The Future Museum FAQ

Why is MPM moving? 

There are several reasons why MPM is pursuing a new facility, but the most important is that the Museum will not be able to sustain operations into the future in the current building.

The building, constructed in the early 1960s, is falling apart and has approximately $100 million deferred capital maintenance. Milwaukee County, despite its best efforts, simply does not have funds available to maintain the building — akin to the situation at the Domes and other County-owned facilities.

Every rainstorm leads to dozens of buckets appearing across MPM to catch leaks. Old pipes have burst in storage areas and, while none of these events have caused irreparable damage, there is a risk to our collections. Some of the most valuable collections are stored in the Museum’s basement, which has environmental and mildew issues and does not meet modern museum standards. Many parts of the building, including the 1960s escalators and elevators — which are not adequately sized to handle current visitor demand for modern-day strollers and personal mobility devices — break down and are costly and difficult to repair.

The structure itself was originally constructed without insulation or moisture barriers, resulting in decades of humidity and temperature control issues that jeopardize the collections and result in significant utilities expenses. These expenses are exacerbated by the fact that MPM’s 480,000 square foot building is significantly oversized for our needs. 

With such dire facilities issues, MPM’s re-accreditation has been tabled by the American Alliance of Museums. The organization has shared that without a new building MPM could be the largest museum in the U.S. to lose accreditation.

What will the future Museum be like? 

As Wisconsin’s natural history museum, the future museum will build upon the strength of the collections in MPM’s care — the more-than 4 million objects and specimens that tell the story of our natural and cultural worlds, including through items that come from each of Wisconsin’s 72 counties.

The exhibits in the future Museum will explore the interconnectedness of nature and culture, telling stories of how humans have been shaped by the natural world, and how our cultures have, in turn, shaped the world around us. 

Five foundational themes will form the basis for all visitor experiences at the exhibits in the future Museum. Those include:

pie chart with themes

What kinds of new exhibits would there be?

MPM has been cutting edge at many times in our history. As we envision a new Museum, we will continue to be cutting edge in our design of exhibits, but we will always be immersive and objects-based. Technology will be an important tool to ensure the exhibits are updated, relevant, and accessible, enhancing the experience MPM visitors expect.

We will honor the legacy of the current Museum and some aspects of the exhibits will be familiar, but we have the opportunity to reimagine the museum experience and design a natural history museum to serve future generations of learners, just as our predecessors did when building this Museum for us.

While we have not yet begun exhibit design and are excited to engage our community to help guide the storylines that future exhibits will explore, we do know that there will be a Planetarium and a Vivarium in the future Museum.

Where will the future MPM be located?

MPM is excited to join the growing Deer District in Downtown Milwaukee. The future Museum will be colocated with the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum in a new building to be constructed at the northeast corner of Sixth and McKinley Streets in downtown Milwaukee. 

MPM has been in the same neighborhood for the entirety of its nearly 140-year history. Building on that legacy, the 2.4-acre site on Sixth and McKinley meets all of the Museum’s physical requirements, is adjacent to other entertainment, dining, and retail assets in the Deer District, and will provide abundant access to visitors from near and far via freeway and bus routes.

What does it mean for MPM and Betty Brinn Children’s Museum to colocate?

The Milwaukee Public Museum and the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum have forged an alliance that would enable the two museums to colocate under one roof, while maintaining their individual identities, brands, and distinction as two separate entities and experiences for their visitors. 

The two organizations share a goal of inspiring minds – with visitors of a range of ages. Colocating the two museums will provide a rich, diversified museum experience under one roof that appeals to visitors of all ages.

If MPM builds a new building, will the County still own the collections?

Milwaukee County owns the more than 4 million objects and specimens in MPM’s collections. The collections will continue to be cared for by the private non-profit organization that runs the Museum, in partnership with the County. We don’t anticipate any change in this structure.

How is the community involved in planning for a new Museum?

Several years ago, we began engaging the community in conversations about what people want in MPM now and into the future. More recently, in our visioning process for the future Museum, we have conducted workshops, surveys, interviews, and town-hall meetings to connect with members across the community. We will continue to engage with neighbors, partners, and Wisconsinites as we move forward with the new Museum process. 

What are the next steps in this process?

We are currently in the planning process for the future Museum and made significant process in 2020. We rolled out our vision, we secured funds to support planning for the new Museum, and we selected a site. 

In January 2021, we announced the exhibit designer, architecture firms, and contractors, a team that brings world-class talent together to realize this exciting vision for the future. We are currently working on securing funding for the project and will look to host additional community input sessions and focus groups this year, with the goal of beginning conceptual design for exhibits and building architecture in 2021.

Additional details about the future Museum timeline are available here.

How will a new Museum be funded?

The Museum's financing will be a public-private initiative. 

What is the total cost of the project?

This is one of the largest cultural projects in the city and state in decades. Moving a natural history museum is a significant undertaking! The total project budget is $240 million, which includes the new building and exhibits, Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, packaging and moving the 4 million objects and specimens in the collections, and endowment funds for the future operations of the Museum.

How can I support the new Museum project?
  • Let your elected representatives (especially State and County) know you support the future Museum.
  • Come visit!
  • Make a donation.
Where can I share my thoughts or ask more questions? 

Email us at future@mpm.edu to share your feedback and get involved.