1]

In 1991, she received the Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award from the College Art Association for her biography of Albert Pinkham Ryder, published by the Smithsonian Institution Press in 1989.[5]

Select works[edit]

  • The Prints of Anders Zorn (1979)
  • Benton's Bentons: Selections from the Thomas Hart Benton and Rita P. Benton Trusts (1980)
  • Form, Illusion, Myth: Prints and Drawings of Pat Steir (1983)
  • Images on Stone: Two Centuries of Artists' Lithographs (1987)
  • Albert Pinkham Ryder (1989)
  • Free Within Ourselves: African-American Artists in the Collection of the National Museum of American Art (1992)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Meet the Museums' Directors". The Washington Post. 2006-06-25. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on 2024-03-03. Retrieved 2024-03-03.
  2. ^ "Recent Dissertations". The Journal of American History. 64 (2): 593–618. 1977. ISSN 0021-8723 – via JSTOR.
  3. ^ "Elizabeth Broun, PhD". Emily Taylor Center for Women & Gender Equity. The University of Kansas. Archived from the original on 2024-03-03. Retrieved 8 May 2022.
  4. ^ "Elizabeth Broun". University of Kansas College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. Archived from the original on 2014-06-19. Retrieved 2014-06-20.
  5. ^ "Awards for Distinction: Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award". College Art Association. 2023. Archived from the original on 2023-09-28. Retrieved 2024-03-03.

External links[edit]

Preceded by Director
Spencer Museum of Art

1982 – 1983
Succeeded by
Jay Gates
Preceded by Director
Smithsonian American Art Museum

1989 – 2016
Succeeded by