I've been to the Milwaukee Public Museum at least 10 times in the past 12 months. And these visits have been with a variety of kids, ages 2-10.
It's a must-stop; an historic piece of Milwaukee's Downtown and with an annual membership price of only $35 for individuals and $70 for families, it's an affordable, educational trip, too. Plus, for every adult who remembers childhood museum visits (and, who doesn't?) a return visit as an adult is an instant trip down nostalgia lane.
Perched at 800 W. Wells St., the museum was chartered in 1882 and opened to the public in 1884. This current location opened in 1962. And, in many ways, much of the building still feels like 1962, with exhibits sponsored by department stores that no longer exist, dated lighting and, well, many exhibits the have been there since the '60s.
MPM, of course, has been working itself out of financial challenges and has succeeded with a variety of special exhibits from "Body Works" to the current "Frogs, A Chorus of Colors."
But, the mainstays of the museum are its three floors of public exhibits. There are many life-sized animal dioramas, dinosaurs, walk-through cultural villages, a Costa Rican rain forest, the Puelicher Butterfly Wing, the awesome and always popular Streets of Old Milwaukee exhibit, that cool walk through the ocean and my favorite, the "snake button," a hidden button that shakes the tail of a rattlesnake inside the "Bison Hunt on Horseback" exhibit.
Yet, as much as I love our public museum I think it needs changes. Allow me, please, to present five ideas.
More innovative ticketing and check in options
On a recent Saturday morning visit; I waited 35 minutes to buy a ticket. I attempted to renew my membership to avoid the line, but was told I needed to wait. And, yes, I did consider buying tickets early online. But, there's a 12 percent "convenience fee" for buying tickets online. Via phone, there's an additional $5 charge. Not worth it.
Think Apple Store, MPM. It's easy to check out there with roving tellers. If there's a line, bring the register to me. I realize there's a system to ticketing and check in, but it's not as efficient as it could be. Please, let's make it easy to buy a ticket.
Begin recruitment of a major restaurant
The cafeteria-style food at the museum is fine, but let's make the building a true one-stop destination with a casual, sit-down restaurant. With the right lease, good design and good food a quality chain concept could not only drive attendance but boost revenue and exposure.
Embrace the street
To say that the museum doesn't have curb appeal is an understatement. It's tucked off the street and does little to nothing to welcome visitors. Landscaping, opening up the patio, signage, better lighting and even minor architectural changes could help.
Consider a name change
What's a "public" museum even mean in 2010? Yes it's a public entity but maybe a name change helps propel it into the future. Maybe not? Please discuss amongst yourselves.
Create a kids area/museum
Yes, I realize that Discovery World was once housed here. And, honestly, it's missed. Although, of course, its current home and location are amazing. How about moving Betty Brinn to MPM? Or, merely adding more playful and kid-friendly elements to the museum? Because I've talked to many through the years about the museum and even participated in focus groups, I realize there's a struggle, sometimes, between education and entertainment. But, the two can and should coexist. Kids want to push buttons, be entertained and, of course, be challenged. Too many of the current exhibits don't do these things.
I realize money is needed to do this stuff, or anything. It doesn't grow on trees. But, MPM is a city treasure that needs funding, love, innovation and passionate leadership if it's to continue to grow. I've only briefly met (many years ago) current president, Jay Williams, but hope he and his team are up to making our museum the best it can be. I also hope, in my own little way, that my ideas help and spur action and discussion.
Do you have additional ideas for the public museum? Use the Talkback feature now.
A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.
He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.
Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.
He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.
He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.