Van Gogh exhibit’s success could mean more experiential art events at Wisconsin Center

Milwaukee likely is exhibit's highest-grossing market, says venue operator


The success of the “Beyond Van Gogh” exhibit in downtown Milwaukee has seemingly opened the door to a new realm of entertainment offerings at the Wisconsin Center.

Billed as an immersive art experience, Beyond Van Gogh opened to the public on July 9. The Wisconsin Center announced earlier this month it was extending the exhibit through October due to high demand.

As of this morning, the venue had sold nearly 105,800 tickets to the exhibit, said Marty Brooks, chief executive of the Wisconsin Center District. WCD owns and operates the convention center and other downtown event venues.

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Beyond Van Gogh’s success is clear. It has surpassed the venue’s breakeven point. Milwaukee has also become one of the exhibit’s highest-grossing, if not the highest-grossing, market for Beyond Van Gogh, said Brooks.

“It’s really been a tremendous success, not only for us, but also the for promoter,” he said.

The ramifications of this success could go beyond the one event.

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Brooks said the Wisconsin Center has received a number of inquiries from promoters of similar types of experiential art exhibits. The venue has also been making some calls of its own.

“(It’s) a new type of content for us and one we hope to be able to exploit for years to come,” Brooks said.

An advertising campaign is launching in the coming weeks in an attempt to draw in more visitors to Beyond Van Gogh from outside the immediate area, meaning 60 miles away or farther, Brooks said.

Brooks’ comments came during a round of WCD Board of Directors committee meetings this morning. He and other district officials had mostly good news to share.

Steve Marsh, WCD chief financial officer, said net operating through June is $3.8 million ahead of previous budget estimates.

Marsh said this is due to two main reasons. The first is the COVID-19 vaccine clinic and other events held at the convention center so far this year. He said more graduations, dance competitions and volleyball tournaments have taken place at the venue than originally budgeted. The second reason comes from lower-than-expected expenses in things like utility charges and maintenance.

Brooks also listed off the number of events that WCD has booked at its venues since board members last met in June.

The Miller Highlife Theatre added three more events. The UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena will host 12 Milwaukee Admirals games this year. And the Wisconsin Center has added two publicly ticketed consumers shows, 14 new meetings and a religious event.

Next year so far includes the remainder of the Admirals season and two other events at the Panther Arena; three more shows at the theater; and two dance competitions, three special events meetings, two volleyball tournaments and nine other meetings at the Wisconsin Center.

“We are cautious, yet very optimistic that the balance of 2021 will continue to improve,” Brooks said. “And 2022 looks like, all things going as we hope them to, that (it) could put us back at a year, maybe not at 2019 levels, but really on par to be trending upward.”

Meanwhile, work on the $420 million Wisconsin Center expansion continues. Brooks said construction fencing is up and some site work is underway. Project consultants will provide the full board with an update at its next meeting, he said.

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