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/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.

What will be the size of the new museum and how does that compare to the current museum?

The architects are still determining the square footage of the building. MPM is working closely with the team from Kahler Slater and Ennead to ensure the new Museum is the perfect size to create engaging exhibits and showcase more of the 4 million objects in our collections, while also ensuring we're not wasting utilities.

In the current Museum, the aforementioned utility expenses are exacerbated by the fact that MPM’s 480,000-square-foot building is significantly oversized for our needs. For example, the former Discovery World, which was located within the MPM building, takes up 35,000 square feet of unused space. Looking toward the future, we want to be better stewards of the resources needed to run the building.

In addition, as we rightsize administrative areas and store some of the collections off-site, this will free up more space for exhibits, and allow us to dedicate a larger percentage of overall square footage in the new Museum to exhibits compared to what’s in the current building.

Why is MPM’s re-accreditation in jeopardy, and why is that significant?

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

This is significant because all major museums in the country are accredited, as this accreditation is the indicator of a museum’s credibility and value to funders, policy makers, insurers, community members, and peers.

If AAM doesn’t see progress toward a new museum, it will move MPM to a non-accredited status. Without accreditation, MPM will no longer be able to host popular global traveling exhibits (such as Tyrannosaurs - Meet the Family), apply for federal research grants, and receive loans of collections items from other museums to share with the community. 

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 those which 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.

Who is designing the new museum?

MPM has hired a world-class team of exhibit designers, architects, and general contractors to create and build the new museum.

Thinc Design, a New York-based firm, will be charged with developing the museum’s overall theme as well as the individual exhibit designs. Few design agencies specialize in exhibits, and even fewer have experience designing natural history museums. Both were a must in our search, and Thinc checked those boxes. Thinc has led projects for a wide range of museums, science centers, aquariums, zoos, theme parks, corporations, and governments, including the National September 11 Memorial Museum and the California Academy of Sciences.

Ennead Architects and Kahler Slater will make up the architecture team. Ennead, with offices in New York and Shanghai, brings national and international expertise to its building designs. Ennead’s past work includes the Natural History Museum of Utah and the Shanghai Astronomy Museum. Meanwhile, Milwaukee-based architect firm Kahler Slater has a wealth of knowledge and experience designing buildings here and around the state, including Milwaukee’s BMO Office Tower and UW-Madison’s Kohl Center. Kahler Slater brings a local perspective to the project that is important when considering the immediate neighborhood where the site is located, the unique landscape that makes up this part of the country, and Wisconsin’s influence on the rest of the world.

Mortenson will oversee construction of the new building, using their experience in constructing complex venues such as Fiserv Forum to bring the vision of the community, MPM leadership, and the aforementioned creative teams to life. Mortenson is headquartered in Minneapolis and has offices across the U.S., with one of its largest located in Milwaukee. Mortenson is partnering with ALLCON, a local, Hispanic, woman-owned general-contracting firm on the project. Established in 2009 and headquartered in Butler, Wisconsin, ALLCON specializes in carpentry and electrical disciplines.

More information on the design, architecture, and construction team behind the new museum can be found here.

What kinds of new exhibits will 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.

We are in the early phases of exhibit design. As part of this process, we are engaging our community to help guide the storylines that future exhibits will explore. Email us at future@mpm.edu to share your feedback. We do know that there will be a Planetarium and butterfly garden in the future museum!

Where will the future museum be located?

MPM is excited to be located next to the growing Deer District in Downtown Milwaukee. The future museum will be located  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.

Who owns what in the current Museum?

Milwaukee County owns the building that the Museum is located in as well as the more-than 4 million objects and specimens in MPM’s collections. MPM is a private nonprofit that leases the building from the county to run museum operations, including maintaining the structure, caring for the collections, and overseeing the permanent and special exhibits. The county currently provides about 25% of MPM’s annual operating budget of the Museum for the collections care and building costs.

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

The county will continue to own the Museum’s collections. However, the new building will be owned by the Museum. Under this new structure, the county will still provide some annual funding toward collections care but will no longer be responsible for building costs.

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

What are the next steps in this process?

We are currently in the conceptual design process for the future museum. A first look at the future museum building design will be shared publicly in summer of 2022.

In September 2021, the world-renowned team of exhibit designers, architects, and contractors hired to bring the future museum to life kicked off the design process by touring the state of Wisconsin. Throughout seven days, 1,500 miles, and 28 stops, the team immersed itself in the diversity of cultures and natural wonders of Wisconsin. They returned inspired to design a museum that will attract and educate visitors for generations to come.

Additional details about the future museum timeline are available here.

Will the current museum be open while the new museum project moves forward?

The current museum will remain open throughout much of the time that the new museum is being built. There will likely be a brief period of time once construction wraps up in 2026 when both museums are closed to the public as we finish moving from one building to the other. 

How will a new museum be funded?

The Museum's financing will be a public-private initiative, to include $90 million in public funding and $150 million in private funding.

We have already secured $85 million in public funding. In February 2021, we secured a $40 million commitment from the State of Wisconsin, and in March 2022, $45 million in funding from Milwaukee County. Another $5 million in public funds is expected to come from federal grants.

What is the total cost of the project?

This is the largest cultural project in the city and state. Moving a natural history museum is a significant undertaking! The total project budget is $240 million, which includes the design and construction of the new building and exhibits, 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?
Where can I share my thoughts or ask more questions?

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