In a significant announcement, The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia has appointed Karen Elizabeth Milbourne as its new director. A senior curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Milbourne brings over two decades of museum experience and a wealth of expertise to her new role.
After a comprehensive national search, Milbourne emerged as the committee’s choice due to her outstanding track record as a curator, researcher, and administrator. Her collaborative approach and commitment to diversity align seamlessly with The Fralin’s mission to foster curiosity within the UVA community.
Milbourne, who holds a doctorate in art history from the University of Iowa and a bachelor’s degree in African studies from Bryn Mawr College, will officially assume the position on January 29. She steps into the role vacated by Matthew McLendon after his six-year tenure.
Jody Kielbasa, UVA’s vice provost for the arts, expressed confidence in Milbourne, stating, “Dr. Milbourne will further encourage a spirit of curiosity within the UVA community and build on her expertise to engage, empower, and support The Fralin’s dedicated team.”
In her role as the J. Sanford Miller Family Director, Milbourne will spearhead The Fralin’s research and teaching missions, curate groundbreaking exhibitions, and support emerging artists, researchers, and art professionals. Managing a staff of 26, including 15 student workers, she will play a pivotal role in shaping the museum’s vision.
Milbourne expressed her excitement about joining The Fralin and its dedicated team, especially as they envision a new Center for the Arts. She noted, “UVA is an extraordinary university, and I am so excited by what we can do together.”
Having spent 15 years at the National Museum of African Art, Milbourne has a rich background overseeing archives, collections, and publications, with a focus on western Zambia and contemporary African art. Her accolades include a Fulbright Fellowship, recognition from the Arts Council of the African Studies Association, and the Smithsonian Secretary’s Award for Excellence.
Milbourne’s involvement extends beyond her curatorial roles; she is the former chair of the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship program and serves on the advisory board for the Lusaka Contemporary Art Center, showcasing her commitment to the global art community.
Sarah Betzer, chair of the search committee and a professor of art history, highlighted Milbourne’s contagious energy and ideas. The committee was particularly impressed by her commitment to an ethical museum of the future grounded in inclusivity and interaction.
In welcoming Milbourne to The Fralin, the committee sees her as a superb scholar and curator poised to amplify the museum’s strengths and expand partnerships with the university and the broader Charlottesville community. This appointment marks an exciting chapter for The Fralin Museum of Art under Milbourne’s leadership, promising a dynamic future at the intersection of academia and the arts.