Denver Art Museum Doubles Down on Putting Visitors First with Strategic Leadership Shifts in Learning & Engagement Department

The Denver Art Museum (DAM) today announced changes in leadership within its Learning and Engagement department aimed at better supporting the DAM’s continued leadership in audience engagement. Nationally recognized arts education specialist Melora McDermott, the DAM’s Chief Learning and Engagement Officer since 2015, will take on a newly created position of Chief of Audience Engagement Strategy, while Heather Nielsen, the DAM’s Director of Learning and Community Engagement, will become the new Chief Learning and Engagement Officer. McDermott and Nielsen’s new roles are effective immediately.

“Both of these changes are a testament to the museum’s commitment to better serving our community today and in the future,” said Christoph Heinrich, the DAM’s Frederick and Jan Mayer Director. “Melora and Heather both bring deep expertise and broad experience in museum education and community engagement, and we are fortunate to have these world-class leaders under our roof to help guide us into the future.”

Melora McDermott

Melora McDermott. Photo by Jeff Wells.

For more than three decades, McDermott has been building programs that positioned DAM as a leader in the area of audience engagement and family programming. From in-gallery interactives that bring artworks to life, to the family gallery exploration backpack program that has been emulated around the world, McDermott has helped lead the charge in creating experiences throughout the DAM’s campus that have delighted and enriched visitors of all ages and backgrounds. She was responsible for the creation of the hands-on studio in the Hamilton Building, educational gallery spaces like the Discovery Libraries and Thread Studio and creating the former kids activity area called the Just for Fun Center.

In her new role, McDermott will focus on building institutional learning around audience behavior and feedback—connecting the dots between departments from curatorial to communications to ensure that those insights gleaned in-gallery are incorporated across the board, while feedback from the community is translated into the types of programs developed in- and out-of-house.

“The DAM has been a leader in audience engagement for decades, and I’m thrilled to see us taking the next step forward in prioritizing the needs of our current and future visitors in all areas of the museum,” McDermott said. “I think it really speaks to who we are and our commitment to the vision of being a place where anyone and everyone can experience and experiment with creativity.”

Separately, Nielsen has built a career at the DAM by spending the last 17 years in various roles in the Learning and Engagement department. She has been most recently overseeing the DAM’s community engagement work and interpretive programs for the Latin American and Ancient American Art departments. In addition, Nielsen has led projects focused on fostering creativity among visitors and generating opportunities at the museum for innovative community activations as well as has led museum research to support healthy creative aging.

Heather Nielsen

Heather Nielsen. Photo by Jeff Wells.

Nielsen also has been instrumental in creating and implementing community-driven museum initiatives that provide widely praised museum access opportunities, bilingual programming, artist in residency programs and major creative aging initiatives. Some of these programs include Art and About Tours for visitors with early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia and their care partners, low-sensory events for individuals needing less sensory-stimulating museum visits and custom tactile tables for visitors who are blind or have low vision. She also helped inaugurate bilingual programs such as Cuentos del Arte, a Spanish and English art storytelling program, as well as Mañanitas, a school visit and tour program.

“I’m excited to continue to grow the DAM’s leadership in serving visitors of all ages, backgrounds and being a place that welcomes everyone,” Nielsen said. “Museums are essential contributors to healthy and thriving communities. I am excited to carry on the museum’s vision to build initiatives that foster community wellbeing through access to the arts and creative experiences.”

The DAM has long been recognized as a leader in museum education and the engagement of young people. In recent years, the Learning and Engagement department has expanded its focus to younger children, as well as growing opportunities for adults of all ages and abilities to engage in creative practice. The launch of the Free for Kids program in 2015 saw explosive growth in the museum’s engagement with schools. In addition, the establishment of other programs such as the Art Lives Here program focuses on bringing mini-exhibitions of objects to schools, libraries and recreation and senior centers.

The DAM’s Learning & Engagement Department furthermore has developed pioneering approaches to museum engagement and visitor experiences. Wide ranges of creative and engaging programs are offered throughout the year onsite, in public program spaces and in the galleries. The department has also capitalized on the temporary closure of the Martin Building project to pilot and scale in-community programs that aim to extend programming beyond the museum’s walls to engage people where they are and provide art experiences that help bridge back to the museum as a resource for all. Programs serve youth and family in their schools, youth and community groups at centers throughout metro Denver, and older adults onsite and in care and community centers.


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The Denver Art Museum is an educational, nonprofit resource that sparks creative thinking and expression through transformative experiences with art. Its holdings reflect the city and region—and provide invaluable ways for the community to learn about cultures from around the world. Metro citizens support the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD), a unique funding source serving hundreds of metro Denver arts, culture and scientific organizations. For museum information, call 720-865-5000 or visit