Elizabeth Broun, director emerita of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, grew up in Independence, Kansas, and holds three KU degrees in art history — a bachelor’s, a master’s and a doctorate. From 1976-83, Broun served as curator and subsequently interim director of KU's Spencer Museum of Art, overseeing a dramatic expansion of its collections. In 1983, she began her long tenure at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, beginning as chief curator and assistant director and assuming the position of director in 1989. She retired in 2016.
During her 27-year tenure, Broun conceived and successfully completed the renovation of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery's buildings, all national historic landmarks. Under her direction and with her vision, the Smithsonian American Art Museum has become the premier center for research in the field of American visual history. By dramatically expanding the resources available for research and learning using both in-person and digital access, Broun expanded the appreciation and understanding of our collective cultural history.
On the occasion of her retirement, Broun's outstanding service was recognized by the Smithsonian Regents with the Joseph Henry Medal, the institution's highest award.