Art history scholar named dean of VCU School of the Arts

Carmenita Higginbotham.
Carmenita Higginbotham, the new dean of the VCU School of the Arts, is a prolific scholar and has gained national recognition as one of the country’s leading Disney and popular culture experts. (Courtesy photo)

Carmenita D. Higginbotham, Ph.D., an art historian whose research examines 20th century American art, has been named dean of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts effective Sept. 15. She currently serves as chair of the McIntire Department of Art at the University of Virginia.

“We are excited to welcome Dr. Higginbotham to this vital role at VCU,” said Gail Hackett, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at VCU. “Her outstanding scholarship and achievements coupled with her academic leadership and service to her discipline position her perfectly among the faculty of our top-rated School of the Arts. Dr. Higginbotham is the right leader at the right time as we navigate this pivotal point in VCU’s history.”

Higginbotham is a prolific scholar whose research examines how notions of “the city” have had an impact on representation. She has lectured extensively on the history of American art, popular visual culture and art film, and has been a featured scholar and consultant on several documentaries including the PBS “American Experience” documentary on Walt Disney in 2015; the French documentary “La Story de Disney: la magie musicale” in 2016; and CNN’s “The Movies” in 2019. Her book, “The Urban Scene: Race, Reginald Marsh, and American Art” (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015), offers a significant and innovative reassessment of the ways in which race is deployed and read in interwar American art.

Higginbotham is a peer referee for The Art Bulletin, Art Journal and the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies and has served in various capacities for the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, the College Art Association and The Space Between: Literature and Culture, 1914-45.

Prior to her current role, Higginbotham served as assistant and associate professor in the McIntire Department of Art and the Program in American Studies. She has been affiliated faculty for U.Va.’s Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies since 2005. 

“It is very exciting to be joining VCU,” Higginbotham said. “With its commitment to academic excellence and its role as a public urban institution, VCU is a perfect fit with my own investments in research, higher education and the arts. The School of the Arts, with the premier quality of its departments and programs, is at the forefront of the cultural and social conversations that affect us all. Further, it embraces the unique characteristics of creative activity and research to foster a truly dynamic community. I am eager to be a part of the transformative presence of VCUarts as it thrives both nationally and internationally.”

Higginbotham received a bachelor’s in English and Art History from the University of Minnesota; a master’s in Art History from the University of Massachusetts; and a doctorate in History of Art from the University of Michigan. 

Nancy Scott has served as interim dean over the past year and will continue in this role until Higginbotham arrives.

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 30,000 students in 233 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Twenty-two of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 11 schools and three colleges. The VCU Health brand represents the VCU health sciences academic programs, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, and MCV Physicians. The clinical enterprise includes a collaboration with Sheltering Arms Institute for physical rehabilitation services. For more, please visit and