Rolf E. “Wisconsin” Johnson began his professional career in 1978 as a vertebrate paleontologist at the Milwaukee Public Museum, specializing in late cretaceous dinosaurs and the paleocommunities represented in the Hell Creek Formation of northeastern Montana. In the intervening 40 years, he has worked as a curator, media producer, environmental educator, exhibit designer and, since 1991, in museum administration as a Department Head, Development Director, Deputy Director, COO, Executive Director and CEO. Johnson is an Emmy award-winning producer of TV, radio, video and interactive multi-media programs and has served as an international consultant to museums, zoos, environmental centers, conservation organizations and related NGOs. He has a special interest in the interface between art, nature and science and ways in which museums reach their audiences intellectually and emotionally to inspire and affect positive changes in perspectives and understanding of the natural world and our place therein.
Johnson co-led a team of filmmakers, artists, exhibit designers and scientists to Costa Rica for the Milwaukee Public Museum’s “Exploring Life on Earth” and Tirimbina Rainforest projects, and fostered international exchange work between Costa Rican and Wisconsin project personnel.
As a museum administrator and director, he has been involved in the development of fundraising campaigns, branding studies, master planning, strategic planning, exhibit planning and associated implementation for major institutions in the United States and Latin America, including: the design and construction of Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin; the design and planning for the expansion of Nauticus: The National Maritime Center, in Norfolk, VA, including opening the Battleship Wisconsin (BB 64) for public exhibits, interpretive programming, events and below-decks tours; and centennial planning, master planning and institutional advancement for the AAM-Accredited Neville Public Museum in Green Bay, WI and the AAM-accredited Wisconsin Maritime Museum, home of the USS Cobia (SS 245), an iconic World War II era submarine.
Johnson has authored over 70 technical, scientific and popular articles and was Senior Editor of the encyclopedia “Rainforests of the World” (Marshall Cavendish, London 2002). He was Producer and Host of the award-winning public radio talk show “Museum Digest” from 1986 to 1991. He was also one of the community leaders and technical experts responsible for the establishment of two publically-accessible coastal preserves along the western shore of Lake Michigan in central Wisconsin: the Fischer Creek Conservation Area and the Point Creek Natural Area.