Since 2013, Ruth Shelly has served as Executive Director of Portland Children’s Museum, which benefits 280,000 children and adults each year. The Museum is home to Opal School, a tuition-based preschool and K-5 public charter school for 125 students. The organization’s professional development initiative serves more than 1,000 teachers annually through workshops, online courses, and consultation on education innovation. These efforts are united by Playful Inquiry, an original approach which celebrates the key principles of learning playfully and nurturing empathy.
Ruth has spent a lifetime in museums, starting as a volunteer in eighth grade. An art and zoology graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, she initially trained in exhibit design, then headed exhibit departments and later administration at museums in Albuquerque, Santa Barbara, Atlanta, and San Diego. In 2003, her family moved back to Wisconsin, where Ruth served as Executive Director of Madison Children’s Museum for ten years. Here she oversaw the museum’s capital campaign and move to an expanded location—the first LEED-certified museum in Wisconsin and winner of the National Medal for Museum and Library Service.
After ten Wisconsin winters and a career including seven new museum building projects, Ruth, her husband Kevin, and daughter Maggie were delighted to relocate to Oregon. In addition to her work at Portland Children’s Museum, Ruth serves on the boards of Travel Portland, the American Alliance of Museums, and Rotary Club of Portland, where she is President-Elect. Ruth is an avid birder, nature photographer, seamstress, and baker who proudly won the 2017 Chocolate Cake Smackdown competition at the Oregon Historical Society for her “Total Eclipse” entry.
With her dedicated board and talented staff, Ruth strives to advance Portland Children’s Museum as an accessible, essential, and inclusive resource for families to connect across generations while learning together through play.