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Milwaukee Public Museum surveys public for exhibition design at new museum

The new Milwaukee Public Museum will feature windows that showcase exhibits to passersby.
Ennead Architects
The new Milwaukee Public Museum will feature windows that showcase exhibits to passersby.

In July, the Milwaukee Public Museum unveiled a first look at the future museum’s exterior. Now, museum staff and design teams are entering the next design phase using feedback from a public survey.

The Milwaukee Public Museum is moving to a new location as the condition of its current building worsens. Milwaukee’s future natural history museum features a Cream City-colored exterior that’s inspired by the rock formations at Mill Bluff State Park. Now, as the museum enters its interior design phase, museum staff and designers are collecting feedback from the public.

Rebecca Ehlers is the museum’s vice president of marketing, communications and visitor experiences. Ehlers says the museum won’t assume what the public wants.

"Through years of these conversations, we're starting to drill down deeper and deeper into what this input could look like in terms of exhibits."

"What are people looking for, and what changes do they want to see," Ehlers adds. "What familiar aspects of the museum do they want to bring forward and how do we incorporate all of that? Does it really strike the right balance?"

She says the museum partnered with an exhibition design firm called Thinc Design in choosing 10 questions for the survey. The survey asks people which types of community-driven activities they’d like to experience and what places in Wisconsin do people enjoy sharing with others. Ehlers says the teams creating the new museum have researched other museums around the country.

"We have that knowledge, but we also have a history of being innovative in our design. We actually have a unique style in Milwaukee in our current museum called the Milwaukee Style. We do hope to innovate in this museum, too."

According to UW-Milwaukee’s Encyclopedia of Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Style is a more realistic mode of museum presentation depicting taxidermied animals in their natural habitats. It was created by Carl Akeley, who worked at the Milwaukee Public Museum from 1886 to 1894. He’s known as the “father of modern taxidermy” and created the first known habitat diorama.

Ehlers says people sometimes question the use of technology in new museums.

"This is not going to be a museum of touchscreens; we will use technology and really tasteful ways to enhance the experience. That could be piping in sound, it could be lighting, and so technology can look like a lot of different things," Ehlers says.

The museum has received over 4,400 survey responses from people in more than 400 ZIP codes. The survey ends on Friday, Oct. 14.

You can take the survey by visiting the Milwaukee Public Museum’s website.

Eddie is a WUWM news reporter.
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