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What Do Museums Need to Succeed?

Evan Howard
A 42-foot cast of a Plesiosaurus named Heidi hangs in the atrium of the Milwaukee Public Museum.

If you visited the Milwaukee Public Museum over winter break, you may have gone through the newly updated Streets of Old Milwaukee. Many museums, both local and national, have been updating their buildings and their collections and how they present them  to better connect with audiences - and prospective donors - in the 21st Century.

But how does a museum change to become up-to-date while not ruining the wonder and connection it has established in a community?

"So many museums struggle to get that sense of wonder and belovedness from a community, and MPM has that," explains MPM President and CEO Dennis Kois. "That's the toughest thing to get and now it has to become relevant. And that's a challenge, but it's not an insurmountable challenge."

Chipstone Foundation Executive Director Jon Prown says that both leaders and donors involved in keeping cultural institutions thriving need to be critical of their own operations and not be risk averse.

"All of us institutionally are engaged in an act of re-thinking and for those of us imbedded in the institutions, it's most important for us to be self-critical," he says.

Kois says he and his team are constantly working on new ideas and ways to integrate them into a newer and better museum, while still keeping the image that has charmed Milwaukee throughout its history. "It's a really fine line to walk, but we have to go there. Otherwise we will literally going to just die in place, he says.

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