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Share Your Voice: Madison (Warner Park) | Wisconsin Historical Society

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Share Your Voice: Madison (Warner Park)

Area residents discuss plans for a new Wisconsin history museum

Share Your Voice: Madison (Warner Park) | Wisconsin Historical Society

Christian Øverland, the Ruth and Hartley Barker Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society, welcomes guests to the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center on Madison's North Side.

With a fresh blanket of snow covering the ground beyond the windows, Christian Øverland, the Ruth and Hartley Barker Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society, welcomes guests to the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session on April 10, 2019 at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center on Madison's North Side.

 

Story and photos by Dean Witter
Wisconsin Historical Foundation


MADISON — Guests needed only look beyond the wall of windows at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center to get a feel for “What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin” during the Wisconsin Historical Society’s “Share Your Voice” new museum listening session on April 10, 2019.

Just a day after sunshine and temperatures in the 60s had people across Wisconsin looking ahead to summer days, Old Man Winter made a rude return to the Badger State, unleashing temperatures in the 30s, high winds and a fresh blanket of snow.

It doesn’t get more Wisconsin than that.  

So the theme of the Society’s planned new Wisconsin history museum, and the focus of the evening’s discussions — “What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin?” — had the perfect backdrop. 

Much more than the weather was discussed, though, as a group of residents came together for a discussion that will help inform the Society's planning for the new museum, which it hopes to open on the state's Capitol Square in 2024. It was one of more than 40 sessions being held across the state through the first several months of 2019.

Christian Øverland, the Ruth and Hartley Barker Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society, welcomed guests and served as the host for the evening.

“We want to learn from you the stories you want shared in the new museum,” he said. “We want to know how it will impact your life, your neighbors’ lives, the lives of your children and your grandchildren, too. This is your session. I can’t stress this enough. I’m not going to be talking the entire time. I’m going to be listening, too.”

EnlargeA guest examines a map of the state's Capitol Square in Madison, where the new Wisconsin history museum would be located, prior to the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center in Madison.


A guest examines a map of the state's Capitol Square in Madison, where the new Wisconsin history museum would be located, prior to the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center in Madison.

Øverland introduced a video about the new museum project and its storytelling theme before leading three workshop-type activities in which guests shared topics of local importance, reacted to early concept exhibit design renderings and told stories of memorable museum experiences.

During the first activity, attendees used Post-It notes to share things about the Madison area or state in general that make Wisconsin, Wisconsin. Society staff collected the notes and posted them on five theme boards posted across the front of the room.

A woman talked about the importance of tracing and highlighting immigration as people traveled across the world to settle in Wisconsin.

“It’s a window into Wisconsin history and things I’ve never heard of,” she said.

A man who grew up in the Green Bay area talked about the effect of the logging industry on the land and the subsequent desire to preserve the environment, while another guest complimented the effectiveness of Old World Wisconsin — one of the Society’s 12 historic sites and museums — at sharing the vast heritage of numerous ethnic groups that came to Wisconsin. He hoped that similar living history programs could be integrated into the new museum.

Others talked about the ongoing legacy of the Ho-Chunk and other American Indian nations of Wisconsin, as well as the role of state veterans in the Civil War — especially African Americans.

EnlargeA guest examines a map of the state's Capitol Square in Madison, where the new Wisconsin history museum would be located, prior to the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session in Madison.


A guest looks at one of five theme boards on display prior to the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center in Madison.

“They played such a huge part in our history here, especially at Civil War time but throughout our history, too,” a woman said of African Americans. “I’m hoping that (the museum will) make it more apparent to people so we can speak to all races and nationalities.” 

“Thank you for bringing that up,” Øverland said. “Ethnic inclusion is a very important part of this new museum concept. This is the peoples’ museum. … We’re trying to think about all of the diversity we can and how to do it the right way. We’re taking our time to do it the right way.”

On the topic of the Civil War, Øverland noted how the Wisconsin Historical Society was founded in 1846, so the war is intimately connected to the Society’s history. Øverland told guests that during the war, then-Society Director Lyman Draper gave Wisconsin soldiers journals and pencils before they left and asked them to record their experiences for the Society. 

“They brought those journals back and they’re part of our archives today,” Øverland said. “So those memories are all captured and will be part of this new museum experience.”

A man emphasized the importance of the state’s connection to its sports history.

“I grew up about a mile from the Packers’ stadium,” he said. “One thing I would want the museum to do is capture how unique that was. It was the state’s team and the city of Green Bay and state of Wisconsin made that possible.”

EnlargeA woman looks over one of the early concept exhibit renderings prior to the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session at Madison's Warner Park Community Recreation Center.


A woman looks over one of the early concept exhibit renderings prior to the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session at Madison's Warner Park Community Recreation Center.

In the next activity, guests reviewed several concept exhibit design renderings developed by Gallagher & Associates, the internationally renowned firm based in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Most guests indicated that they liked an image depicting the Introduction and Orientation Media Experience, featuring a large projection wall that could be transformed into a digital distance learning or program space that connects to the rest of the state. When one mentioned the desire for tangible objects, Overland reassured the audience that the renderings aren’t final, only represent 1/50thof the museum and that artifacts from the Society’s world-renowned collections will play a central role in exhibit planning.

An image called Industrial Innovation evoked several comments.

“There are a lot of trades that are passing out of our culture,” a man said. “Like watch making. Now we have disposable digital watches. And there were machinists who worked on parts. I’d like it if there was some way to capture that actual skill set. (It would be good) if you could maybe get up close with a master craftsman and capture the fine motor skill involved in that type of trade, because soon (those workers and their history) will be gone.”

A woman mentioned that “if you’ve ever been to the Kohler plant, they have the old 1900s technology right next to the robotics. If there was some way you could integrate that and show (the evolution of technology) next to each other, that would be great.”

The reference to Kohler brought a smile to Øverland’s face and led him to ask the audience, “How many people think this museum should have the best museum bathrooms in the world?” When most hands went up, Øverland added, “Wouldn’t that be cool to work with Kohler on something like that?”

A rendering of a potential art installation shaped like a cow comprised of items from all 72 counties in Wisconsin was a topic of debate, as has been the case at many listening sessions.

A woman said she liked the idea of it including all 72 counties, while a man drew hearty laughs by adding, “You might have a PC (political correctness) problem with where some of these counties would be placed on the cow.”

EnlargeFor one of the activities at the "Share Your Voice" session, guests were asked to offer ideas about "What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin?" Their answers on Post-It notes were placed on five theme boards.


In one of the activities at the "Share Your Voice" session, guests were asked to offer their ideas about "What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin?" They wrote their answers on Post-It notes, which were placed on five theme boards and will be catalogued by Society staff for future museum planning.

A Supper Club Dining Experience rendering was very popular. A woman liked the idea of having a live demonstration kitchen and a man suggested devising a map or graphic about how many fish fries are served across the state. 

“We have people that come from out of state to visit,” another man said, “and we take them to a supper club and they don’t know what’s going on. They don’t have salad bars with everything from herring to pudding. They’re amazed.”

For the third activity, Øverland asked guests to share a memorable museum or cultural experience to help the Society understand what leaves a lasting impression on visitors.

Guests mentioned the Civil War site of Yorktown, the Minnesota Historical Society’s “tornado experience” and the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia, while a woman praised the “Big Top experience” at Circus World in Baraboo, which is another Society site.

Near the end of the session, an extended conversation developed after a woman questioned the location of the new museum on the Capitol Square and the fact that there's a possibility that the Churchill Building, built in 1915, could be razed to make room for the larger footprint of the museum and its associated private development. 

“In a way, you’re erasing history,” the woman said. “I think you should really think about that.”

“That’s a fair question,” Øverland  said, adding that the Society is still very early in the process and that an architect has yet to be hired, so no firm plans have been made. “That’s why we’re here (at “Share Your Voice” sessions). We want to hear about your concerns. You voiced your concern and we’re listening, so thank you for that.”

When the woman asked if the new museum had to be located on the Square, Øverland explained how the idea for a new museum to replace the current Wisconsin Historical Museum — located in the space of a former hardware store on the corner where State Street meets the Square — began more than 20 years ago with Gov. Tommy Thompson and has been supported by governors ever since. 

Øverland said a blue-ribbon commission put together by Gov. Scott Walker for site selection evaluated options and settled on the current location for many reasons, including the fact that the state owns the land on which the current museum sits, which would significantly reduce costs. 

The fact that it is across the street from the Capitol will continue to benefit and inspire the nearly 60,000 students from across the state that tour the Capitol and visit the museum each year on field trips, he said. Being able to see the Capitol through a big window while learning about Wisconsin history and its role in American democracy will be an inspiring part of the museum experience, he said.

The location is also part of a “cultural corridor” including the Overture Center, the Madison Public Library and State Street, Øverland added.

“Everything points to that location,” he said.

Another woman worried that “something old is being disintegrated,” and said she was hoping that parts of the museum would be built underground to reduce its height and preserve views of the Capitol. 

Øverland noted that an envisioned design of the building, with part of it inset, will allow for sightlines to the Capitol from places like Overture Center to remain. He also mentioned that part of the plan is to have a five-level underground parking structure that will benefit museum guests, private development partners in the project, the public library and the church on the same block.

“Part of the issue we have with cultural attractions in Madison is that people want to be able to park and walk safely to them,” he said.

EnlargeA man shares his reservations about plans for the new museum during the "Share Your Voice" session April 10, 2019 at Madison's Warner Park Community Recreation Center.


A man shares his reservations about plans for the new museum during the "Share Your Voice" session April 10, 2019 at Madison's Warner Park Community Recreation Center. "This is a warehouse full of technology," he said.

One man spoke at length, objecting to the entire new museum idea and especially the planned location, insisting that if it had to be built, it should instead replace a nearby state-owned parking lot.

“This is a warehouse full of technology,” he said. “It’s tediously boring. It’s uninspired. ... If this was on a parking lot a block east of the Capitol, it might be an improvement over asphalt.”

In response, another man defended the project by recalling a Madison mayoral race about three decades earlier in which a candidate “ran on the concept of a Museum Mile, starting at the Capitol and going down State Street and having a series of museums.” 

The man referenced the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum and the Madison Children’s Museum and that the goal of the idea was to enhance Madison’s iconic State Street. “The Museum Mile was a good concept then and still is a good concept,” he said, “and this is just another step in that overall concept of a Museum Mile for State Street.”

Øverland repeated that “it’s important that we talk about this. I want you to know that we are listening, but we aren’t at the stage of architecture or construction.”  

“I take your words to heart and I appreciate your comments, and your passion for it,” Øverland added. “Like I said, these are concepts. They’re not fully vetted the way they’re being shown but they’re a way to get the discussion going. It’s a way to inform the design at the next level.” 

 

This word cloud was created from Post-It note suggestions by attendees at the April 10, 2019 "Share Your Voice" session at the Warner Park Community Center in Madison.

 Madison (Warner Park) Word Cloud

This word cloud was created from Post-It note suggestions by attendees at the April 10, 2019 "Share Your Voice" session at the Warner Park Community Center in Madison.

Guests enjoy a laugh during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session April 10, 2019 at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center in Madison.

Guests enjoy a laugh during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session April 10, 2019 at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center in Madison.

 

A guest at the "Share Your Voice" new museum session April 10, 2019 recalls a mayoral race decades ago during which the idea of a Museum Mile was proposed.


A guest at the "Share Your Voice" new museum session April 10, 2019 recalls a Madison mayoral race decades ago during which the idea of a Museum Mile was proposed. "The Museum Mile was a good concept then and still is a good concept,” he said, “and this is just another step in that overall concept of a Museum Mile for State Street."

 

A woman writes down her thoughts about new museum concept exhibit renderings while listening to others make comments during the "Share Your Voice" session April 10, 2019 at Madison's Warner Park Community Recreation Center.


A woman writes down her thoughts about new museum concept exhibit renderings while listening to others make comments during the "Share Your Voice" session April 10, 2019 at Madison's Warner Park Community Recreation Center.

 

A man listens to comments during the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session April 10, 2019 at Madison's Warner Park Community Recreation Center.


A man listens to comments during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum public engagement session April 10, 2019 at Madison's Warner Park Community Recreation Center.

A woman shares her thoughts about plans for a new museum during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" session April 10, 2019 at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center on Madison's North Side.


A woman shares her thoughts about plans for a new museum during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" session April 10, 2019 at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center on Madison's North Side.

 

A man talks about subjects that could be included in a new museum during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" session April 10, 2019 at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center on Madison's North Side.


A man talks about subjects that could be included in a new museum during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" session April 10, 2019 at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center in Madison.

 

A woman listens to a discussion during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session April 10, 2019 at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center in Madison.


A woman listens to a discussion during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session April 10, 2019 at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center in Madison.

A woman shares her thoughts about a new Wisconsin history museum being located on Capitol Square during the "Share Your Voice" session April 10, 2019 at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center in Madison.


A woman shares her thoughts about a new Wisconsin history museum being located on Capitol Square during the "Share Your Voice" session April 10, 2019 at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center in Madison.

 

A man offers ideas about what should be included in a new Wisconsin history museum during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session April 10, 2019 at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center in Madison.


A man offers ideas about what should be included in a new Wisconsin history museum during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session April 10, 2019 at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center in Madison.

A woman looks over early concept exhibit renderings for a new Wisconsin history museum during the "Share Your Voice" listening session at Madison's Warner Park Community Recreation Center.


A woman looks over early concept exhibit renderings for a new Wisconsin history museum during the "Share Your Voice" listening session at Madison's Warner Park Community Recreation Center.

 

A woman writes down her thoughts about new museum concept exhibit renderings during the "Share Your Voice" session April 10, 2019 at Madison's Warner Park Community Recreation Center.


A woman writes down her thoughts about new museum concept exhibit renderings during the "Share Your Voice" session April 10, 2019 at Madison's Warner Park Community Recreation Center.

George Austin, right, Project Manager for the Wisconsin Historical Society's new museum project, chats with guests as they arrive for the April 10, 2019 "Share Your Voice" listening session at Madison's Warner Park Community Recreation Center.


George Austin, right, Project Manager for the Wisconsin Historical Society's new museum project, chats with guests as they arrive for the April 10, 2019 "Share Your Voice" listening session at Madison's Warner Park Community Recreation Center.

Cathi Wiebrecht-Searer, a Wisconsin Historical Foundation board member, looks over a pamphlet about the new Wisconsin history museum project prior to the "Share Your Voice" session April 10, 2019 in Madison.


Cathi Wiebrecht-Searer, a Wisconsin Historical Foundation board member, looks over a pamphlet about the new Wisconsin history museum project prior to the "Share Your Voice" session April 10, 2019 at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center on Madison's North Side.

 

A woman writes down her thoughts about new museum concept exhibit renderings during the "Share Your Voice" session April 10, 2019 at Madison's Warner Park Community Recreation Center.


A woman writes down her thoughts about new museum concept exhibit renderings during the "Share Your Voice" session April 10, 2019 at Madison's Warner Park Community Recreation Center.

Tom Martinelli shares his thoughts with other guests during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session April 10, 2019 at Madison's Warner Park Community Recreation Center.


Tom Martinelli shares his thoughts with other guests during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session April 10, 2019 at Madison's Warner Park Community Recreation Center.

Memories of one-room schoolhouses was one of the many favorite ideas about "What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin?" shared by guests at the April 10, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session in Madison.


Memories of one-room country schools were among the many favorite ideas about "What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin?" offered on Post-It notes by guests at the April 10, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center on Madison's North Side.