Museum of Wisconsin Art to open gallery in new Milwaukee hotel

By McLean Bennett

March 21, 2019

Scott Matthews walks his dog Harley along a path in front of the
Museum of Wisconsin Art Wednesday afternoon in West Bend.
John Ehlke/Daily News

WEST BEND — A boutique Milwaukee hotel with a flair for the creative is getting an artistic leg-up from a West Bend museum.

The Museum of Wisconsin Art, headquartered here and home to thousands of art pieces, announced this week it plans to open a new rotating gallery inside the Saint Kate hotel, which is set to open later this year in downtown Milwaukee.

“I think it will be a destination of its own,” Jessica Wildes, communications and marketing director for the museum, said of the hotel — whose guests could come from oceans away to stay at what Wildes and others involved in the project have described as a one-of-a-kind lodging experience.

“The Saint Kate, for us, is a wonderful way to expand the museum footprint,” she said.

The Saint Kate bills itself as an accommodation uniquely geared to art enthusiasts. Some of the hotel’s more than 200 rooms were designed by local artists, and the Saint Kate’s website says it plans to host music and dance performances; a floor plan shows multiple gallery spaces, along with a theater and ballroom.

Guests will be near other Cream City cultural highlights, too; the hotel shares a city block with the Pabst Theater and is just down the street from the Marcus Performing Arts Center. (The Marcus Corporation, in fact, is the Saint Kate’s owner, and is partnering with the West Bend museum to coordinate its rotating bevy of gallery exhibits.) Even its name is a subtle shout-out to the niche community of guests it’s hoping to attract. St. Catherine of Bologna, a somewhat obscure 15th century nun and the Catholic Church’s “patron saint of artists,” was the inspiration behind the new inn’s moniker.

Wildes said Wednesday the museum isn’t sure yet how many items it plans to display in its first exhibit, though she said it will feature works by Milwaukee artists. The exhibit is scheduled to kick off June 15 — around the time the hotel plans to open to guests — and will coincide with the museum’s Art Ball, one of MOWA’s major annual fundraisers.

The museum spokeswoman said the gallery space is expected to remain open and free to the public following the opening gala. Exhibits, she said, will continue to rotate in and out regularly.

The museum has operated here since 1961 and has amassed a collection of about 5,000 pieces made by artists from or inspired by Wisconsin. Besides an always-on-display collection that includes a mix of traditional paintings and more modern works, the museum also shows regular short-term exhibits in its 31,000square-foot building near the corner of Washington Street and Veterans Avenue.

MOWA also hosts exhibits at a Milwaukee retirement community, and the move to Saint Kate will open another venue in the city — one that  Wildes said might open a new door to West Bend. (There have been talks, Wildes said, about setting up a shuttle service to occasionally bus hotel guests from Milwaukee to the West Bend museum. “It’s definitely a possibility,” she noted Wednesday.) And while there are other art hotels in the U.S. and around the world, nothing of its kind currently exists in Wisconsin, Wilde said. The collaborative arrangement between the Saint Kate and West Bend art museum, she added, is even more unique — a point MOWA has repeated in promotional materials.

“A collaboration of this stature between a museum and hotel is truly groundbreaking,” the museum’s executive director and CEO, Laurie Winters, said in a press release this week.

“MOWA is a resource for the entire state of Wisconsin,” Winters added. “This collaboration will expand its artistic footprint further across the state, providing access to Wisconsin art for travelers and the Milwaukee community.”