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Museum Minute: Bill Eiland


Later this year, the museum will be getting a new director for the first time since 1992. Dr. William Underwood Eiland (known as “Bill”), who has served as director of the museum since then, will retire at the end of March. Under Eiland’s leadership, the museum grew dramatically: not only in its collections, but in its stature and its reach. Since he became director, the museum has won more than 250 awards for its publications, programming, staff and exhibitions and become recognized as one of the leading university art museums in the country.

A native of Sprott, Alabama, Eiland has a doctoral degree from the University of Virginia. He oversaw the museum’s 1996 move across campus to a much larger contemporary building as well as a $20 million privately supported expansion and renovation in 2011 that added storage space, permanent collection galleries, and a sculpture garden devoted to work by women artists. In recent years, major gifts have increased the museum’s collections in African American and African diasporic art, contemporary art and photography.

Eiland has elevated the museum’s national and international reputation through service on the boards of numerous professional organizations and his list of awards is too long to read on the radio. He is known far and wide among museum professionals. It is no coincidence that the museum grew so much with Bill as its director for 30 years. His grand vision for what it could be and his ability to charm others into funding those ideas and transforming them into reality are perhaps his greatest legacy.

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