Karen Brosius, a pillar of Columbia’s civil, social and artistic life died on Saturday, October 14, 2023, at home. Ms. Brosius was the Executive Director of the Folks Center for International Business at the Darla Moore School of Business at USC.
The cause of death was a brain cancer, glioblastoma, said her husband, Willson Powell.
Ms. Brosius was born in 1955 in Geneva, New York, the 2nd daughter of Mary Jane Stewart Brosius and Bernard Robert Brosius. She graduated summa cum laude from Butler University after three years in 1976 and attended the American School at Fontainebleau under the direction of Nadia Boulanger, who later proposed her for the Juilliard School. After two years at Juilliard she completed her masters degree at Hunter College in New York City, while working with gifted children at Columbia University.
Ms. Brosius was a celebrated member of that nearly extinct cultural species, a woman of letters. Starting in 1980, when she was hired by the Pierpont Morgan Library as their Public Affairs Officer she organized publicity and press information for 15 exhibitions per year as well as special events, tours and public information, working with curatorial staff across all departments. She was the liaison with all major news outlets and art critics, and created extensive press coverage in many art and general publications for the Morgan Library for the first time. She was also the media spokesperson for the museum.
Following an exhibition at the Morgan Library sponsored by Philip Morris Companies Inc., now known as the Altria Group, Inc. , Ms. Brosius was offered a job with them in the Cultural Affairs and Special Programs division. During her 23 years with the company and with multiple promotions to Manager of Cultural Programs and Director of Corporate Contributions and Public Affairs, she was a leader in the development of this Fortune 10 company’s contributions program and contributed to its national and international standing. Responsible for the direction and management of an annual $130 million contributions budget as well as a multi-million dollar administration and outreach budget, Ms. Brosius built the company’s reputation as the premier corporate supporter of the arts around the world and worked extensively with museum directors and curators from around the U.S. and abroad. She also directed the company’s broader philanthropic program on education, hunger relief and human services, domestic violence, AIDS, and the environment, with an extensive national and international presence.
A telephone call from a NYC friend, Janet Lee Burnet, with a job offer to run the Columbia Museum of Art, in Janet’s home town of Columbia prompted Ms. Brosius to apply. Extensive interviews with Carroll Heyward and Dr. Suzan Boyd lead to her hiring in 2004 as the Executive Director. As the museum was “in the red” at the time, Ms. Brosius said, “we have nowhere to go but up.” And, up they did over the next 13 years. Galvanizing the museum’s board, staff and volunteers as ambassadors of the museum, and developing vibrant and award-winning programs, Ms. Brosius turned around and revitalized the museum and quadrupled annual attendance and outreach. She led a master planning process for a $16 million capital campaign for endowment, directed strategic planning for the museum and fostered strong government relationships securing government funding across city, county, state and Washington, DC levels. She attracted museum support and interest from a wide range of national and regional funding sources and furthered the museum’s dynamic presence on social media and on the web. She led the museum’s fourth successful American Alliance of Museums accreditation in 2007 and was Winner of the 2016 National Medal for Museum Service, awarded in a ceremony at The White House and the Winner of the 2016 Governor’s Arts Award as the top arts organization in South Carolina, the only museum to win the award twice.
Leaving the museum at the top of her game to accept an interesting job offer back in New York City, running C-CAP – Careers through Culinary Arts Programs, Ms. Brosius found teaching at-risk teenagers culinary skills and helping them find jobs was exhilarating. Reconnecting with old friends there was fun as well as weekends back in Columbia. After three years in New York City, a good friend in San Francisco, Donna Davidson, called Ms. Brosius about a job at the University of South Carolina running the Folks Center for International Business. It was a perfect blend of needs, interests and skills that suited her ideally. It has been four years since and there is plenty to achieve and celebrate. The International Business Program at The Folks Center is the #1 program of its kind in the United States and has been for 25 years according to U.S. News & World Report. Ms. Brosius’s incandescent spirit, her exuberant joie de vivre and her twinkling humor live on.
For those of us who knew her well, knew that she had no trouble expressing her feelings. She was searingly wry and insightful, impatient with boundaries and consistently captivating, soulful and engaging. We were privileged to discover her charm, her humanity and her class-defying warmth. We will miss her for she taught us what beauty means.
In addition to her husband of 43 years, she is survived by her English Cream Golden Retriever, Lilly, her sister, Barbara Brosius O’Shaughnessy of Atlanta; her niece, Kaitlyn O’Shaughnessy (Jim) of Atlanta, her nephew, Matthew Patrick O’Shaughnessy (Jan) of Atlanta and her nephew, Brendan Daniel O’Shaughnessy (Astrid) of Asheville, North Carolina and 6 grand nieces and nephews.
A memorial service celebrating the life of Karen Brosius will be held on Monday, November 6th at 2:00pm at The Columbia Museum of Art. Valet parking will be available. Memorials may be made to help build the Karen Brosius Fund for Children’s Arts Education - Columbia Museum of Art, Post Office Box 2068, Columbia, SC 29202.
Dunbar Funeral Home, Devine Street Chapel, is assisting the family. Memories may be shared at www.dunbarfuneralhomedevine.com.