TheCollector Interviews Director Karen Milbourne of The Fralin

An expert in African art, the new director of The Fralin Museum at the University of Virginia discusses the impact of global art and digital resources in American museums.

Jul 9, 2024By Emily Snow, MA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial Studies



Dr. Karen Milbourne is the J. Sanford Miller Family director of The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia. She assumed the position in January of this year as part of the institution’s initiative to construct a new Center for the Arts. Previously, Milbourne worked at the National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., most recently in the role of senior curator.


In conversation with TheCollector, Milbourne discussed her rich professional background, including her expertise in African art and decades of experience working with international artists. She also illuminated the importance of accessibility and diversity in American art museums, as well as the wide-reaching impact of The Fralin’s digital transformation. Watch the video here:



Bringing Global Art to American Museums

The Fralin Museum of Art. Image courtesy of The Fralin Museum of Art and the University of Virginia.


The Fralin Museum’s collection boasts over 13,000 works of art from around the world. When Karen Milbourne took on her directorial role, she endeavored to bring an even wider variety of global art to The Fralin. She explained to TheCollector the hows and whys of promoting diversity and accessibility in art museums, referencing her experience curating non-Western art for American audiences.

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Director Karen Milborne. Image courtesy of The Fralin Museum of Art and the University of Virginia.


Milbourne specifically discussed Madayin: Eight Decades of Aboriginal Australian Bark Painting from Yirrkala. The touring exhibition, on view at The Fralin through July 14, includes art from the University of Virginia’s own Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection, the largest collection of Aboriginal Art outside of Australia. The idea for the exhibition originated with Yolŋu artist and leader Djambawa Marawili during his residency at the Kluge-Ruhe, where he encountered historic and contemporary bark paintings from his homeland. In a seven-year collaboration with the Kluge-Ruhe, the Madayin exhibition was developed by a team of Yolŋu Aboriginal Australian artists and knowledge holders from northern Australia.


The Fralin Museum of Art’s Digital Transformation

Rhinoceros by Albrecht Dürer (1515) is among thousands of artworks in The Fralin’s online collection. Image courtesy of The Fralin Museum of Art and the University


A corresponding online experience for Madayin was designed to enhance the exhibition for in-person visitors and non-attendees alike. Digital resources such as this have enormous potential to expand the size and scope of museum audiences—especially when it comes to sharing art that has historically been excluded from the traditional Western art establishment.

The first major project that Karen Milbourne prioritized at The Fralin was the expansion of its online collection. Since January, The Fralin has digitized 10,000 objects, expanding its searchable online collection from 26% to 97% of the museum’s permanent collection—an impressive feat and an invaluable resource for museum visitors and university students. Milbourne also explained how the digitization project creates important opportunities for the museum to improve its own knowledge and stewardship of globally significant objects in its collection.

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By Emily SnowMA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial StudiesEmily Snow is a contributing writer and art historian based in Amsterdam. She earned an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and loves knitting, her calico cat, and everything Victorian.