Heather R.L. Lerner

Museum Director

I am a museum director, exhibit designer, and researcher in the field of museum studies. My leadership style focuses on relationship-building, community-driven projects, and evidence-based practices. The messy process of designing outstanding exhibits and experiences that achieve the museum’s mission while supporting the employees’ and communities’ goals is energizing for me.

When I began as museum director, the Joseph Moore Museum served under 4,000 people per year (largely field trips) and hired ~15 college students per year. The college administration and other faculty were questioning whether the museum should continue to exist. We have now more than tripled our attendance, hiring ~50 undergraduates per year, participating in more than 40 events annually, and collaborating with ~30 different community organizations and researchers. We have doubled our annual budget (raising over $1.4 million), digitized ~1/3 of our research specimens, and redesigned nine of our 15 permanent exhibits. We are building a thriving, connected museum that unites our communities in the joyful pursuit of knowledge. Check out the museum's website and social media sites to learn more.

I am a talented exhibit designer with a long history of combining research, business, and art to reach a broad audience. I earned my way through college by running my own arts business exhibiting my work at regional festivals. I researched basket-making traditions and used natural dyes in my hand-woven baskets, encouraging potential customers through telling the stories of basket-making traditions from my home area. This booth was my first large exhibit that spoke to my customers through the nature-inspired layout, well-researched artistic objects, and my personal interactions with customers. Since then, I have designed STEM exhibits and experiences at the University of Michigan Natural History Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Zoo, and Joseph Moore Museum. I mentor my exhibit teams to design exhibits that spark visitor interactions and provoke deeper engagement with museum collections, STEM, and research using evidence-based museum methods. I currently work as a STEM advisor with Tessellate Studio designing exhibits.

How do museums (and other informal STEM learning sites) support communities and social change?

My social science research addresses the role of informal STEM learning institutions in advancing social good. I am currently working with Knology (formerly New Knowledge) to gain a better understanding of the people who visit informal STEM learning institutions and how such institutions can better support and connect with their communities, especially to promote larger societal endeavors. Check out the WZAM site for announcements about the results of this research.