1. What is the War Memorial Center? The War Memorial Center consists of two primary buildings. The 1957 Eero Saarinen-designed War Memorial Building was built as both a Memorial and as an Art Center, with funds from the sale of the Layton Art Gallery. In 1975 the Kahler Building addition, built with funds raised by the the Museum, was completed. Currently the Museum occupies more than 70 percent of these two buildings. Remaining space includes public spaces, the Veterans’ Courtyard, rented office spaces, meeting rooms, and Memorial Hall.
2. Who owns the War Memorial Center? Milwaukee County owns the War Memorial Center and Kahler building, both of which house the Museum galleries. Routine maintenance, repairs, and utility costs for both buildings are paid by the County. The War Memorial Corporation is responsible for managing all interior upkeep and maintenance of both buildings, which includes the HVAC, electrical and other items the Museum is now asking to manage.
3. Does the War Memorial Center or the Milwaukee Art Museum pay rent? No, as a service to the community, neither the War Memorial Center nor the Milwaukee Art Museum pay rent. In recognition of the initial investment in the buildings by veterans, the arts community, and the original Art Museum (known as the Layton Art Gallery), Milwaukee County does not require rent from either the War Memorial Corporation or the Milwaukee Art Museum.
4. What is the current challenge facing the War Memorial Center? The Milwaukee County War Memorial Center is in dire need of rehabilitation and repair due to long-deferred maintenance. Milwaukee County’s 2011 audit of the War Memorial Center and Museum, concluded that the facility’s state of disrepair reflects poorly on the intent to honor Veterans, and that problems with the physical condition of both the War Memorial Center and the Kahler building threatens the safekeeping of the Museum’s art collection and the health of visitors.
5. What can be done to address these challenges? The Milwaukee Art Museum has presented a comprehensive plan designed to save the War Memorial Center. As part of this plan, the Museum will seek $10 million from the County to address necessary repairs from deferred maintenance. It will also provide $15 million in improvements to restore the Memorial for Veterans and to repair two buildings it does not own—the War Memorial Center and the Kahler buildings. The Museum estimates its plan, and its private investment, will save the County between $2–4 million were the County to make the repairs alone.
6. What other approaches have been proposed to deal with the War Memorial Center’s challenges? To date, the Museum has presented the only plan to save the War Memorial Center. The Museum has taken the leadership role in this endeavor because it is committed to the Veterans, and believes the current state of the building is unacceptable.
7. Is the Milwaukee Art Museum planning to “take over” the War Memorial Center? No, the Milwaukee Art Museum is proposing to take responsibility for managing the the buildings — including short- and long-term building maintenance (electric, HVAC, etc.). The War Memorial Center Board would maintain full governance and administration over Veterans-related activities and spaces. The Museum is only interested in the bricks and mortar management, not WMC governance.
8. Why would the Museum want to take responsibility for maintenance of the buildings? As the largest tenant in the Center, occupying over 70 percent of the space, the Museum has a vested interest in seeing that the buildings are well maintained. Its staff also has a particular expertise in building management, including the unique electrical and HVAC systems required for proper care of the state’s most important art collection.
9. Is the Museum’s plan consistent with the mission of the War Memorial Center? Yes. The Museum’s plan will help the War Memorial Center better fulfill its stated mission “To Honor the Dead by Serving the Living.” From its inception, the War Memorial Center was constructed as both a Memorial and an Art Center. In its current state of disrepair, it is falling far short of its potential for both. The Museum’s plan will enable enhanced spaces and programming to honor the sacrifices and service of our nation’s Veterans.
10. How is the Museum honoring its commitment to the Veterans? As part of its commitment to Veterans and the community, the Museum offers free days throughout the year to the public, including special free days for Veterans, active military, and their families. Also, because the War Memorial Center was constructed as both a Memorial and an Art Center, the Museum will continue to work collaboratively with Veterans on proposed renovations and upgrades to ensure the War Memorial Center continues to meet its dual mission of honoring Veterans and advancing the arts.
11. What will this proposed change mean for Veterans’ programming at WMC? The WMC Board will maintain full control and responsibility for Veterans’ programming at the Center, as it has now. In addition, the plan will lay the foundation for expanded Veterans’ programming by: (1) providing enhanced facilities through the Museum’s investments; (2) enabling the WMC Board to focus solely on programming, rather than building maintenance; and (3) providing in-kind support for the WMC Board in grant writing, as well as program and curatorial support for Veterans-related programming.
12. Did the Museum attempt to speak with Veterans about its plans? Yes, the Museum engaged Veterans’ Board to enlist their input for a newly remodeled Memorial Garden atop Fitch Plaza as part of the restoration plan. The Garden would replace the current space, which is crumbling, decaying, and empty. The Museum will continue to collaborate closely with Veterans on all planned renovations and upgrades.
13. Is the Art Museum on stable financial ground? The Milwaukee Art Museum is completely debt-free, with a longstanding and publicly-available ledger of a balanced budget. Additionally, the Museum contributes millions of dollars to the Milwaukee regional economy, through tourism, business, and other intangibles.
14. Has there been any damage done to the Museum’s art collection? The Milwaukee Art Museum is charged to “collect and preserve art, and to present it to the community as a vital source of inspiration and education.” The Museum’s world-class teams of preparators, conservators, and engineers have dutifully and carefully prevented damage to the artwork in spite of the deferred maintenance issues within the Museum galleries through band-aid measures. Furthermore, the Museum contends that the War Memorial Center itself is a work of art, and the damage to that building is well documented.