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HomeBreaking NewsMilwaukee Public Museum Is Still $75 Million Short in Fundraising Goal But...

Milwaukee Public Museum Is Still $75 Million Short in Fundraising Goal But Breaking Ground Anyway

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Ellen Censky, the CEO of the Milwaukee Public Museum, told a County Board committee this week that the museum has raised $80 million in private donations – leaving it $75 million short of its goal, just two months before the museum plans to break ground anyway.

However, it turns out the number is even worse. That’s because we asked a key follow-up question. How much of the $80 million raised is for the endowment and not available for construction?

The museum would not provide a firm number. However, using an estimate provided by Rebecca Ehlers, vice president of marketing, the museum has actually raised only about $66 million in private donations that can be used toward construction.

Ehlers refused to explain what the museum will do if private fundraising continues to lag but the new facility is only partially completed. The new museum has faced petition drives and community concern over the planned destruction of historic murals and beloved exhibits like the current Streets of Old Milwaukee and the European Village.

We asked museum officials what their plan is if they don’t raise enough money mid-construction.

Their response dodged the question. “The museum has three years to secure the remaining 30 percent of the project funds and is confident in its ability to meet its goal. In the past three months alone, the Wisconsin Wonders campaign has raised $14 million in private donations,” Ehlers said.

In other words, they think they will meet the goal. But if they don’t? They won’t say.

Read our investigative stories on the museum here.

“More than 280 generous donors have contributed to the Future Museum project. As previously shared, with donor consent, approximately 18 percent of most gifts are designated to the endowment. The campaign is structured this way to ensure the Museum has the funds necessary to care for the building going into the future,” Ehlers told us when we asked how much of the $80 million in private donations raised is earmarked for the endowment instead of construction.

Conspiracy Theorists?

During the meeting, Milwaukee County Supervisor Shawn Rolland told Censky, “You can see this committee as just another opportunity to make any conspiracy theorist look foolish. Feel free to just dump on them every meeting from now until eternity until we get those shovels in the ground and this thing goes up.”

You can hear him here:


To the County Board committee, Censky, who has refused to give Wisconsin Right Now an interview, revealed that a formal groundbreaking ceremony will be held in May, despite the shortfall.

She said that the museum is in the final phase of exhibit design work and is preparing to move the collections. The museum is still searching for an off-site storage facility, she said.

Censky repeated, “This is a $240 million project.” She said that includes $200 million for construction, $20 million to move the collection objects, and $20 million to grow the endowment.

Of that $240 million, Censky provided these updated numbers in March 2024:

$40 million was obtained from the state.

$45 million was obtained from Milwaukee County.

$5 million is being sought from the federal government.

The museum needs to raise $150 million in private donations to reach its goal. She claimed this will occur over the course of a “five-year state campaign.”

She claimed that $80 million was raised in private funding.

Censky said “that puts us at $165 million” – $75 million short.

Again, though, if roughly 18% is earmarked for the endowment, that means just $66 million can go for construction and moving the collections.

Milwaukee County property taxes will rise despite new sales tax revenue because of debt service for, in part, the new museum

In a 5-year forecast report issued by Milwaukee County Comptroller Scott Manske this month, Manske warned that even with the recent .4% sales tax increase, “The county’s structural deficit persists, driven by expenditure growth that outpaces revenue growth.”

The report continues that there will be “significant property tax increases in the future to fund debt service for the county’s Center for Forensic Science and Protective Medicine and the Milwaukee Public Museum.”Milwaukee public museum

Milwaukee public museumCensky also revealed that an individual sprayed an “oil like substance on several exhibits in the museum on all three floors.” She said officials were working with Milwaukee police and assessing the damage.

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