On Tuesday, Milwaukee Public Museum hosted the first of five unveilings of exhibitions planned for the Future Museum, slated to open in 2026, and the information and sketches on the "Time Travel" gallery should help settle the nerves of some who fear change at the museum.
The rough plans for the gallery that focuses on prehistoric eras like the Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic show expanded versions of existing exhibitions, with lots of familiar objects augmented by more from the vast collections held in storage.
Oronde Wright, who is senior exhibition designer at Thinc Design, which is working with MPM to create the exhibits, stressed that the galleries will not be all "screens and white space" at the expense of objects, both familiar and new.
“I want to promise you that we will not have a museum that is filled to the brim with screens,” he said. “We’re taking the objects we have and finding tasteful ways of layering technology into the experience.
It bears noting that some of this technology – lighting, audio, etc. – is already part of the current museum exhibits.
“We understand that the exhibition style in the current museum is beloved for being immersive, object based and filled with dioramas that were innovative for their time," Wright acknowledged.
"We also recognize that people love the meandering pathways, that sense of mystery, that sense of discovery. Those are the design qualities we want to make sure we carry forward in the new museum."
And, Wright added – as an example of a beloved Easter egg that will make the journey – “The snake button is something that will definitely find its way to the (new) museum.”
While the specific details are still being worked out – in fact, Wright noted, Thinc Design team members are in the museum today with tape measures, “so we are able to pack the new museum with as much stuff as possible from here” – these unveilings, which continue into the second half of May, offer broad-stroke looks at the permanent galleries in the Future Museum.
Part of the announcement came in the form of sketches of the Silurian reef and dinosaur areas:
“The 'Time Travel' gallery will trace the distinct origins and adaptations of life on our ever-changing planet and prompt visitors to wonder what life on Earth looked like millions of years ago,” said MPM President & CEO Dr. Ellen Censky, who added that dinosaurs were atop the wish lists of many guests who were surveyed, especially young ones.
“Full of familiar, reimagined features as well as exhibits with new-to-visitors collections items or concepts, 'Time Travel' will focus on three of our planet’s geological chapters: the Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras.”
The sketches show a Silurian reef that closely resembles the current exhibit, but will be expanded to include more of the over 122,000 fossils from that era in the museum collection.
That includes the colossal Cambrian Trackway, which shows tracks from some of the first animals to leave the water to live on land half a billion years ago.
“It is such a spectacular fossil,” said Censky of the 2,600-pound object currently in storage, “that it should be on display.”
The exhibit will also attempt to envelop guests more deeply into the setting, using audio and other features.
The dinosaur areas will be populated with skeletons and objects that have long been on display in the current museum, albeit in new settings that help explain scientific advancements made in the intervening years that add further knowledge to these familiar items.
A Torosaur Clash rendering shows that large-scale dioramas will be included in the Future Museum.
“The Torosaur Clash is a dramatic scene and a prime example of how scientific research and discovery by MPM experts informs what we know about science and history,” said Wright.
“The exhibit is inspired by a puncture wound on the Torosaur skeleton that, through scientific research, was determined to be caused by another Torosaur. Because of that wound, we can better understand the behavior of the species of the Cretaceous period – like how they fought over resources or mates – and what they left behind.”
The beloved T. Rex at MPM will also be included in this diorama.
The new Curtis L. and Jean E. Carter Cenozoic Hall will include the Hebior Mammoth Hunt diorama, offering a new perspective on a favorite museum scene.
“Exhibits are about more than the display of objects – they are about sharing the knowledge of how we know what we know,” said Thinc's Helen Divjak, a lead designer on the Future Museum project.
“How do we interpret what we know? By looking really closely at that artifact and looking at the clues and the evidence."
Further details on the exhibition will come in the future, and in the shorter term, there will be four more unveilings coming soon, including “Wisconsin Journey” on March 23, “Milwaukee Revealed” on April 14, “Living in a Dynamic World” and the changing Mixing Zones galleries on May 9, and “Rainforest,” Puelicher Butterfly Vivarium and the Bucyrus Rooftop Terrace on May 23.
Find more on the Future Museum at mpm.org/future.
And, just breathe, Milwaukee.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.