Charlie Millard: Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts

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millard_charles_15_018Originally published in the Ackland’s Member E-Newsletter of 21 May 2015.

Of all the awards that a university can bestow, few are greater than the honorary degree. Everyone in the Ackland family is therefore justifiably proud of former director Charlie Millard. He was awarded the degree of Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts by The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at this year’s Spring Commencement. Charlie’s professional and scholarly achievements are manifold, you can read the official citation here, but I want to highlight two ways that he improved the Ackland in decisive and long-lasting ways during his directorship (1986-1993).

He appointed the first “educator for university audiences,” establishing the essential connection that ensures the work of the Ackland is fully integrated into the teaching mission of the University. The program has grown from that pioneering act, and now over 10,000 students and faculty annually engage with the Ackland’s collection in curricular and course-related visits. This makes the Ackland the arts organization at Carolina with by far the broadest and deepest reach into the student experience. And our ambition is to continue building on Charlie’s brilliant first step until we reach “every student, every year.”

Charlie’s other great innovation was to start a conservation laboratory for works of art on paper at the Ackland. Such a facility is still a rarity amongst university museums (there are only a handful in the country) and it forms an essential part of our work. Not only does it allow us to steward the large percentage of our collection represented by prints, drawings, and photographs, but it also provides a platform for focusing on the material qualities of works of art—their existence as real things made of real stuff. Museums exist to promote an understanding of this aspect of art, one that can only be fully experienced in front of the actual object.

The Ackland and its many visitors have countless reasons to be grateful to Charlie and I know you will join me in offering congratulations. We will all have a chance this fall to acknowledge another side to his contributions, as our summer-fall exhibition, Testing Testing: Painting and Sculpture since 1960 from the Permanent Collection, will include many major works of art that are at the Ackland in one way or another because of him.

Bravo, Charlie!

Peter Nisbet
Ackland Art Museum Chief Curator and Interim Director