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
“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
For the complete report, go to