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The Jay Weber Show

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Please keep the "Streets of Old Milwaukee" in the new Museum

Jay Weber Show Transcript 1-12-23 7:10am

So- not being from around here- Benjamin Yount doesn’t quite understand what the big deal over ‘old world Milwaukee’ the Milwaukee Public Museum prepares to break ground on a new-smaller- facility.

The news this week is that the streets of old Milwaukee exhibit isn’t moving -in full-to the new digs.

When that word got out- all sorts of long time Milwaukeeans and museum lovers reacted negatively, given how unique and popular that part of the museum has been for 50 years.

The old-Milwaukee exhibit opened in 1965...and was updated in 2013 a bit...but has been a part of the museum that kids and adults particularly love. And so, it was crushing to hear that it wouldn’t be a part of the new museum.

And- i have no idea how much of that exhibit the museum curators were-really? - intending to move over? But my impression is that they were going to pretty much ‘can it’ until the uproar developed.

Now, in reaction to the backlash, they have been backpedaling and saying, oh, no, no some of it will be moved. We’ll still have an interactive exhibit related to historical Milwaukee, etc. clearly won’t be the same.

If you have been ‘reading between the lines’ of this week’s coverage- whatever they are intending at the new museum won’t be even close to the current exhibit.

Okay...we understand that there were costs and changes related to the move that made it difficult. Most of us understand that...and I’ll reserve judgment to see what incarnation, or form, this new museum takes...

But...let me get to -what I believe-is the underlying worry being expressed here: at least it’s mine-

I don’t need the new museum to be the same as the old one. That makes no sense.

But I-do-want the new museum to have the same overall ‘feel’ as the old one-instead of some stark, sanitized, version that resembles every other modern museum in the world.

I have traveled globally, my friends. I have been in some of the most renowned and modern museums in Europe in recent years-and all of them look the same: they are all- stark. Minimalist. With very few actual artifacts or things to see.

Instead- you get panels of text. Floor to ceiling panels you are expected to read...or screens you are expected to watch. And it sucks.

I want to -see-the ancient relics, dammit. I want to to-see a room full of artifacts...whether it’s pottery, guns, coins, taxidermized animals.

Whatever we are looking at- let us look at it directly, and up close, even if it’s thru glass. Don’t give us a room full of white panels to read...and example...of an Incan pot...or a fossilized lizard.

That is what modern museums are: they never put their artifacts out on much as they ‘choose one or two’...and then give you walls and panels full of homework to read.


The reason that the old Milwaukee exhibit is so beloved is that it is a wonder for the children enter. And there is just so much to see...and so many old examples of artifacts and how people used to live-that it sparks the imagination. 

Even the silly little snake rattle that was part of the native American exhibit helped spark the imagination of the kids.

I pray. Pray. That the new museum building will have that feel to it. I haven’t been down there in a few years-but the last time i was there- yes-all the taxidermy was ancient and shot. Every animal looked like a washed-out rug. The Indian diorama with the snake rattle was pathetic.... etc.

Yes. All of that can go.

But- as a kid? Those animals...presented in their diorama habitats- blew my mind. That was my favorite part of the museum.  Please...continue to give both children and adults experiences like that- exhibits like that that will spark young imaginations and interests...don’t give us these sanitized panels and stark, well-lit rooms...with nothing really to see.

And again-I’ll reserve judgment-but just reading between the lines of their backpedaling this week- i fear that this new museum is going to be stark and cold and pathetic.

The comments related to the new version of old Milwaukee...and this very generic term being used...oh. It’ll still be ‘interactive’....

Oh, okay. I sure hope so. 

I hope that’s not code get to push buttons that bring up new screens to read.

And I believe that is the sentiment being expressed by these people upset to learn the streets of old Milwaukee is a goner.

when the museum staff’s reaction to these pleas is.... well...we will still have some interactive elements...

You start to worry. Especially when the wrangling over a new museum has taken decades. First-the discussion was over how to fix the old building and update the old exhibits-then it went to finding a new site-

Now a site has been settled on nearby that is said to have just a fraction of the current museum’s floor space...meaning...either far fewer exhibits or far smaller exhibits...

And I admit-I have become a practitioner of an ‘anti-new’ bias. I am ‘anti-reimagining’ things. I bristle against all new products and changes now-because 95 percent of the time-they suck. They are worse than what we had.

My friends and relatives talk about this all the time, now: why do virtually all new products suck now? Why are they always more terrible versions of what we had?

We have post-traumatic-change-disorder.  

We have been burned so many times in our ‘changing America’ that everything new seems to suck now. Every ‘advancement’ is really a step back.

So....I pray...that the new museum doesn’t suck.

If it’s... Todd Lincoln’s pocket watch-under glass-in an otherwise empty room with writing projected onto the walls.... it’ll suck.

And I fear that’s what it will be.

If it’s one skeleton of a an otherwise empty room...with screens showing pastel projections of the rain forest. It’s going to suck.

And I fear that’s what we’ll be getting.

photo credit: Fox 6 Now/Milwaukee

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