Milwaukee Public Museum CEO unveils more plans for new downtown location

New building would be half the size of MPM's current home

The Milwaukee Public Museum’s new home will be a four-story building on a full city block in downtown Milwaukee, according to plans presented Wednesday by president and chief executive officer Dennis Kois at a Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce event.

Dennis Kois presented plans for the Milwaukee Public Museum’s new facility at an MMAC event.

The new building is designed to be less than half the size of the museum’s current 400,000-square-foot facility at 800 W. Wells St., which reflects a larger trend of museums scaling down their footprints as they shift away from large diorama exhibits to more technology-driven experiences, Kois said.

“This (museum) was built for another era,” Kois said. “And to be ready for the next era, we’re going to have to make sure that we build a museum that is right-sized for the community, that it is technologically-advanced and ready for next-gen exhibits and experiences, and that it’s sustainable in this community.”

Kois unveiled renderings of the new facility at a Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce event Wednesday morning, but the museum is not releasing them to the public yet. A location has not yet been determined.

As it builds a new facility, MPM is looking to position itself as a statewide institution, Kois said – and it could mean a change in branding. Renderings for the new building include the name “Wisconsin’s Natural History Museum.”

“We are the Milwaukee Public Museum and that has fundamentally been our identity for 150 years, so it will always be a part of our identity,” Kois said. “But we also have to acknowledge that we are the state’s natural history museum. There is no other research-based collecting institution in the state … We have to use that as part of our branding.”

It’s likely that the new museum’s branding would integrate the name of a large donor or company, he said.

Kois said MPM leaders face the tension of trying to preserve beloved exhibits, while also integrating new features. Plans for the new facility include more interactive exhibits like an urban biodiversity lab and citizen science projects, along with exhibits that “look and feel like old-school museums,” he said. The Streets of Old Milwaukee exhibit, for example, will carry over to the new building.

“We’re going to bring the best of what this museum is with us,” he said.

Kois said the new facility will likely have a theater experience of some kind, but not an IMAX.

“The days of six-story high-dome theaters are past,” he said.

The new facility could also allow the museum to put more of its Native American material collection on display, which could draw in more visitors, he said.

Kois said MPM would ideally break ground on the project in 2022. Kois didn’t disclose the cost of the project Wednesday, but has previously floated $100 million as an estimate.

Fundraising  will be a “heavy lift,” and will require the museum to tap into resources outside of Milwaukee’s business community, Kois said.

“We’re not going to raise everything we need to raise to build a new museum just by asking the same companies and people in Milwaukee to do the same things they’ve always done,” he said. “As a city we have to get out of that mode.”

The museum will likely pursue state and county funding for the project. Kois noted the state’s recent $70 million commitment to the Wisconsin Historical Society’s proposed $120 million history museum in Madison.

The museum is also looking to expand the reach of its board by recruiting members from across the state.

Kois said MPM has expanded its community reach by increasing free museum access to low-income visitors in recent years and through a new partnership with Kohl’s aimed at bringing museum programming to underserved communities across the state.

MPM expects to announce the site of the facility within 12 months. Kois stressed that MPM will remain in the heart of the city.

“We’re not moving to Ozaukee or Washington or Waukesha County,” he said. “We’ll still be downtown.”

The Milwaukee Public Museum’s new home will be a four-story building on a full city block in downtown Milwaukee, according to plans presented Wednesday by president and chief executive officer Dennis Kois at a Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce event.

Dennis Kois presented plans for the Milwaukee Public Museum’s new facility at an MMAC event.

The new building is designed to be less than half the size of the museum’s current 400,000-square-foot facility at 800 W. Wells St., which reflects a larger trend of museums scaling down their footprints as they shift away from large diorama exhibits to more technology-driven experiences, Kois said.

“This (museum) was built for another era,” Kois said. “And to be ready for the next era, we’re going to have to make sure that we build a museum that is right-sized for the community, that it is technologically-advanced and ready for next-gen exhibits and experiences, and that it’s sustainable in this community.”

Kois unveiled renderings of the new facility at a Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce event Wednesday morning, but the museum is not releasing them to the public yet. A location has not yet been determined.

As it builds a new facility, MPM is looking to position itself as a statewide institution, Kois said – and it could mean a change in branding. Renderings for the new building include the name “Wisconsin’s Natural History Museum.”

“We are the Milwaukee Public Museum and that has fundamentally been our identity for 150 years, so it will always be a part of our identity,” Kois said. “But we also have to acknowledge that we are the state’s natural history museum. There is no other research-based collecting institution in the state … We have to use that as part of our branding.”

It’s likely that the new museum’s branding would integrate the name of a large donor or company, he said.

Kois said MPM leaders face the tension of trying to preserve beloved exhibits, while also integrating new features. Plans for the new facility include more interactive exhibits like an urban biodiversity lab and citizen science projects, along with exhibits that “look and feel like old-school museums,” he said. The Streets of Old Milwaukee exhibit, for example, will carry over to the new building.

“We’re going to bring the best of what this museum is with us,” he said.

Kois said the new facility will likely have a theater experience of some kind, but not an IMAX.

“The days of six-story high-dome theaters are past,” he said.

The new facility could also allow the museum to put more of its Native American material collection on display, which could draw in more visitors, he said.

Kois said MPM would ideally break ground on the project in 2022. Kois didn’t disclose the cost of the project Wednesday, but has previously floated $100 million as an estimate.

Fundraising  will be a “heavy lift,” and will require the museum to tap into resources outside of Milwaukee’s business community, Kois said.

“We’re not going to raise everything we need to raise to build a new museum just by asking the same companies and people in Milwaukee to do the same things they’ve always done,” he said. “As a city we have to get out of that mode.”

The museum will likely pursue state and county funding for the project. Kois noted the state’s recent $70 million commitment to the Wisconsin Historical Society’s proposed $120 million history museum in Madison.

The museum is also looking to expand the reach of its board by recruiting members from across the state.

Kois said MPM has expanded its community reach by increasing free museum access to low-income visitors in recent years and through a new partnership with Kohl’s aimed at bringing museum programming to underserved communities across the state.

MPM expects to announce the site of the facility within 12 months. Kois stressed that MPM will remain in the heart of the city.

“We’re not moving to Ozaukee or Washington or Waukesha County,” he said. “We’ll still be downtown.”

Comments

  1. Ron says:

    The MPM is known for its excellant life size diorama collections. Its a shame their too short sighted to see just how precious they are and should be preserved for future generations . These new tech exhibits become obsolete within a few years due to the constant developing world of tech world making it available in ant home… Its hard to replace ‘The power of the authentic” experience ” of things to see in person what you can’t at home. The museum really needs some group to make sure the the mgnt doesn’t do any irreparable damage or lose precious exhibits forever.

  2. Tom Bosworth says:

    When I was volunteering there (3000+ hours) MPM had no idea what it should be doing fifteen years out. None. No idea what they should be excellent at, what they should be doing adequately, and what they should stop doing at all. The people running the place had no long term vision, and no idea how a long term vision should affect curatorial hiring and retention, collections, or permanent and temporary exhibits.

    Without a hard nosed plan for the future to guide them in hiring and collecting, without a demonstrated willingness to dispose of superfluous collections and use the proceeds to endow acquisition funds for collections they ARE committed to, they don’t deserve a dime of either private or taxpayers’ money. They can’t use collection proceeds for operating funds, but they can use them for improving collections which further their collecting goals.

    Management has long appeared embarrassed by the gun collection, which might bring $10-15 million, ignored the stamp collection, which would probably bring several millions more, the decoy collection, which has been exhibited less than twelve months in fifty years yet has tied up well over half a million dollars in taxpayer assets, on and on and on. The Milwaukee Public Museum needs to show the public that it is not an utter waste of community resources.

    Until they show us what their plans are for areas of excellence, show they understand and will act on the implications of those plans for existing collections, and provide evidence they are serious about following those plans, they should be quietly shown the door.

  3. Kiwi says:

    Kudos re efforts to improve and upgrade current MPM offering BUT does Wisconsin have enough demand for $220M in venues focused on “natural history”?

    Per article
    >>> Wisconsin Historical Society’s is proposing a $120 million history museum in Madison
    >>> MPM intends to build another venue in MKE with the similar focus ie “Wisconsin’s Natural History Museum.”

  4. Jose perez says:

    Its gonna be build where the bradley center currently stands

  5. Matt McCoy says:

    I wonder if they’ll replace the rattlesnake with a digital one? 🙁