“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men`s blood and probably themselves will not be realized.” – Daniel Burnham, architect and city planner.
That famous quote came to mind recently when Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava returned to Milwaukee to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Quadracci Pavilion, which he designed. Best known for its Burke Brise Soleil, the moveable, wing-like sunscreen atop the building that looks like a bird when fully extended, the Quadracci Pavilion transformed the Milwaukee Art Museum into the city’s most iconic building. So impressive was Calatrava’s design that his name became synonymous with the building and many to this day call the building “The Calatrava.”
The project cost $125 million, paid for by private donations, including $10 million from Betty and Harry Quadracci, the founders of Quad/Graphics.
The size, scope and cost of the Milwaukee Art Museum expansion grew as Calatrava’s designs were so impressive they excited and inspired the city’s philanthropic community to give more money to support it.
Another major cultural institution in Milwaukee, the Bradley Symphony Center, is also an example of how big plans can inspire support from donors, resulting in the creation of a community treasure. Needing its own home to avoid scheduling conflicts it encountered at the Marcus Performing Arts Center, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in 2021 completed an $89 million project to transform the former Warner Grand Theatre. Built in 1931 as a movie theater, it was a true “movie palace” of its day, but the beautiful and elaborately designed building was in rough shape prior to the MSO project. Now, it’s been transformed into an opulent, modern symphony hall. The vast majority of the cost was paid for by private donors, inspired by the MSO’s grand vision for the facility.
The Milwaukee Public Museum is the next local cultural institution with a grand vision and ambitious plans for a new facility. The museum’s current home, built in 1962, has significant structural issues, including roof leaks, that threaten its priceless collection of artifacts. A new facility is needed.
This summer, MPM unveiled design plans for a new $240 million facility. So far, $110 million in private, state and county funds are committed. MPM has began a fundraising push to raise the remaining $130 million.
This summer, MPM’s exterior design plans for the new museum have received mixed reviews. It’s a bold design, largely inspired by geological formations in Mill Bluff State Park near Tomah. Some have praised the design, while others have been critical.
Now MPM is seeking public input on the museum plans as it works on designs for the interior and exhibits. It will be a huge challenge to create a modern museum that also appeals to local residents who are nostalgic about the current museum.
Bottom line: Can the MPM plans inspire the philanthropic support that the MAM and MSO did? Time will tell.