In her 12 years as executive director of the Columbia Museum of Art, Karen Brosius hopes she’s helped change the public’s perception of an art museum.
“My ultimate thing I think about a lot is I want art to be part of someone’s every day, and for them not to think ‘I’m going to the museum. I have to put on my Sunday best,’ ” Brosius said. “The museum is a place for people to come any time and be comfortable and welcomed and relaxed.”
Brosius is leaving her post to become the president of an unspecified national non-profit organizations. More details will be released later this month.
During her tenure, the museum’s annual budget has doubled and its endowment has tripled as landmark exhibitions and educational programs have become a staple. The museum generates more than $23 million in economic activity and welcomes 150,000-plus visitors annually while supporting more than 370 area jobs, according to its most recent independent impact study.
When she arrived at the Columbia museum in 2004, “it was a very, very quiet place,” Brosius said. “We now have just exploded the amount of activity here. The attendance has really been the outcome of all of the good programing and the events that we do and the quality exhibitions we’ve brought here or organized ourselves.”
In the last two years, notable exhibits featuring a collection of prints from Andy Warhol and works from acclaimed black artists have drawn crowds to the museum. In 2016, the museum was honored with the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Arts Award in South Carolina, becoming the only museum to win that award twice. Also this year, Brosius accepted the National Medal for Museum and Library Service from Michelle Obama at the White House.
“This year was really icing on the cake,” Brosius said. “Each and every year we’ve stepped forward with such energy and trying new things. I think that’s what has been the great hallmark of the museum. The staff here is so smart and capable and energetic. We work well as a team. Coming up with these ideas, I give them so much of the credit. We just say ‘Let’s do it,’ and we commit 100 percent.”
Brosius’ departure comes as the museum’s five-year ThinkArt capital campaign ends this month. The campaign, which aimed to raise $16 million, will finance renovations, including transforming an unused upstairs space into additional room for exhibits and educational programs.
Brosius has received many area professional and civic honors, including the Chairman’s Award from City Center Partnership, the Excellence in Community Leadership Award from the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, the Palmetto Center for Women Award for service to the community, and the Woman of Distinction Award from the Girl Scouts of the Congaree.
“Karen leaves us with much love and respect for the way she has grown and transformed the CMA into a gem in Columbia and cornerstone of activity and community engagement in the Midlands,” CMA board chair Scott R. McClelland said in a release. “She has made an extraordinary difference in the arts, cultural, and education community in South Carolina.”
The museum said a search firm will be hired to help find Brosius’ replacement – a process which will begin in the first quarter of 2017.
“The best is yet to come,” Brosius said. “We have an exciting plan of renovations forthcoming that is going to even open up the museum more to the community, give more access to the community. That’s rolling right along. So just keep your eyes peeled.”