10 Questions for Marisol Herrera
By Douglas McColloch
In 2016, Marisol Herrera, then 23 and a self-professed “non-car person,” applied for a receptionist’s job at the Zimmerman Automobile Driving Museum, a small private collection in El Segundo, California. Six years later, Herrera now serves as the museum’s executive director, overseeing a collection of more than 130 vehicles and a full schedule of public events, including car shows, children’s programs and weekly cruise-ins and ride-and-drives. Her community outreach efforts have been credited for quadrupling the museum’s annual attendance over the past three years. In recognition of her accomplishments, she was named one of SEMA News’ “35 Under 35” rising industry stars for 2021.
We spent a few minutes with Herrera recently to learn more about her experiences at the museum and how a non-car person became a dedicated enthusiast.
SEMA News: We understand that you didn’t originally come from an automotive background. What was your previous career track, and how did you get into this line of work?
Marisol Herrera: I come from a museum background. I’ve always been a “plant person” and have always been interested in plants and nature, so out of high school I worked as a volunteer at the California Science Center [Los Angeles], and I really liked the environment there. I was learning while I was working, and I really enjoyed that. Later, I worked at the [L.A.] County Natural History Museum as a gallery interpreter, among other things.
I really liked the museum environment, so after I finished college, I applied for a job as a receptionist at [the Zimmerman Museum]. I jumped through the ranks pretty quickly because I knew so much about museums and how they work—programs and events and so forth—and I also had experience in handling sponsorships and admissions. Eventually I was elevated to executive director, and now I run the space.
SN: When did you know you wanted to pursue this as a career?
MH: I’ve always wanted to do something with ecological restoration. I studied environmental science in college, but there just isn’t any work in that field. As I started working at the museum, I realized that I was constantly learning new things, and I really enjoy that aspect of it. It wasn’t easy at first for me since I’d never worked in the car industry, but I just took it as a challenge and ran with it.
The great thing about working at a museum is that you’re learning while working.
SN: You do a lot of work with schoolchildren. What inspired you to open the museum to kids’ tours, and what’s their typical reaction when they see the collection? Some of the cars must look rather odd to their eyes.
MH: We take students as young as preschool and as old as high school, most of whom aren’t used to seeing cars as works of art. They’re just floored by what they see. I like taking them to our antiques section first, with cars that have wood-spoke wheels, cars that need cranking to start and cars that have rumble seats. It’s like a whole different world to them.
SN: Which car in the collection would you most love to have in your garage?
MH: We have a ’55 Nash Rambler in the collection with a Farina body and a 350 Chevy V8 that’s my favorite car to take out when we do our ride-and-drives.
SN: Southern California has a number of big, well-established automotive museums—the Petersen and the Nethercutt, for instance. Being a smaller museum, what do you do to increase public awareness of your collection? What makes you stand out?
MH: Being a smaller museum with a smaller budget, we don’t have a lot of money to spend on advertising and promotion, so we rely heavily on social media and word-of-mouth. People still tell us that we’re a “hidden gem,” and I’m trying to get us away from that. This summer we’re having plenty of events and programs that will help promote different demographics and different audiences. We’re doing restoration programs and car shows, and we’re basically being very grassroots in the local community about it.
SN: What has surprised you the most about your career?
MH: The fact that everybody in the car community was so nice! Even though I didn’t have a car background, people accepted me with open arms, and they taught me everything I know about cars.
SN: What’s your daily driver?
MH: A ’63 Ford Falcon Futura, which is actually on display at the museum now. I also own a ’61 Studebaker pickup, though I don’t drive it daily.
SN: What’s the best piece of advice that anyone has ever given you?
MH: Never give up. Even if you have a bad day, it’s always going to get better.
SN: When you’re not at the museum, where can we find you?
MH: Thrift shopping!
SN: What’s on your playlist? What are you listening to these days?
MH: Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of synthy indie music and pop punk.