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Share Your Voice: Racine

Residents discuss ideas for a new Wisconsin history museum

Share Your Voice: Racine | Wisconsin Historical Society
Guests enjoy a laugh during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 23, 2019 at the Racine Public Library.

Guests enjoy a laugh during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 23, 2019 at the Racine Public Library. The library and the Racine Heritage Museum were local hosts of the event.

 

Story and photos by Hannah Hankins
Wisconsin Historical Foundation

RACINE — The picturesque view of Lake Michigan on a beautiful sunny day was a great background setting for the Wisconsin Historical Society’s “Share Your Voice” new museum community listening session May 23, 2019, at the Racine Public Library. 

Local residents offered many favorite thoughts about their community, which they proudly noted is known for its industrial innovation, miles of pristine shoreline, and the Racine kringle.

The suggestions brought smiles to faces across the room during the first of several discussions at the session, which was one of more than 40 the Society is holding across the state to offer residents a chance to share ideas and provide feedback on preliminary concept exhibit design renderings for a new $120 million Wisconsin history museum that it plans to build on the state’s Capitol Square. The new museum is slated to open by 2024 or 2025 and will replace the current aging and undersized Wisconsin Historical Museum in Madison.

EnlargeRacine Heritage Museum Director Christopher Paulson welcomes guests to the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session by talking about how Racine and the surrounding area share a rich history.

Racine Heritage Museum Director Christopher Paulson welcomes guests to the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session by sharing stories and talking about how Racine and the surrounding area share a rich history.

Racine Heritage Museum Director Christopher Paulson welcomed guests to the event. Paulson shared that Racine and the surrounding area share a rich history on subjects such as the Underground Railroad. He remarked that the new Wisconsin history museum would be a great way for communities in Wisconsin to collaborate on their shared history and bring more stories to life.

Paulson then handed the mic over to Christian Øverland, the Ruth and Hartley Barker Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society, who shared details about the new museum project and expressed the importance of gathering attendees’ feedback about what the new museum should be like. 

“We are building this for the people, with the people,” Øverland said. 

He then played a video that introduced the main storytelling theme of the new museum — “What makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin?” — as well as individual themes that would be featured in the new museum.

After the video, activities kicked off with Øverland asking members of the group what they wanted the rest of the state and world to know about the history of their community. 

Guests had many ideas. They mentioned Racine’s reputation as a center of industrial innovation, with companies like Insinkerator and Case New Holland and products like Horlick’s Malted Milk. One guest mentioned that “they used to make tanks for [World War II] right here in Racine, and they had a test track.”

The group also commented on the diverse groups of people who made Racine home. This included Danish populations who brought their kringle recipes, as well as a group of small business owners from the black community. 

“There was a very strong African American small business community when I was growing up,” one guest recalled. “A lot of my friends growing up, our parents, our grandparents owned businesses. … It was normal and it was a sustainable community because it was all interconnected.”

In the next activity, guests offered their feedback to some renderings of preliminary exhibit designs for the new museum. As Øverland displayed each rendering, he polled the room to see the group’s general response. Guests also shared more specific feedback about each design. 

An “Introduction and Orientation Area” rendering showed a large atrium, its walls covered in screens displaying digital historic images. Øverland explained that this room would be located near the entrance of the museum and would serve as a hub, with paths leading into the different exhibit areas of the museum. 

He added that the media featured on the walls could be curated differently depending on current events or groups of visitors that day. Another rendering of this space showed how it could be converted into a programming space with rows of seats, and the screens could be used to connect with students and other groups in cities across the state for a digital distance learning experience.

“It’s too much,” one guest said. “I mean, I like the idea of a particular topic in different angles. But I think it is just a little too overwhelming.”

Another guest commented that the designers should take into account the sound quality, making sure that the sounds in this space would be easy to hear for all audiences.

A second rendering showed an interactive experience in which guests would be able to participate in simulated wild ricing while the process is narrated in Ojibwe. 

One guest shared that she really liked this immersive experience because it showed what indigenous cultures were doing “then and now” instead of making it seem like these groups of people only existed in the past. “You’re bringing the past to the present,” she said, “and showing that indigenous cultures are very vibrant and part of what we’re doing today.”

Another attendee suggested an additional experience: “I want a walk-in cranberry bog, I want to see what that’s like. Can I put on waders and actually walk in?”

“Students would love that,” chimed in another guest.

“So would I!” said another, chuckling.

Another rendering illustrated a supper club setting, where guests would be able to sit at tables and use interactive screens to look at historic menus from all over the state.

The audience seemed to agree that there should be food to sample in this space. A guest suggested that Old Fashioneds be served in this exhibit “because they are big in supper clubs in Wisconsin, they’re unique to Wisconsin, and if you ever go to any other state, nobody knows how to make one or what an Old Fashioned is. … That’s the supper club quality.” 

Whether it was Old Fashioneds or different flavors of custard, many guests had ideas for what unique Wisconsin foods could make this experience better. 

One guest also noted that the supper club exhibit should in fact be a restaurant.

“I would like to challenge you to actually make that the dining experience,” she said. “Because when you have young children and you take them to museums, so much of your time is spent in the cafeteria, and after that the kids are tired or they fall asleep and you have to go home and so much of your day is missing the whole museum experience and you went through a lot to get the kids out of the house and there.” 

She explained that if the family can eat and experience Wisconsin history at the same time, then that would really enhance the experience for all parties.

Overall, it was an evening filled with lively conversation and great ideas. Øverland thanked guests for their suggestions and closed by saying, “We’re looking forward to working together with local Racine affiliates as we plan the stories we are going to share in the museum.”

Andrea Bell-Myers, a longtime elementary school teacher in Kenosha, shares her thoughts during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 23, 2019 at the Racine Public Library.

Andrea Bell-Myers, a longtime elementary school teacher in Kenosha, shares her thoughts about concept exhibit design renderings during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 23, 2019 at the Racine Public Library.

Women laugh as another guest shares a story during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 23, 2019 at the Racine Public Library.

Guests enjoy a laugh during a discussion about potential new museum exhibits at the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 23, 2019 inside the Racine Public Library.

Holli Rosenberg pats another guest on the shoulder during a discussion at the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 23, 2019 at the Racine Public Library.

Holli Rosenberg playfully pats another guest on the shoulder during a discussion at the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 23, 2019 at the Racine Public Library. 

Holli Rosenberg raises her hand to share a comment at the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 23, 2019 at the Racine Public Library.

Holli Rosenberg raises her hand to share a comment at the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 23, 2019 at the Racine Public Library.

 

Share Your Voice statewide map

"SHARE YOUR VOICE" STATEWIDE SESSION LOCATIONS