- about karen
Trained as an anthropologist, Karen has over 30 years of professional experience as an archaeologist, educator, curator, exhibit and informal education leader and museum executive. She has worked in Greater L.A., Chicagoland, the Southwest U.S. and Latin America. Born and raised in California, her professional evolution from academic researcher to audience and community focused executive was a long and at times circuitous, and she continues to learn even as she helps others benefit from her technical expertise, research skills and talents. Karen is passionate about helping organizations that serve wide audiences with wonderful experiences and opportunities, and about helping mission-focused organizations do great work with and for their communities.
Karen has a wide range of museum, non-profit and academic experience in areas from academic research to strategic planning, from collections management (including NAGPRA implementation, Collections Moves, Collections documentation and digitization, collections management related to exhibits, and collections related grants) to organizational change. She has education experience from classroom and field school settings to informal education and Community Science (Citizen Science) program development, delivery and oversight. Her exhibit experience ranges from the curation of archaeological exhibits to oversight of a major exhibitions department and responsibility for all of the exhibits in a major capital project. She has been responsible for functional space planning, programmatic planning, organizational and department design and redesign. She has managed budgets from hundreds of dollars to 10s of millions. Her work experience as an hourly worker, supervisor, manager, executive, team member, Project Manager, Principal Investigator, founder, board member and advisor give her perspective on the whole organization, and they position her to help staff and teams at all levels and from all professional backgrounds and areas of responsibility find common ground and come together as a team.
Karen began her career as an archaeologist working in the Southwestern U.S. where she first began learning about managing museum collections. She began teaching while still an undergraduate, working with upward bound students, college students, teachers and avocational archaeologists while serving as assistant director of the Southern Utah State College (now Southern Utah University) archaeological Field School.
She began doing research and then running archaeological projects in Peru in the 1980s. There she coordinated international teams, developed her own research projects, mentored and taught students from Peru, the U.S. and other countries. She served as Director of International Projects for Programa Contisuyo a consortium of researchers working in far southern Peru, wrote the functional space plan and helped develop the Museo Contisuyo in Moquegua, Peru. She later co-founded the Centro de Investigaciones Arqueologicas de Arequipa (CIARQ) which for five years conducted archaeological research and public programming in the Arequipa region of Peru.
In her 25 years at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Karen served as curator in charge of archaeology (1991-2007), then Associate Deputy Director, Research and Collections (2001-2007), as Vice President, Public Programs (2007-2009) and then as Vice President, Education and Exhibits (2007-2016). Her experience includes responsibility for oversight of archaeological collections, exhibit curation, oversight of museum-wide registration, conservation, collections management database selection and implementation, as multiple collection moves, and space planning. As a manager and then member of executive staff Karen was involved with or instrumental in the major institutional initiatives of the NHMLA from the early 2000s until 2016.
As Vice President, Education and Exhibits, Karen oversaw the transformation of education and exhibits at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLA) and the creation of a new interpretive program and approach to the NHMLA and the La Brea Tar Pits. She was instrumental in refocusing the museum on its audiences & visitors, developing innovative and engaging exhibits and educational experiences with deep scientific content for visitors of all ages and backgrounds. She led the development of five new major exhibits, the creation of new 3 ½ acre programmatic gardens, expansion of institutional focus to become a leader in urban nature research and education and the transformation of the museum into an indoor-outdoor destination. She brought evaluation and visitor research into the organization as a core function and deepened collaborations among the scientific and public facing sides of the organization. Her signature project was leading development of a major institutional initiative to become a leader in nature and environmental education and citizen science, including the creation of the Nature Gardens, Nature Lab, Nature Education and Citizen Science in collaboration with more than 60 staff members and multiple collaborators and partners from around L.A.
Since starting Wise Strategic Advising in 2017, Karen has been helping museums and other organizations with a wide range of projects - from overall organizational assessments and strategic planning to project guidance, coaching of executives, managers and teams within organizations. She also coaches and collaborates with individuals thinking about or dealing with professional transitions.
Karen's professional service has been wide ranging. She currently serves on the Conference Planning Program Committee of the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC), and as Associate Editor of the Informal Learning Review (ILR)
- PUBLICATIONS, Presentations & social media
Many of Karen's publications and some presentations are posted:
Karen tweets on leadership, museums and related matters @wisestrategic
She is also on LInkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/karenwise/