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Share Your Voice: Eau Claire

Residents discuss plans for a new Wisconsin history museum

Share Your Voice: Eau Claire | Wisconsin Historical Society
A woman shares her thoughts about plans for a new state history museum during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" session June 5, 2019 at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library in Eau Claire.

Susan McLeod shares her thoughts about plans for a new state history museum during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" session June 5, 2019 at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library in Eau Claire. The session was one of more than 40 the Society is holding across the state to share early plans and seek ideas and feedback from residents as it prepares to build a $120 million state-of-the-art museum to replace and expand upon the current Wisconsin Historical Museum on the Capitol Square in Madison.

Story and photos by Julia Pafford
Wisconsin Historical Foundation

EAU CLAIRE — As guests walked into the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library for the Wisconsin Historical Society’s “Share Your Voice” new museum listening session on June 5, 2019, many were surprised to find several historic treasures on display — including a shawl worn by President Abraham Lincoln en route from Springfield, Ill., to Washington, D.C. for his second Inauguration.

These artifacts were just a few examples of the objects sitting in storage right now, tucked away from the public eye. They demonstrate the need for a new Wisconsin history museum, a place to showcase the many impressive historic treasures that we have right here in Wisconsin.

The event in Eau Claire was one of more than 40 sessions that the Society is holding across Wisconsin. The “Share Your Voice” tour is meant to share early concept exhibit design plans and seek public feedback on a new Wisconsin history museum. The new museum is slated to open in 2024 and will replace the current aging, undersized and technologically deficient Wisconsin Historical Museum, which has been locate since the 1980s in the space of a former hardware store on Wisconsin’s Capitol Square in Madison.

EnlargeCarrie Ronnander, Executive Director and Curator of the Chippewa Valley Museum, welcomes guests to the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum session June 5, 2019 at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Library in Eau Claire.

Carrie Ronnander, Executive Director and Curator of the Chippewa Valley Museum, welcomes guests to the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum session June 5, 2019 at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library in Eau Claire.

Carrie Ronnander, Executive Director and Curator of the Chippewa Valley Museum, welcomed guests and introduced Alicia Goehring, Director of Special Projects and Interim Director of Programs & Outreach for the Wisconsin Historical Society, who facilitated the session. 

“I am delighted to be able to be a part of this,” Ronnander said. “I’m glad that you’re able to be a part of this. And I think we can have a really good discussion tonight.”

Goehring welcomed guests and thanked the Chippewa Valley Museum, the Area Research Center, and UW-Eau Claire’s Department of History and American Indian Studies Program. 

“Most of all,” Goehring added, “I’d like to thank all of you for coming this evening, because we really want to hear from you. We appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedules to come and share ideas with us.”

Goehring then introduced a video about the new museum project and its main storytelling theme — “What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin?” — 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.

EnlargeAlicia Goehring, Director of Special Projects and Interim Director of Outreach for the Wisconsin Historical Society, leads a discussion during the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session June 5, 2019 in Eau Claire.

Alicia Goehring, Director of Special Projects and Interim Director of Programs & Outreach for the Wisconsin Historical Society, leads a discussion during the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session June 5, 2019 in Eau Claire.

During the first activity, attendees used Post-It notes to share things about the Eau Claire 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.

Goehring asked guests to share what they wrote. 

They spoke about farms, ethnic communities, and our state’s four seasons. 

Other guests pointed out the variety of experiences in different parts of the state. “I think that the concept of ‘one Wisconsin’ is very difficult,” a woman said.

Another guest agreed, “The story of Wisconsin is that Wisconsin doesn’t have one story.”

Even with the differences between regions and communities, one of the topics that came up in discussion is the relationship between personal stories and broader trends in history. 

 “I think that Wisconsin experiences all the big changes of American life, but it experiences it in its own particular way,” a woman said. “You can really paint a picture of what’s changed in the United States over the entire last 175 years with stories of what individual people would tell you about their experiences in Wisconsin. So you can make it both really personal and really relevant to people all over the United States.”

Goehring agreed by pointing out how the decline of manufacturing in the 20th century was a national trend, but it had an enormous impact on the lives of individuals in places like Eau Claire. “National, but very personal,” said Goehring. 

Another guest noted Wisconsin’s pioneering history in education. 

“Everything from the first kindergartens down in the Milwaukee area,” she said. “I don’t know how many people know how active we were with Montessori. We had the one-room schoolhouses, the consolidation, the strong emphasis on post-secondary [schooling]. There are a lot of pieces to the education history.”

Many guests nodded in agreement, adding Wisconsin Public Television to the list of important educational institutions in the state.

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.

The first rendering the group discussed was the “Introduction and Orientation Media Experience,” a multi-purpose space with big wall of digital displays that will wow guests and prepare them for their museum visit. The space can also be transformed into an area for public programming, especially for distance learning programs that will connect the museum to people across the state via live streaming video.

Some guests were excited to hear about the opportunities for distance learning. 

“I like the fact that I could be here in Eau Claire and participate and watch,” a woman said, “because, as a member, I see things that are listed in Madison, but I can’t go [to Madison] once a month for something’s that’s only an hour.”

Others liked the idea of an introduction experience, but had concerns. 

“One thing that I didn’t like is that it might be an information overload,” another woman said. “You don’t have a place to sit. There’s no focal point.”

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

The cow had its proponents. “I love it,” a woman shared. “I like that it’s inclusive of 72 counties.”

Said another woman: “I think one thing, speaking as a Wisconsinite [and] especially speaking as an ‘Eau Clairian,’ the further north you go from Madison and Milwaukee, the more disconnected people feel as Wisconsinites. … I think it’s really important to include all of the counties as part of Wisconsin.”

A guest had concerns about the installation, warning that it shouldn’t be the only area in which rural parts of the state are integrated into the storytelling. 

“You don’t want something like this to discharge your duty of talking about all 72 counties or talking about all of Wisconsin,” he said. Don’t create an exhibit like the cow, he said, and say “‘See, we’ve got a jar of horseradish from Eau Claire, so we’ve [covered] talking about Eau Claire County.” 

“I think if you’re going to convince people that the Wisconsin Historical Society is actually taking a different direction than it has historically,” the man continued, “then you want a much deeper collaboration with people.”

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

Many guests talked about how museums can have an emotional impact on the way visitors understand history. 

A woman shared her experience at the Veterans Museum in Madison. 

“They have an exhibit of all the different wars from the very beginning to the end. When I got to [the area] right before the Civil War, and I turned the corner, there was a gun with a bayonet pointing right at me,” she explained. “It was the Battle of Antietam. That was very interesting because it dawned on me the fear that a soldier would have had in Antietam. It put me into that battle.”

Other guests shared experiences from the Tenement Museum in New York, a museum at the University of Fairbanks, the Voodoo Museum in New Orleans and the Holocaust Museum in New Orleans.

Goehring closed the session by inviting guests to reach out and continue sharing their voices as the project progresses.  

“We really want to hear from you,” she said. “This is so incredibly important to be able to hear from folks about what ideas that they have. You know, some of the most interesting ideas we’ve had for this museum have been from folks out around the state.”

 

A woman makes a point during a discussion at the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session June 5, 2019 in Eau Claire.

A woman offers her thoughts during a discussion at the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session June 5, 2019 in Eau Claire.

Guests use Post-It notes to write down things about the Eau Claire area that should be shared in a new Wisconsin history museum. It was one of the activities guests participated in at the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session in Eau Claire.

Bob Gough, left, and Greg Kocken use Post-It notes to write down things about the Eau Claire area and the state in general that should be shared in a new Wisconsin history museum. It was one of the workshop activities guests participated in at the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session in Eau Claire.

Frank Smoot, Director of the Dunn County Historical Society in Menomonie, comments on a new museum concept exhibit design rendering during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session June 5, 2019 in Eau Claire.

Frank Smoot, Director of the Dunn County Historical Society in Menomonie, comments on a new museum concept exhibit design rendering during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session June 5, 2019 in Eau Claire.

Alicia Goehring, Director of Special Projects and Interim Director of Programs & Outreach for the Wisconsin Historical Society, describes an Industrial Innovation concept exhibit design rendering during the new museum listening session in Eau Claire.

Alicia Goehring, Director of Special Projects and Interim Director of Programs & Outreach for the Wisconsin Historical Society, describes an "Industrial Innovation" concept exhibit design rendering during the new museum listening session in Eau Claire.

Paul Seymour and his son, Thomas, watch a Wisconsin Historical Society film describing the main storytelling theme for a new state history museum, "What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin?" during the Society's listening session June 5, 2019 in Eau Claire.

Paul Seymour and his son, Thomas, watch a Wisconsin Historical Society film describing the main storytelling theme for a new state history museum, "What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin?" during the Society's listening session June 5, 2019 in Eau Claire.

A woman writes down her thoughts about new museum concept exhibit renderings during the "Share Your Voice" session June 5, 2019 in Eau Claire.

A woman writes down her thoughts about new museum concept exhibit renderings during the "Share Your Voice" session June 5, 2019 in Eau Claire.

A guest examines a packet of new museum concept exhibit design renderings during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" listening session June 5, 2019 in Eau Claire.

A guest examines a packet of new museum concept exhibit design renderings during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" listening session June 5, 2019 in Eau Claire.

A woman writes her comments on a packet of concept exhibit design renderings for a new state history museum during the Wisconsin Historical Society's listening session June 5, 2019 in Eau Claire.

Carrie Ronnander writes her comments on a packet of concept exhibit design renderings for a new
state history museum during the Wisconsin Historical Society's listening session June 5, 2019 in Eau Claire.

A guest shares her thoughts about plans for a new museum during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" session June 5, 2019 at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library in Eau Claire.

A guest shares her thoughts about plans for a new museum during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" session June 5, 2019 at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library in Eau Claire.

Judy Gatlin uses Post-It notes to write down her ideas about what should be shared about the Eau Claire area in a new state history museum during the Wisconsin Historical Society's  listening session June 5, 2019 in Eau Claire.

Judy Gatlin uses Post-It notes to write down her ideas about what should be shared about the Eau Claire area in a new state history museum during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session June 5, 2019 in Eau Claire.

A guest shares his thoughts about a concept exhibit design rendering for a new state history museum during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" listening session June 5, 2019 in Eau Claire.

A guest offers his thoughts about a concept exhibit design rendering for a new state history museum during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" listening session June 5, 2019 in Eau Claire.

Paul Seymour and his son, Thomas, chat with Joe Kapler, Lead Curator for the Wisconsin Historical Society, at a table of rare artifacts that were brought out of storage to be shown at the new museum listening session in Eau Claire.

Paul Seymour and his son, Thomas, chat with Joe Kapler, Lead Curator for the Wisconsin Historical Society, at a table of rare artifacts from the Society's collections that were brought out of storage to be shown prior to the new museum listening session in Eau Claire. They included a shawl worn by President Abraham Lincoln en route from Springfield, Ill., to Washington, D.C. for his second Inauguration.

Bob Gough examines a rock thrown through the window of civil rights activist Daisy Bates, with a note from the KKK, during the Little Rock Nine school integration crisis in Arkansas in August 1957.

Bob Gough closely examines one of the rare artifacts from the Wisconsin Historical Society's collections that was on display at the new museum listening session in Eau Claire: A rock thrown through the window of civil rights activist Daisy Bates, with a note from the KKK, during the Little Rock Nine school integration crisis in Arkansas in August 1957.

 

Share Your Voice statewide map

"SHARE YOUR VOICE" STATEWIDE SESSION LOCATIONS