MILWAUKEE — “I have to say, throughout the time we've been closed, walking through dark, empty galleries. That's not how museums should feel.”
The others nodded in agreement on the Zoom call, as Bryan Wunar of Milwaukee’s Discovery World Museum summed up the last few months.
In a TMJ4 News exclusive, Wunar (President & CEO) joined Ellen Censky (President & CEO, Milwaukee Public Museum) Marcelle Polednik (Milwaukee Art Museum Director) and Chris Nelson (Director of Customer Experience) of the Harley-Davidson Museum for a joint interview on their plans to welcome guests back for the first time in months.
It’s certainly not the first time they’ve been on a zoom call together.
“As we consider the Milwaukee landscape of cultural organizations,” MAM’s Polednik explained, “We thought it was important that we show strength and unity, and also communicate to our public in a way that was more effective. The more of us there are the more impactful it is for our community.”
And the easier it would be, they thought, for the Milwaukee Health Department to get their doors back open. That will happen this week for the Public Museum, Art Museum, and Harley-Davidson. Discovery World will follow later in March.
The collaboration between the leadership and staff of these institutions will create a consistent experience for visitors when they return. All have some spaces closed off and arrows that limit and direct the flow of traffic. The Streets of Old Milwaukee are now “one way.”
In the case of the Art Museum, Polednik hopes it will not diminish the visitor experience, in fact, she thinks it may enhance it. “Actually having a specific path allows them to see objects anew that they may not have seen for a very long time because typically you go to your favorites and you may skip galleries,” she believes. “This way they actually realize the wealth of offerings that we have for our community and find new favorites, which has been one of the positives about structuring things in the way that we've done.”
As for the favorites, many of them will indeed still be accessible. The Museum Snake on the second floor of Milwaukee Public Museum, including its “secret” button, will be open, with a sanitizing station right next to it.
At Discovery World, where so many exhibits are interactive, there will still be some hands-on activities.
“In some of our other exhibits what we've done is spaced the interaction, so rather than having three in a row in close quarters, the middle one might be out of commission that way we're able to keep people more than 6 feet apart,” Wunar promised.
Some exhibits will now interact with your smartphone, and some will be set to motion detectors. The museum will close for one hour each day to facilitate cleaning.
The Harley-Davidson Museum will debut a new exhibit called, “Off-Road,” which was set to open just days before the late fall shut-down.
All the museum leaders expressed gratitude for their members and donors. Though they have not been open for months, they still have fixed costs to care for their artifacts, buildings, and live aquarium at Discovery World.
“All of our earned revenue streams, they all dried up,” Wunar said. “So whether that's admissions, parking, food service, private events programmatic fees, you name it. All of those went down to zero when we were closed.”
“Certainly operating at 20% capacity is not something we can sustain forever,” Polednik added. “Part of what we're thinking through is how do we safely expand possibilities once it's time, and then also like all of our peers around the country. We've really contracted our budget.”
Across the board, the museum leaders believe not only can they safely reopen, but that they need to.
“I was there last summer,” Censky recalled. “You saw the kids prior to opening the doors, just so excited that they were going to be able to come back in, so it's just why we do what we do.”
For times and ticket information, check out these links:
Milwaukee Public Museum: http://www.mpm.edu/
Milwaukee Art Museum: https://mam.org/
Harley-Davidson Museum: https://www.harley-davidson.com/us/en/museum.html
Discovery World: https://www.discoveryworld.org/