Merry A. Foresta is a consultant to universities, museums and other institutions advising on collections and ways to foster innovation. Her clients include the University of Virginia, the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, and the Smithsonian Archives of American Art. From 2000-2010 she served as the founding Director of the Smithsonian Photography Initiative, a program dedicated to greater public access and use of the Smithsonian's vast collections of photographic media, and the Smithsonian's first virtual platform of interactive programs devoted to photography.
She joined the Smithsonian Institution in 1977 and was named the museum's first Curator of Photography in 1983. She later became the Senior Curator of Photography for the Smithsonian's International Art Museums Division. At the Smithsonian, Foresta built one of the world's premier collections of American photography. She is the author of numerous catalog essays and articles. Foresta authored “At First Sight: Photography and the Smithsonian” (2002) which featured a broad sampling of photographs from Smithsonian collections. Another book, "Photography Changes Everything," co-edited with Marvin Heiferman, was published by Aperture in June 2012. More recently, she authored “Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty,” an acclaimed book on the work of one of the 20th Century’s most celebrated photographers.