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’.

Stealth Public Sculpture In Milwaukee County’s Lake Park! Part 5: One New Sculpture and Two Disappearing Acts

I have documented a number of pop up sculptures in Lake Park and environs over the years and every time I travel on Lincoln Memorial Drive, I search them out and treat them as landmarks on my journeys. But I hadn’t really traveled that route since the spring semester at UW-Milwaukee ended…but when I headed back that way after a visit to Shorewood, I was amazed to see a new sculpture. Now I am pretty confident that it wasn’t there during the Harley Davidson Homecoming Weekend, July 25 – 28th, 2023. But there it was last Thursday in a new spot just about a 100 yards south of Colectivo Coffee at the Lakefront (1701 N Lincoln Memorial Drive).

It is a classic work in the series using man made and manipulated elements of concrete impaled on steel rod and once again embedded into a fallen tree trunk.

© 2023 Ed Heinzelman

and again, I apologize for the washed out look. I tend to visit in mid-day and the strong sun contributes to a very washed out look and of course the material is very reflective.

© 2023 Ed Heinzelman

But in the meantime, it appears that two of our past examples have been removed. The first one was just north of the tennis courts (north of Colectivo) in the area that older boomers would know as the alternate site. I searched for it on foot thinking that it may have gotten overgrown, but I think that it is gone. Here is a photo from the archive.

© 2022 Ed Heinzelman

and this one along the bottom of the bluff just immediately south of the gardens at Villa Terrace.

© 2022 Ed Heinzelman

Some of the elements from the missing pieces may have been repurposed in the new stealth sculpture. It’s hard to tell but they are very similar in shape and size…and it would make sense to reuse them.

and as always: and if you know who the artist is, I’d like to talk with them. They can remain anonymous if that’s their wish. Or if you see more around town, I’d like to be able to document them…so let me know about them, please:

AND NOTE: this is the fifth in a series, so please search for stealth and enjoy them all.

Stealth Public Sculpture In Milwaukee County’s Lake Park! Part 4: New Sculpture and Some Disappearing Acts

I have documented a number of pop up sculptures in Lake Park that are visible from Lincoln Memorial Drive. As I’ve mentioned before they have become touchstones or landmarks for me as I travel from Bay View to the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee campus. But in the late spring and summer they are very very hard to keep track of as the foliage surrounds them.

So it was with a great deal of excitement that I found a brand new one during my recent sojourns to campus. This one is on park property and easy to see. It is just immediately south of the gardens of the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum. One of the other major installations is just immediately north of these same gardens, on private property, but clearly visible from the park…currently just a bit obscured by some of the luscious summer foliage. So here it is (and I apologize for the photos…they are washed out a bit by the mid-day summer sun):

© 2022 Ed Heinzelman
© 2022 Ed Heinzelman

and to get a better idea of their construction, here are some close ups of the components.

© 2022 Ed Heinzelman
© 2022 Ed Heinzelman

And in the meantime, it seems to me that two of the smaller original pieces have been removed. Whether by the artist, the county parks people, or a vandal I have no way of knowing. But here are the two that I think have now gone missing.

© 2022 Ed Heinzelman
© 2021 Ed Heinzelman

As fall starts to denude the trees and shrubs and puts the vines and undergrowth to sleep for the winter, we all need to watch for new additions to the unseen art in our midst.

Want to read my earlier articles? Here they are!

Stealth Public Sculpture In Milwaukee County’s Lake Park!

Stealth Public Sculpture In Milwaukee County’s Lake Park! Part 2

Stealth Public Sculpture In Milwaukee County’s Lake Park! Part 3: It’s Alive!

and if you know who the artist is, I’d like to talk with them. They can remain anonymous if that’s their wish. Or if you see more around town, I’d like to be able to document them…so let me know about them, please:

© 2022 Ed Heinzelman