Skip to Main Content

State Museum Commission Announces New Executive Director of the Tennessee State Museum

Tuesday, February 07, 2017 | 12:06pm

Tennessee native chosen to lead during construction of new museum

Nashville, TN — February 7, 2017—  The Douglas Henry State Museum Commission announced today that Tennessee native Ashley Howell has accepted the position of executive director of the Tennessee State Museum.  The commission voted to offer Howell the position at its meeting on January 24.  She succeeds long serving director Lois Riggins Ezzell who retired December 31.

“Ashley Howell will bring a new level of leadership to the Tennessee State Museum,” Commission Chairman Tom Smith said. “I am confident she is the right choice at the right time. Her background in all aspects of museum management will serve us well, and her ties to Tennessee make her an ideal choice as we prepare for the new museum’s opening late next year.”

Howell, 40, currently serves as the deputy director of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville. 

“As a child, I visited the Tennessee State Museum,” Howell said. “From early museum visits, I have taken my love of history and art and built a career around museums.  It has been an honor to work at two of our state’s outstanding cultural institutions, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and the Knoxville Museum of Art.  I look forward to working with Governor Haslam, the General Assembly, the museum commission and the museum foundation to lead the Tennessee State Museum at this exciting time.”

A Nashville native, Howell graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville with a degree in art history.  She holds a master’s degree from UT in communication and a master’s of business administration degree from Boston University with a certificate in museum studies. She joined the Frist Center in 2007 as director of development and most recently served as deputy director.

Howell joins the Tennessee State Museum with a new museum currently under construction at the northwest corner of the Bicentennial Mall in Nashville. The state museum is one of the oldest and largest state museums in the nation with more than 150,000 artifacts in its holdings.

Gov. Bill Haslam proposed and the Tennessee General Assembly approved $120 million in the FY 2015-2016 budget for the museum with an additional $40 million to be raised in private monies.  The new 137,000 square foot facility is slated to open in late 2018. 

The Tennessee State Museum currently hosts about 115,000 visitors each year. The new museum is expected to host more than 220,000 visitors annually, adding to the growing menu of memorable and educational opportunities Tennessee has to offer.

Howell will assume her new role on April 1.


About the Tennessee State Museum:

The Tennessee State Museum was established by law in 1937 “to bring together the various collections of articles, specimens, and relics now owned by the State under one divisional head,” and “to provide for a transfer of exhibits wherever they may be.”  

Today, the Tennessee State Museum is housed in the James K. Polk building in downtown Nashville, where it has been for nearly 35 years. Gov. Bill Haslam proposed and the Tennessee General Assembly approved $120 million in the FY-2015-16 budget to build a new home for the Tennessee State Museum on the Bicentennial Mall to maximize the state’s rich history by creating a state-of-the-art educational asset and tourist attraction for the state. The governor also announced that $40 million would be raised in private funds for the project.

A new and dynamic 140,000 square foot facility to house the State Museum is currently under construction on the northwest corner of the Bicentennial Mall at the corner of Rosa Parks Boulevard and Jefferson Street.  It is being built to continue to tell Tennessee’s story in a way that the museum is unable to do in its current and outdated location by showcasing one-of-a-kind artifacts, art and historical documents in an interactive and engaging way.

Additional information on the Tennessee State Museum can be found at and new museum information can be found at

Tennessee State Museum
Ashley Howell, Executive Director

505 Deaderick Street
Nashville, TN 37243-1120
Department Logo