By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Sep 15, 2020 at 3:01 PM

When news emerged Friday that the Milwaukee Public Museum plans to build its new home on the northeast corner of 6th Street and McKinley Boulevard across from Deer District Downtown, readers had some questions.

We took some of those questions gathered from social media – plus a few of our own – to MPM’s CEO Dr. Ellen Censky.

If there's an answer at the moment, Censky has it.

OnMilwaukee: What makes this the perfect site for the new museum?

Dr. Ellen Censky: We’ve been in the same neighborhood for 140 years, and we’re really excited the new site will follow that tradition. The area has historically been a bridge between different Wisconsin neighborhoods and communities, a place where everyone feels welcome, so we’re happy to continue to be part of it and hopefully continue to bolster development there.

It’s a place that’s easy to get to because it’s both off the highway and part of public transportation routes. For a museum standpoint, it also meets the criteria of keeping our specimens and artifacts safe from decades to come in because it’s not, for example, in a flood zone or near a railroad with lots of vibration that could cause objects to become unstable.

Had you considered being across the street in the former Park East freeway lots?

That wasn’t a consideration.

Last year, it was reported that there were four "finalist" sites; are you able to say what the others were?

Other than what’s already been public – the County’s task force for co-habitation with the Domes and the UWM graduate student projects for the Marcus Center – I can’t.

Has an architect been chosen, preliminary designs made? Can you talk a bit about where MPM is in that process?

Building a museum is unlike other facility projects. It's important for people to know that designing and building a museum is a complicated and sequenced endeavor that will take several years to complete. We have spent the last 18 months engaging with thousands of people throughout the community – educators, high school students, MPM docents, members and donors, business, academic and cultural leaders – to define a vision for the museum and determining the visitor experience this community wants.

This year, we've developed themes and storylines for the exhibits – the important conceptual work that is required before architecture or exhibit design begins. As we work to secure the site, we are also going to be seeking an architect to design the future building. That team will work closely with the exhibit design team to ensure a seamless design approach.

The announcement last week said that fundraising to purchase the sites is underway. Can you speak a bit about the financing?

Earlier this year, we signed purchase agreements for the three parcels, and then began working to secure funding for the purchase. We are not in a position to disclose the details of those agreements, but we are exploring several funding strategies to be able to close on the sale.

Has the future of the current building and site been discussed in terms of post-museum life?

We haven’t been in conversations on that, but the County owns the building, so that would ultimately be up to them.

Everybody is asking about their favorite exhibits and I know that years ago Dennis Kois told me the classics (Streets of Old Milwaukee, snake button, etc.) would be transitioned to a new building.  Can you speak also to how the new museum may look different because of trends in the museum world since the current museum was built almost 60 years ago?

We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here. Not many cities get to build a new natural history museum! Since our beginning in 1882, MPM has always been about innovation and pushing the envelope on what a museum can be – we were the first museum, for example, to create dioramas. In fact, the walk-through diorama-style exhibits we have been known as the "Milwaukee Style" of exhibit design around the world.

Today, we have a chance to establish a model for what world-class natural history museums might become in the future.

We will continue to be about immersive environments and are looking at ways to incorporate more multi-sensory experiences. We want to create some ever-changing exhibit experiences so we can focus on contemporary stories about culture and current events. And we are looking at ways to enable visitors to share their OWN stories so they can contribute to the interpretive experience.

And, I also want people to know that many of us planning the future museum, grew up here at MPM, just like you. We love this museum – with its spaces for reflection, its "easter eggs" throughout the exhibits, and its unique way of making you feel like you're in another world or another time. That will be part of your future experience, too. We want you to recognize what you know and love about MPM!

Will there be a planetarium and IMAX theater or something along those lines with, perhaps, different technology? 

Exactly what it looks like and what technology it will incorporate has yet to be established, but the plans do include a planetarium/theater space that will continue our mission to educate about nature and culture.

What's the timeline looking like in terms of final design, groundbreaking, doors opening?

Well, in a perfect world, we’d break ground in late 2022/early 2023 and the museum would open in 2025 or 2026, but there are still a lot of variables to consider.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

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 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.