Milwaukee Art Museum to continue reopening inside, offer new programming outside this summer

The Milwaukee Art Museum plans to continue its phased reopening inside the facility this summer as it opens its grounds for new outdoor programming.

MAM closed in March 2020 due to COVID-19, reopened to visitors in July 2020 and was forced to close again in November as cases surged. It reopened again in March 2021, offering limited first-floor access to visitors.

Now, museum leaders are preparing to host visitors for its first exhibition since the pandemic hit, “Americans in Spain: Painting and Travel, 1820–1920,” which will be on view June 11 to Oct. 3. And in July, the museum expects to open the remainder of its facility.

It’s also planning to welcome visitors to its outdoor campus with a series of events, called “Lakeside at MAM,” throughout the summer. The idea is to have visitors experience the grounds, with outdoor programming including picnics and Kohl’s Art Studio and food and beverage amenities.

Marcelle Polednik, the Donna and Donald Baumgartner Director of the art museum, said the idea for the outdoor programming emerged from trends MAM has seen throughout the pandemic.

Polednik, speaking as part of a panel discussion hosted Monday by the Greater Milwaukee Committee, said MAM saw a “much wider net of participants” accessing its virtual programming while the museum’s doors were closed.

“That made us recognize that we needed not only what we call high-stakes levels of contact – meaning (visitors who) come in, get a ticket, walk through the galleries – but also we needed to continue low-stakes points of contact with our community,” she said. “That’s how the idea of Lakeside at MAM was born. … You could just enjoy an amenity the museum had to offer and that was a way to start building a relationship.”

The museum is also working to move its store, which is currently closed to visitors, to “a more front and center location” in the Northwestern Mutual Meeting Room in Windhover Hall, Polendik said.

“The store itself is going to look much more like a work of art and feel much more airy and open than it did before,” she said.

Polednik said the museum has phased its reopening based on financial considerations. Today, she said, the museum is a “much leaner organization” than it was in February 2020.

“We’re building back as responsibly as we get the funds,” she said.

“Building endowments, which is something that historically in Milwaukee hasn’t always been a popular topic, is key to how you weather a global pandemic as an institution,” she added. “Every organization that we want to survive, not just for tomorrow but for the next 100 years, needs to have a stronger endowment, and that includes the Milwaukee Art Museum.”

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