An art museum building with a wingspan, a garden filled with hundreds of fluttering butterflies and a 3-D tour of the Milky Way sometimes catch guests to Milwaukee by surprise.
This Wisconsin city, often known for its beer and cheese offerings, also contains engaging world-class museums with such diverse subject matter as the history of Harley-Davidson motorcycles and the history of the entire natural world.
Groups can take their pick of extensive museums with enough variety and hands-on exhibits to entertain a wide swath of interests. Four of the giants in Milwaukee’s museum scene — the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Harley-Davidson Museum, the Milwaukee Public Museum and Discovery World — allow groups to explore a range of topics by encouraging curiosity and fun.
These four museums amaze first-time Milwaukee visitors and continue to reinvent themselves with enhanced offerings and additions.
Milwaukee Art Museum
As one scans the cityscape of Milwaukee, a white building with a wingspan of 217 feet over an arched structure always stands out. The Milwaukee Art Museum resides partially inside the Quadracci Pavilion, which is attached to the movable and winglike brise-soleil architectural feature.
“The art museum itself is stunning,” said Kristin Settle, director of communications for Visit Milwaukee. “The architecture of the building takes your breath away. When you get inside, you realize the depth and breadth of the collection.”
The museum rotates 30,000 works dating from antiquity to the present day inside three buildings, among them the Quadracci Pavilion and a new structure that provides 30,000 additional square feet for art. The 2015 expansion features a section devoted to photography and video with an atrium that is filled with light and sweeping views of Lake Michigan.
The museum’s galleries are in chronological order so visitors can visualize the evolution of artistic movements. Along with traveling exhibits, the museum displays four floors of permanent collections that include 15th-century to modern European art and 17th-century to modern American art.
Art lovers praise the museum’s extensive American decorative arts, German expressionism and folk art collections. Groups will love the museum’s customizable docent-led tours, adult classes, lectures and MAM After Dark event, which offers after-hours access to the galleries, music, food and a cash bar.
Even guests who have never sat on a motorcycle will swoon when they see the culturally significant artifacts inside the Harley-Davidson Museum, among them Elvis Presley’s personal motorcycle.
“The Harley-Davidson Museum is, yes, a motorcycle museum, but it’s really more of a history museum,” said Settle. “It tells the story of a company that’s been around for over 100 years. I’m not a rider, but I really love this place.”
Spread across 20 acres, the museum contains more than 450 Harley-Davidson motorcycles and thousands of artifacts chronicling the history of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, as well as its effect on modern culture. One exhibit contrasts the company’s origins from a wooden shack to its current status as the top U.S. motorcycle manufacturer. The oldest-known Harley-Davidson bike in existence sits on display for visitors to compare with the sleek, modern vehicles.
Interactive exhibits allow guests to design their own motorcycles, learn how engines work and sit on one of 10 motorcycles available.
The museum stays fresh with rotating exhibits, behind-the-scenes tours and new additions, such as the “Tsunami Motorcycle Display,” which features Harley-Davidson bikes that washed away during Japan’s devastating tsunami in 2011.