The Future Of The Charles Allis and Villa Terrace Museums Has Reached A Tipping Point: We May Lose Them Forever.

The financial viability of the county has been shaky for decades. And in an environment where the arts are ignored step children, these two museums have suffered from lack of funding and continued deferred maintenance that puts them at risk. And of course the county board seems to have little desire to keep or maintain them. This in a state that already is something like 46th our of 50 states in per capita arts funding.

I am not going to editorialize too much here but I am sincere when I say that the arts are a cornerstone of civic culture and life. Milwaukee wouldn’t be Milwaukee without the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Milwaukee Symphony, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, the Milwaukee Ballet, and then all of the other smaller but vital arts groups and organizations that give us a community of art and culture. Some of the discussion by our electeds seems rather cavalier…I resent that. We find the money and wherewithal to build grand edifices for millionaires to house the Milwaukee Brewers and Milwaukee Bucks. I’d hate to do it but I’d give up either to keep our museums and arts groups.

Charles Allis Art Museum from the Urban Milwaukee article

So I am going to link to a number of articles and pull out a few quotes. Read the articles and then let your county supervisor know your feelings…before it’s too late.

From Urban Milwaukee: County Wants Your Ideas for Charles Allis and Villa Terrace’s Future

Milwaukee County has officially launched a public call for creative ideas for the long-term operations of the Charles Allis and Villa Terrace museums.

With difficult financial decisions ahead, and many years of budget cuts already behind them, Milwaukee County Supervisors have begun questioning whether the county can continue to provide funding for the operations and maintenance of the two museums.

The board passed an amendment to the 2024 county budget directing administration staff to evaluate options for the county to divest itself of the two cultural institutions. A report returned to the board in May contemplating several options for the museums moving forward, ranging from maintaining the status quo to selling.

The museums operate on a combined annual budget of approximately $822,000, with $225,108 coming from the county. Officials estimate that the two museums will need approximately $18 million in maintenance the next 18 years. Since 2007, the county has budgeted for a total of approximately $2.04 million in maintenance at the buildings.

The county has a long list of infrastructure needs, with an estimated $1 billion catalog of deferred maintenance. While the new 0.4% sales tax has staved off unprecedented cuts to county services, next year’s budget is already shaping up to be difficult.

Even if the status quo is maintained, it will likely mean the two museums scrape by with inadequate maintenance funding.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (aka JSOnline): What’s the future for the Charles Allis and Villa Terrace museums?

“These museums are facing a major threat, probably the most serious threat to their existence, because of our financial situation,” Supervisor Sheldon A. Wasserman told supervisors.

Erica Goblet, the county’s Economic Development Division project manager, spelled out options: sell one or both the museums, enter into a new agreement to continue support, transfer ownership to the nonprofit that runs the museums, or start a request for information report that would solicit ideas on how to move forward with community input involved.

“The least favorite option would be as a last resort if there are no alternatives for the future: the museums, the historic buildings could be divested,” Goblet told the committee.

Of the options, Goblet’s presentation recommended the request for information.

“Through an RFI we would hope to find a sustainable future for these museums and maintain public access across the county,” she said. “We’ve seen successful public-private partnerships that reduce operational and capital expenses for the county.” Supervisor Steve Taylor reiterated his desire to sell the two properties or find a way for them to become fiscally self-sustaining and no longer reliant on the county for its survival.

Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum from the Urban Milwaukee article

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (aka JSOnline): The futures of Milwaukee’s Charles Allis Art Museum, Villa Terrace called into question

The fates of two taxpayer-owned cultural institutions on Milwaukee’s east side — the Charles Allis Art Museum and Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum — are coming into question as their fiscal burden on Milwaukee County grows. The Charles Allis Museum, located at 1801 N. Prospect Ave., was built for and the home of Charles Allis, the first president of the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company, and his wife, Sarah E.B. Allis. The museum’s collection, compiled by the couple during their expansive travels across the world, consists of 800 objects, including porcelains, ceramics, antiquities and paintings dating back centuries. The county took over ownership from the City of Milwaukee in 1979.

A few blocks north at 2220 N Terrace Ave. is Villa Terrace, which was the home of Lloyd and Agnes Smith, who were inspired to build an Italian Renaissance-style residence in 1923. Lloyd Smith was president of Milwaukee’s A.O. Smith Corp. Agnes Smith gifted the home to Milwaukee County in 1966. The site holds a more than 800-piece art collection, which includes the world’s largest collection of work by Austria-born metalsmith Cyril Colnik.

Both properties are designated as City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County landmarks and are also on the National Register of Historic Places.

(Supervisor Shawn) Rolland said he’s hopeful a sustainable path forward will come out of the report for information process, where county and community involvement could brainstorm a way to save Charles Allis and Villa Terrace without straining county resources and funding.

“I think that community amenities should not die on the vine, because we are too afraid to say that Milwaukee County is too cash-strapped to pay for everything … There is a real conversation about the viability of these amenities and that many of the supervisors are looking for a viable idea to save them — that also saves Milwaukee County,” Rolland said. “So, I’m hopeful that goodhearted community people will rise up — maybe folks from philanthropy will rise up — and find a way to do that.”

Sarcasm alert: How much can the county net selling Am Fam Field? Or a long term lease on Bradford Beach? Do we really need Lake Park? Just Sayin’.