By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Museums are keepers of the past. They house the history of yesteryear and in doing provide guidance for tomorrow. But what happens when a museum becomes a piece of history itself?
The Milwaukee Public Museum, 800 W. Wells St., is in desperate need of repairs. According to WTMJ, the museum has roughly $100 million in “deferred capital maintenance,” with the majority of its issues being due to water damage.
Earlier this month, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors voted to approve the $45 million in funding for the construction of the Wisconsin Museum of Nature and Culture – the museum’s new building. Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley signed the legislation during a press conference on Monday, March 21.
“When you look at this museum, this is a very important piece to this community as it serves some of the most diverse clientele of any cultural institution in our county as well as across the State of Wisconsin,” Crowley said. “I believe that this museum is not only crucial as an education resource to everyone in this community and all our residents, but it is a significant piece to our county’s identity.”
The building has not aged well, he noted, and the cost to maintain it is rising. The legislation approving the funding will save the county money in the long run, Crowley said, while preserving the museum’s value.
The new building will provide the museum with the space it needs to thrive and is part of its plan to relocate in conjunction with its partnership with the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum.
In 2020, the Milwaukee Public Museum announced its partnership with the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum. This pairing would allow the museums to relocate to a new location – one near the Deer District. The new museum is expected to open in 2026.
Ellen Censky, PhD, is the president and CEO of the Milwaukee Public Museum. During Monday’s press conference, she explained that for nearly 60 years, the museum and Milwaukee County have worked together to preserve the museum’s collection.
The approved funding ensure that the collection will be preserved for the long term and that the museum will remain accredited, Censky said.
“The signing of legislation today that provides MPM with $45 million to support the construction of the new building is a major milestone for the museum and for the county,” Censky said.
Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson also spoke during the press conference.
“The Milwaukee Public Museum is an essential part of our county,” she said. “The museum provides a space where students learn about natural history on field trips, where researchers come to further their students and where parents and children build lifelong memories with their families.”
Nicholson noted that as a child growing up in the 53206 ZIP code, the museum expanded her horizons and opened her eyes. She explained that she sat on the accreditation panel for the museum and was saddened to hear that the museum was at risk of losing said accreditation.
Without accreditation the museum would lose out on federal funding, traveling exhibitions and more. This would be a loss for Milwaukee residents.
Jason Haas is a Milwaukee County supervisor and the of the county’s Finance Committee. Haas played a key role in ensuring funding for the museum.
“This institution is being renewed, reimagined and re-envisioned for future generations of Milwaukee and of Wisconsin,” he said. “We are ensuring the next generation and the next generation after that and probably the one after that: They will have a museum [that] they will know and love as well.”