Milwaukee Public Museum unveils two exhibitions for future museum
The Milwaukee Public Museum is unveiling some of the exhibits visitors can experience when the new museum opens in 2026. At the future museum, guests will travel through time and explore Wisconsin in two separate exhibitions.
The recently revealed concepts for the Time Travel and Wisconsin Journey galleries showcase dinosaurs, fossils and Wisconsin’s geological features and culture.
Ellen Censky is the museum’s president and CEO. Censky says when the museum opened at its current location in the 1960s, exhibitions were added one-by-one over several years. This time, they’ll take a different approach.
"In contrast, when we open the future museum, it's important for visitors to have a full experience right away," says Censky. "Therefore, we are designing, fabricating and installing an entire museum of exhibits before we open."
To plan the exhibits, the museum partnered with Thinc Design whose work includes the Seattle Aquarium, the Smithsonian Institution and the National 9/11 Memorial Museum. The Time Travel exhibition will explore how the Earth looked during the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic eras.
Helen Divjak is the senior curator at Thinc Design. In the Museum’s reveal video, Divjak explains how they aim to immerse guests by providing a space for them to peer into a different time.
"And not just look at it through a pane of glass, but feel like you are entering that is if you could be watching something on television and walk right through the screen and be in that scene," Divjak says.
One of the main exhibits in the Paleozoic Hall will be the Silurian Reef.
Oronde Wright is the senior exhibition designer at Thinc Design. Wright promises that the new museum’s use of technology doesn’t mean exhibits will be filled with screens.
"It is more of a layering of storytelling and building on some of the techniques that we already use, such as using sound and lighting effects to really make transport people to different times and places," says Wright.
Wright says that through community workshops and public surveys, it’s become abundantly clear that the museum is beloved for its immersive and innovative dioramas.
"People love the meandering pathways, that sense of mystery, that sense of discovery and creating curiosity," he says. "Some discoveries — like what I like to consider the best slash worst kept secret, the snake button — is something that will definitely find its way in the new museum. But we will continue to find ways to add those moments where people can make these discoveries and find these exciting easter eggs that are visitor favorites."
In the Mesozoic Hall, the Torosaur Clash will showcase how the currently displayed dinosaur got its puncture wound by pitting the skeletal specimen against a fleshed out Torosaurus. Wright explains how that diorama will place a T. Rex lurking in the background, waiting for the loser of the fight.
"We will have some effects that lead into that sense of rumbling and conflict. It isn't an experience that you just see, you can feel like you're part of the scene and not just watching it," Wright says.
The museum has revealed another exhibition: Wisconsin Journey. Museum President Censky says they kicked off the design process by taking the design team on a seven-day trip around Wisconsin.
"Along the way, we made stops at 28 locations of natural and cultural significance that allowed us to explore everything from archaeological sites to farms to state parks, museums, tribal lands, and we even went to a supper club," Censky says.
The galleries will explore six of the locations visited during their travels including the Apostle Islands, Northwoods, Driftless Region, Prairielands, Great Lakes and Door Peninsula.
The exhibits will focus on a combination of geological features and the cultural significance of those areas. Three more exhibitions will be unveiled through the end of May.