It’s Not Too Late to Save the Museum

If nothing changes, nothing changes…


Waukesha County Museum_1WAUKESHA, WI.   Some times it takes an individual who can think outside the box before others can see the potential of something that is deemed hopeless.  With all the financial woes that the Waukesha County Museum is facing, I have to admit that I, too, deemed the museum hopeless. Thank you to Darryl Enriquez for being a glimmering ray of hope in the darkness that has opened my eyes, and hopefully the eyes of those who can make change possible.

The museum needs a constructive plan to attract people and Darryl hit the nail on the head in his brilliant article published in today’s Waukesha Freeman. (Republished below)  If I were the museum director, I would immediately contact Mr. Enriquez to consult in his “outside the box” intuition that is sure to capture people’s attention and help gain needed revenue for the museum.  As Darryl references in his article, many golden opportunities to right the museum are passing by each and every day:


“…the museum missed an opportunity this Halloween. It could have become a kick-butt haunted house and probably made more revenue in a few weekends of scary thrills than it does in annual ticket sales.” 


There are some great opportunities for the museum leaders to demonstrate that they are willing to change and adopt ideas that draw interested people.  As the old adage goes, if nothing changes, nothing changes.

If the leaders can’t see this, then perhaps it may be time to put people in charge that can see the necessity of change to breath life back into it – either that or let the withering beast die.



By Darryl Enriquez

Waukesha Freeman, 10/30/2013, p. A6

Museum S.O.S.: Save our story

Museum needs new course to find prosperity

The Waukesha County Museum should be saved, but it will take deep pockets and imaginative program planning to accomplish that.

What’s become clear over the past few months is that the museum cannot continue on its same course.

It’s time to clean out the closet. What the old girl needs is some sizzle. The museum may have to bust a move if it wants to be more than an archive of Civil War relics, butter churns, Fox Head memorabilia and electric guitars.

Yeah, that stuff is neat, but it’s too one-dimensional. The old Waukesha County Courthouse can be so much more. But the museum must shed its wallflower personality by using the old courthouse as more than a museum. Create attractions that lure young and old and generate revenue. Get out of the rocking chair and think outside the box.

The museum’s financial issues became clear last summer when its leaders made a public plea to the Waukesha County Board to support annual tax funding.

The museum’s push came after Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas refused to grant its initial request for $1 million for 2014 and rejected a reduced request for $300,000.

Instead, Vrakas put $150,000 in his proposed 2014 budget for the museum.

Then-Museum President and CEO Kirsten Villegas addressed the County Board in August about getting more cash for the institution, assuring supervisors that ambitious plans were in the works to right the museum by appealing to a much larger audience.

The board’s response was not one of overwhelming support. The board was more interested in spreadsheets than in Villegas’ dreams.

Some even questioned if Villegas’ salary was too high. At that point, Villegas’ credibility vanished. She left the museum for another job.

Enter Dan Finley, the former Waukesha County executive who retired as a museum director in California. After Villegas departed, Tom Constable, the museum’s board chairman, asked Finley to fill in for two months on a volunteer basis. Finley agreed, and he appeared Monday before a County Board committee to say the museum was in poor financial shape and needed a partnership with the county and possibly the city of Waukesha to continue operations.

Both Vrakas and Waukesha County Board Chairman Paul Decker said they believed that $150,000 was a figure that the County Board would support. Neither man has softened his stance on directing more money as the museum currently exists.

And, I don’t see much hope of the city coming through with any cash.

County supervisors may be able to muster enough support to match an anonymous donor contribution of $50,000 with another $50,000.

But that $100,000 is a one-time fiscal Band-Aid.

As Finley told the committee, an agreement must be reached so the museum and county don’t go through this same dance every year over finances. Agreed, but the county must decide if it really wants a museum or some hybrid of a museum.

I’ve been around this county for more than three decades, and its history of the Lake Country, Cow County agriculture and late 1900s tourism isn’t really that interesting. It’s hardly the stuff successful museums are made of.

Suggestions from county officials include that the museum is too Waukesha-based. The museum should create exhibits on the histories of other areas in the county, such as the wealthy Lake Country and blue-collar areas such as New Berlin and Muskego. I wonder how many admission tickets those exhibits would sell.

No, museum leaders will have to commit to commercializing the old courthouse if it’s to survive and thrive.

As an example, the museum missed an opportunity this Halloween. It could have become a kick-butt haunted house and probably made more revenue in a few weekends of scary thrills than it does in annual ticket sales.

How about a place that holds weekend, nonalcoholic dances for the young? Why isn’t it part of Freeman Friday Night Live? How about a gigantic Christmas holiday cookie sale, like the one that’s held at the Country Springs Hotel?

Close the streets and host barbecue competitions, beer-tasting events, board game competitions. Do whatever it takes to get the public believing it’s their building, just like FFNL has brought crowds to feeling downtown belongs again to them.

These suggestions will be considered sacrilegious by some historical purists, but that’s how you inject sizzle into the old gal.

(Darryl Enriquez is a longtime Waukesha resident and journalist in southeast Wisconsin. He can be reached at Darrylenriquez19[at]

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