Milwaukee Public Museum to share future museum gallery and exhibit designs this spring

The Milwaukee Public Museum and exhibit design partner Thinc Design will unveil designs for the future museum’s exhibit galleries between March 7 and May 23, according to a Wednesday announcement.

The future museum’s five permanent galleries will be called “Time Travel,” “Wisconsin Journey,” “Milwaukee Revealed,” “Living in a Dynamic World” and “Rainforest.”

“In the coming months we will give our community a first look at the stories of nature, culture, science and history the future museum will tell,” said Ellen Censky, president and chief executive officer of Milwaukee Public Museum. “The iconic specimens and elements visitors love (from MPM) are being brought forward and reimagined in new, exciting scenes alongside collection objects that have not been on display previously.”

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The rollout of gallery themes and exhibit examples will take place over the course of 11 weeks and spotlight areas of focus for the future museum galleries, or groups of connected exhibits.

Gallery and exhibit overview

Across four exhibit floors, the future museum will feature five permanent galleries and a temporary gallery space to host a rotation of special or traveling exhibitions. Below is the gallery announcement schedule:

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March 7: Time Travel

The “Time Travel” gallery is dedicated to exploring the deep past, including when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, through exhibits focused on three of the planet’s geological chapters: the Paleozoic Era, Mesozoic Era and Cenozoic Era.

March 23: Wisconsin Journey

The “Wisconsin Journey” gallery is an entire exhibit floor focused on the geological wonders and strong and varied cultures of Wisconsin – from the Driftless Area to the Northwoods, the Apostle Islands, the Great Lakes and Wisconsin’s vast prairielands.

April 14: Milwaukee Revealed

“Milwaukee Revealed” will immerse visitors in city streetscapes they can explore to learn about the history of Milwaukee, the people who came to settle and live here and its interconnected systems, neighborhoods and ecologies (and where children can shop for a sweet treat).

May 9: Living in a Dynamic World and Mixing Zones

In the “Living in a Dynamic World” gallery, visitors will take an unconventional journey to five distinct ecosystems across the globe and be immersed in the landscapes and cultures that occupy them. The Mixing Zones, including the Burke Foundation Mixing Zone, are two spaces that will showcase a rotating selection of collection items, offer spaces for public interaction and programming and turn the museum “inside out” by providing behind-the-scenes views into the collections’ storage areas.

May 23: Rainforest, Daniel M. Soref Planetarium, Puelicher Butterfly Vivarium and the Bucyrus Rooftop Terrace

The “Rainforest” gallery will take visitors to the tropics to learn about the biodiversity that flourishes in tropical rainforests and the life rainforest climates support.

In addition to these five permanent galleries, the future museum will also include the Daniel M. Soref Planetarium and the Puelicher Butterfly Vivarium, where visitors can expect to find live butterflies and moths flying freely throughout the lush greenhouse space.

Finally, the Bucyrus Rooftop Terrace will be a gathering space to reconnect visitors to the outdoors and natural world.

“Each gallery, and the many exhibits that comprise them, will tell a story about the interconnectedness of nature and culture,” said Oronde Wright, senior exhibition designer at Thinc Design and a lead designer on the future museum project. “In keeping with the singular, beloved energy of MPM, the future museum will also continue to champion immersive, interactive experiences that transport visitors to new places across the world and through time, spark curiosity and make the museum such a special place to visit again and again.”

Similar to the current museum, visitors will be able to choose how they experience the future museum’s galleries. Whether heading up to the top floors and working their way down, starting at the ground level or beginning at their favorite gallery or exhibit, guests can choose how they navigate the galleries to create a unique experience.

Additional specific details about the full array of exhibits and collection items that will make up each gallery are still being determined and are subject to change as the design process progresses. Information about visitor amenities, including the lobby space, museum store, café and programming, will also be shared in the future.

More than 200 philanthropists, foundations have already donated

More than 200 donors have pledged gifts as part of the Wisconsin Wonders fundraising campaign to build the new museum. The fundraising campaign has now raised more than $128 million, including $45 million from Milwaukee County and $40 million from the state, toward the $240 million goal.

“The enthusiasm we have felt already from the community and from donors has been inspiring, and we are immensely grateful,” said Jay Williams, former MPM president and fundraising campaign co-chair alongside his wife, Madonna. “Our hope and belief is that the momentum started by these bold, early funding partners cascades into further support from partners all around Wisconsin who will now see, more tangibly, how the future museum will create a multi-generational impact as a world-class educational institution.”

Support for the future museum has included 20 major gifts of $1 million or more, including lead gifts from the following:

  • Melitta S. & John M. Pick Charitable Trust: $2.7 million
  • Richard & Ethel Herzfeld Foundation: $2.5 million
  • Julia & David V. Uihlein: $2.5 million
  • We Energies Foundation: $2.5 million
  • Burke Foundation: $2 million
  • Northwestern Mutual Foundation: $1.5 million
  • Kim & John Schlifske: $1 million

Located in downtown Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Public Museum was chartered in 1882, opened to the public in 1884, and currently houses more than 4 million objects in the collections.

In early August, MPM unveiled renderings for its planned new museum building and campus, which will sit on a 2.4-acre site northeast of 6th Street and McKinley Avenue in the Haymarket neighborhood near downtown Milwaukee. Designed by New York City-based Ennead Architects and Milwaukee architecture firm Kahler Slater, the 200,000-square-foot building is designed to be reminiscent of the ancient geological formations in Mill Bluff State Park near Tomah and will appear on the outside as if it is actually three separate wind-swept structures or “lobes.”

Groundbreaking is slated for late 2023, with Mortenson and ALLCON overseeing construction, and the new five-story museum is expected to open in 2026. MPM’s current home will remain open until the new space is finished.

The Milwaukee Public Museum has unveiled renderings for its planned, $240 million new museum building and campus slated to be constructed on a 2.4-acre site at corner of 6th Street and McKinley Avenue in the Haymarket neighborhood near downtown Milwaukee. (Ennead Architects/Kahler Slater)

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