I am an independent consultant working with foundations, museums, libraries, and other cultural and educational organizations on topics that include learning (including early learning), 21st century skills, strategic partnerships and collaborations, cultural policy, strategic planning, and leadership development.

My current ongoing affiliations include serving as Senior Advisor to the National Center on Science and Civic Engagement’s SENCER-ISE project (Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities-Informal Science Education), a series of partnerships between higher education and informal science. I am also Adjunct Faculty for the Bank Street College of Education’s Graduate School of Education in the Leadership in Museum Education Program. Finally, I am a member of The Museum Group (TMG), a consortium of museum consultants founded in 1995 by independent professionals who had held leadership positions in museums. TMG's mission is to work with museums to help them achieve their greatest potential in an ever-changing world. http://museumgroup.com/

From 2013-15, I served as Senior Advisor to the Noyce Leadership Institute (NLI), a global initiative of the Noyce Foundation that envisioned an essential and transformative role for organizations that engage their publics in crucial science and technology issues. NLI worked with executive-level leaders to build their capacity to serve as change agents within their organizations and communities.

From 2014-2016, I’ve been a faculty member for the George Washington University-Smithsonian Institution Affiliations 21st Century Museum Leadership Seminar. In 2015-2016, I’ve been a member of the faculty and the planning committee and as faculty for the American Alliance of Museums/Getty Foundation seminars and web casts devoted to “Perspectives on Museum Leadership at All Levels.  In conjunction with this program, I authored “Museum Leadership in a Hyper-Connected World: Six Skills for Leaders at All Levels,” which was published in the May 2015 issue of Museum.

My career has included more than two decades of work in the major U.S. cultural agencies, including the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), where from 2003-2013, I served as the agency’s first director for strategic partnerships, deputy director for the Office of Museum Services, and, from March 2010 through January 2011, acting IMLS director. At IMLS, I oversaw partnerships with other federal agencies, foundations, and non-governmental organizations.

At IMLS, I helped create and implement the Partnership for a Nation of Learners with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; played a formative role in funding and implementing Connecting to Collections: A Call to Action in response to the Heritage Health Index Report on the State of America’s Collections; led the agency’s Museums, Libraries, and 21st Century Skills initiative; spearheaded a partnership with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for teen-focused “learning labs” in libraries and museums; and launched an early learning partnership with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading that produced a policy report, Growing Young Minds: How Museums and Libraries Create Lifelong Learners, and related funding opportunities.

In addition, I played a pivotal role in two international museum/library gatherings co-convened by IMLS and the Salzburg Global Forum: Connecting to the World’s Collections: Making the Case for the Conservation and Preservation of Our Cultural Heritage (2009) and Libraries and Museums in an Era of Participatory Culture (2011).

In my twelve years (1984-1996) in the Public Programs Division of the federal National Endowment for the Humanities, I served as program officer, assistant director for Humanities Projects in Museums and Historical Organizations, and division Director. Our division supported public humanities projects I museum, libraries, and public media.

My museum work included serving as president and CEO of the Women of the West Museum, in Denver, Colorado from 1998-2002, where I oversaw the early on-line and in-community programs of that museum and managed its merger with the Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Los Angeles. Prior to that, I was president and CEO of Conner Prairie, a living-history museum near Indianapolis, Indiana, where I led the museum’s strategic planning efforts.

I’ve also worked at the Smithsonian Institution; the B’nai B’rith National Jewish Museum, in Washington DC; and The Taft Museum, in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1979, she was a fellow in the Museums Program of the National Endowment for the Arts. I’ve served on the boards of the American Alliance of Museums, the Colorado Digitization Program, and ArtTable, a national organization for professional women in leadership positions in the visual arts.

I’m a frequent speaker and writer on cultural collaborations; 21st century skills and the role of new technologies in learning; community engagement; leadership for the future; and museums and public value. Recent publications include the Forewords to The Museum Experience Revisited by John H. Falk and Lynn D. Dierking and Leadership Matters by Anne W. Ackerson and Joan H. Baldwin; “Reflections on Museums and Change, 2012” in Museums and the Paradox of Change, Third Edition by Robert R. Janes and “Museums and Public Value: A U.S. Cultural Agency Example,” in Museums and Public Value: Creating Sustainable Futures, edited by Carol A Scott.

Marsha Semmel
Marsha Semmel

Current Board & Community Service

  • Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center
  • Institute for Learning Innovation
  • Council of American Jewish Museums
  • Vice Chair, Arlington Arts Commission
  • Planet Word, The Museum of Language Arts
  • Program Committee, Generations United