MMAC task force: Funding needed or arts, cultural sites in jeopardy
Future workforce attracted to cities with ‘quality of place’

By Katherine Michalets - Freeman Staff

Oct. 27, 2015

MILWAUKEE - Large cities are often defined by their cultural and entertainment offerings and Milwaukee is no different with its art museum, public museum and cultural festivals. A report released Monday by a task force assembled by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce found that without additional funding, likely through increased taxation, the taxpayer-supported cultural and entertainment centerpieces of Milwaukee could be lost.

The Cultural and Entertainment Capital Needs Task Force included community leaders from the business, civic, cultural, entertainment and local government sectors in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington and Waukesha counties.  Leading the group were co-chairs John Daniels, chairman emeritus of the Quarles & Brady law firm; Charles Harvey, then vice president for diversity and public affairs at Johnson Controls; and Jay Williams, chairman of the Milwaukee Public Museum.

According to the report, funding from Milwaukee County for the region’s signature cultural institutions has steadily declined due to mandated expenditures, such as for employee benefits.

“Today, leaking roofs, obsolete HVAC systems, faulty windows and other signs of deterioration show the effects of a growing funding shortfall that threatens the long-term viability of the Milwaukee region’s cornerstone cultural assets, which depend solely on the region’s least affluent county for taxpayer support,” according to the report.

This is concerning, the report states, because millennials are more often picking where they want to live and then searching for a job within that community. Millennials select where they want to live based on a “quality of place” test that includes social and cultural amenities, openness to new ideas and people and physical aesthetics.

“As a result, employers looking to recruit young professionals are creating jobs and fueling a virtuous cycle of economic growth in metro areas that rank high on these attributes,” according to the report.

In 2001, the annual tax levy support for four cultural institutions in Milwaukee (Milwaukee Public Museum, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Milwaukee Art Museum and War Memorial) was $10.1 million, adjusted for 2013 inflation levels. In 2008 and 2009, the tax levy was $6.8 million and in 2013 it was $6 million.

One of the key findings of the report “is the five-year capital needs of the Milwaukee County-owned arts and cultural facilities and parks are immense, with conservatively projected capital requirements totaling $250 million during the next five years.” Of that total, $110 million is deferred maintenance and $140 million is capital improvements.

About $325 million could be raised through a five-year, one-half cent sales tax in Milwaukee County, according to the findings.

The report concludes by summarizing, “We understand that some citizens may conclude - just as several of our own members have - that cultural and entertainment facilities do not warrant taxpayer support.

“But while the ultimate outcome remains to be seen, we know two things with certainty:  Just as actions have consequences, so too does inaction. And if our region is to lose one or more of these community assets, it should not happen by accident. Therefore, we are pleased to have had this opportunity to assemble the facts, perspectives and options required for a robust, well founded regional dialog on this quiet but consequential crisis.”

For the complete report, go to