Two of Milwaukee's top museums – the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Milwaukee Public Museum - both recently underwent renovation.
The Milwaukee Art Museum unveiled the revamp of its older buildings in November, adding more gallery space for its collection, and the Milwaukee Public Museum upgraded the popular Streets of Old Milwaukee last fall.
This got us thinking about Betty Brinn Children's Museum, which opened in 1995. Is it time for Betty Brinn to do a remodel? What does the future hold for this museum?
Then, in March, the Milwaukee Art Museum officials announced the purchase of O'Donnell Park – where Betty Brinn is located - in a deal valued at $28.8 million.
How would this affect Betty Brinn?
We recently posed these questions to Kristen Adams, the chief advancement officer at Betty Brinn, who offers some insight into the popular museum's future.
QHow will the Milwaukee Art Museum's new ownership of O'Donnell Park affect Betty Brinn?
AThe Betty Brinn Children's Museum supports the continued development of the lakefront in ways that will be meaningful for our organization, the families we serve, our peers and the community as a whole. The museum has a long-term lease at O'Donnell Park that will enable us to sustain our success and meet the needs of our growing family audience in the years to come. We look forward to our continued partnership with Milwaukee County and to working with the Milwaukee Art Museum.
QAre there any renovations planned in the near feature to upgrade or reconfigure the facility? Or are there any plans to move the museum to a different space?
AOur strong attendance and membership numbers confirm that area families love having the Betty Brinn Children's Museum at the lakefront, and we continue to operate under a long-term lease at the O'Donnell Park facility. As one of the area's leading resources for early education, the museum is committed to introducing new learning opportunities that support school readiness and a child's lifelong success. We had many successes during the past year, including enhancements to It's Your Move, our popular health-themed exhibit, and the opening of Word Headquarters, a new feature exhibit that highlights literacy as the key to a child's academic and lifelong success. In just a few weeks, we will be introducing new activities in Word Headquarters based on the work of beloved children's author Kevin Henkes. Our plans for 2016 also include the development of Big League Fun (with permission from Major League Baseball), a new baseball-themed exhibit that will open at our museum this fall before beginning a tour to other museums across the country. Big League Fun will be the newest addition to our growing line of exhibits that are available for lease and purchase by museums, science centers, schools and libraries across the nation and around the world. We are also working with another corporation to explore the development of a touring exhibit based on a popular children's television series that would open at our facility in 2017.
QBetty Brinn Children's Museum received a $1.2 million gift last summer. How is that money being used?
A The museum was honored to receive an extraordinary gift of $1.2 million from a local anonymous donor in 2015. Although unrestricted, our goal is to use the funds to ensure that we can sustain our commitment to supporting families in our community that are struggling to raise a young child. Each year, our museum provides free admission, membership, parenting education, field trips, events and transportation assistance programs that benefit more than 80,000 children and adults. For many disadvantaged families, our facility represents a safe haven from dangerous neighborhoods and difficult living conditions and the chance to spend meaningful time together in a safe — and fun! — educational environment. Research confirms that disadvantaged children stand to benefit the most from the quality early learning experiences we offer, making accessibility and support services a museum priority.
QWhat will the museum look like five years from now? 10 years from now?
A The museum has grown tremendously in the past 20 years, setting a record in 2015 for the number of children and adults served both on and off-site, and earning a reputation as one of the best facilities of its kind in the nation and a respected destination for families with young children. Our strong board and staff, along with pragmatic strategic plans, have led to balanced budgets for each of the past 15 years and steady growth in every measurable category. Because our museum does not receive operating assistance from the United Way, UPAF or from city, county or state governments, ensuring that we have adequate financial, human and facility resources to meet the needs of the community will be a priority in the years ahead. Demonstrating the positive influence of the museum experience on children and adults will be key to sustaining our success; toward that end, we have been collaborating with faculty researchers from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and Madison, Marquette University and the Medical College of Wisconsin to evaluate the impact of specific museum experiences on both children and adults. The results of these studies will guide the development of our exhibits, programs and services and represent a body of information that will support peer institutions around the world.
The profound influence of early education on a child's academic and lifelong success is well documented; early education is the best investment that our community can make in a child's potential and will be critical to our community's long-term economic and workforce development. With continued support from generous donors who share our commitment to school-readiness and providing a quality early education experience for every child, we will work to increase our outreach initiatives in the coming years and to broaden our partnerships with the social service agencies, community centers, schools and childcare centers that share our goal of improving the lives of children and families throughout the region.■