New strategic direction aims to mold a more diverse Milwaukee Art Museum
Milwaukee Art Museum on Tuesday announced its first new strategic direction since 2006, with its goal of emphasizing a focus on community, impact and financial sustainability most visible to the public initially via a Listening Lab that will be installed in the museum's Collection Galleries.
The lab – which will feature a new work of art every 6-8 months along with a series of potential narratives about the work upon which visitors will vote – will allow museum patrons to offer feedback, bring up issues and provide input to staff, including two new positions that will be added as part of the plan: a Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs and a Curator of Community Dialogue.
The museum is also hiring an internal "reporter" to help tell MAM stories.
The direction was approved by the museum's Board of Trustees last October and is centered on what MAM calls, "four pillars of activity: Art Relevant to Our Community, Robust Community Programming, Expansive Hospitality and Impact Aligned with Financial Strength and Discipline."
Diversity, said museum Director Marcelle Polednik, is a key part of each of the pillars.
"The museum is still a symbol of what the city can become," Polednik said, after nearly 2,000 interviews with community members and other stakeholders across six months. "In order to play a role as a cultural steward we must do more. We have to meet new audiences where they are.
"We want to make it possible for all people to see themselves at the museum and better understand the world through the art we hold in the public trust. Everyone needs to feel comfortable and invited at the museum."
Polednik said that the museum's collection and future feature exhibitions will highlight socially- and culturally-relevant aspects of the pieces included, joining other initiatives, including, according to a museum statement, "Critical projects around diversity, community involvement, technology and sustainability."
MAM – which is currently debt free – is searching for a partner for its Environmental Sustainability Plan and Funding Model.
"Everyone is welcome at the museum, and we want to go out of our way to make people feel at home when they visit," said the museum's Senior Director of Education and Programs Brigid Globensky.
"It's easy to say 'let's do this program and this exhibition' and call it a day, but this is an institutional pivot."
Globensky and Polednik said that the direction will lead the museum to look at every aspect of its operation in an attempt to make the institution more reflective of its community, from artwork to museum staff to vendors and beyond.
The strategic direction is the result of a task force created under the direction of Milwaukee's Spectrum Nonprofit Services. The task force included community members, staff, volunteers, docents and members of the Board of Trustees.
"Nonprofits have to deliver on their missions in a financially viable way. What worked 10 years ago may no longer work 10 years from now," said the art museum's Chief Development Officer Abby Ashley.
"We're excited to show our members and donors how their gifts can directly help build the long-term financial strength of the Museum for future generations."
The aim of the museum is to create goals for each quarter across the next three to five years and assess progress and report back to the board on a quarterly basis.
"We know that the landscape for art museums is ever-changing," said Polednik. "We wanted to define the next North Star that would guide us."
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