Transforming Milwaukee Public Museum; new director tasked with job

Sharing history does not mean staying stuck in the past. That is the message from a newly-created director at the Milwaukee Public Museum (MPM).

Museums can change your perspective.

"It’s like you’re kind of seeing all the different parts of the past," said Elijah Trejo, a 10-year-old visiting the museum with his grandfather Wednesday morning. "I feel curious, and it's cool."

"It's not like reading a book," said Al Sagunsky, Elijah's grandfather. "Here you can come and actually see the animals and the plants and the dinosaurs or whatever, and it’s kind of real life."

The butterfly exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum caught Rhoan Garnett's eye. 

"There was life in this space," Garnett said. "A butterfly goes from a caterpillar to a butterfly. It sort of speaks to the transformation."

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That concept is front and center as Garnett takes part of the museum experience under his wing. 

"It’s a chance for us to actually transform the Milwaukee and Wisconsin community," Garnett said.

Rhoan Garnett

Garnett is the Milwaukee Public Museum's first Director of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA).

Garnett is originally from the Caribbean, and has spent time in other U.S. states pursuing his education. In Maine, he worked to create a more diverse, inclusive campus at Bowdoin College. He now has a PhD in education and organizational leadership.

New to Milwaukee, he's coming in with a fresh perspective.

"I didn’t grow up going to museums, and I think that’s one of the really important things about this role." Garnett said. "I’m a Black man coming from a low-income background."

Whether it is engaging the community or better presenting exhibits, Garnett is looking at the big picture – how to make people of all backgrounds feel welcome. 

"I think oftentimes when you have a segregated society and people are having these different experiences, it’s hard to hear each other," Garnett said. "A museum space is a space that brings people together to hear the many voices and understand people’s experiences a bit better."

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That’s a good idea," Sagunsky said. "That’s what it should feel here, is welcome."

Museums can seem set in stone – preserving pillars of the past. But Garnett points to how caterpillars change, saying the museum experience can become something even more beautiful.

"To shape it in a concept of the butterfly, is the young people coming through and transforming," Garnett said. 

MPM's IDEA Director started work in his role in January.

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