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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

"It's not just about returning home and being by the lake in Milwaukee, but as a museum professional, the opportunity to lead this institution is tremendous." (PHOTO: Whitney Teska)

In Arts & Entertainment

"Increasingly, audiences are looking for more options within an experience...ways in which they can customize the experience to their own needs and tastes." (PHOTO: Whitney Teska)

Milwaukee Talks: Milwaukee Art Museum director Dan Keegan


Dan Keegan became the Milwaukee Art Museum's director in March. Arriving in February from California, where he served as director of the San Jose Museum of Art for seven years, he landed amidst a torrent of winter storms and unfamiliar sub-zero temperatures.

But as a Green Bay native, he knew it'd only be a matter of time before the winter broke and the sun returned to cast a new light on the city he sees as "reinventing itself."

Keegan, 58, has some progressive ideas for the future of the museum; ones that will undoubtedly keep it on the forefront of Milwaukee's cultural attraction. OnMilwaukee.com sat down to talk with him about his plans in this latest edition of Milwaukee Talks.

OnMilwaukee.com: You've been here just over three months now. Is it starting to feel like home yet?

Dan Keegan: Yes, especially now that it's warmed up. I got here Feb. 20, got up and decided to go for a walk and it was 12 degrees. Coming from sunny California, it was quite a change. But I grew up in Wisconsin; I'm from Green Bay, so I knew it could get a little chilly here. I just have to rewire for it.

It's great to be back and leading this fabulous museum that has a wonderful growing national reputation. It's on international radar with the addition of the Calatrava. It's not just about returning home and being by the lake in Milwaukee -- it's a great city, great community -- but as a museum professional, the opportunity to lead this institution is tremendous. It's about the 15th largest art museum in the United States.

OMC: You arrived in Milwaukee at an interesting time. When the Calatrava addition was completed seven years ago, we were on a brink of this cultural renaissance. Today, the city is still in a state of growth, and I'm interested in how you see the Milwaukee Art Museum's role in helping to shape our new identity.

DK: I did a lot of work in California on these issues of great cities and the role that arts and culture plays and the research is pretty clear: Great cities thrive economically when they're destination cities and when they become destination cities, it's easy to point to those key elements that must come together to be successful, and arts and culture are always front and center. The interesting thing about this is that what makes a great community are all the soft factors -- the things that are hard to quantify and define, yet at the end of the day, we know what it is that attracts us to great cities, and what works as far as bringing new businesses and retaining talented workers and again, it's arts and culture front and center.

OMC: But now there's another interesting factor. The economy is a problem, and tourism is waning in all parts of the country. How do you plan to keep the museum on the forefront of Milwaukee's attraction?

DK: I actually think there will be something interesting coming out of the high cost of travel, and that is we will see more local and regional tourism. It's less easy to get out of the area. I think we'll find that families will be researching what they can do in a closer range, and the museum has to be part of that list.

OMC: Is this a family-friendly museum?

DK: It is, and I think it's going to become even friendlier.

OMC: What are your plans for that?

DK: One of the opportunities here is to do more weekend programming for families. We've already had discussions and are working on a new plan to expand programming, activities and interactive experiences for families, and you'll see that come into play very soon.

OMC: Interactive is key.

DK. Yeah, and that speaks to the demands of general audiences. Increasingly, audiences are looking for more options within an experience. They're also looking for ways in which they can customize the experience to their own needs, tastes, likes and dislikes. And I think there's an increasing roll for technology to play. For younger audiences in particular, access to information surrounding the things they're experiencing is important. Technology can play a big roll in that. That's not to say that looking at a handheld device is going to replace looking at great art. But I think what we're seeing is younger audiences expecting to gather information through cell phones as audio guides. Or maybe use an iPod and listen to music while they're looking at art. These are options that can be and will be provided in the months ahead.

My goal is to be able to use cell technology and every visitor who has a cell phone has their audio guide with them. Another goal we're working on it to make sure that every work of art on display has an audio link available through your cell phone. Page 1 of 2 (view all on one page)

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