Madison, Wis. – The Wisconsin Historical Society has reached a significant milestone in the plan to build a 21st-century history center based in Madison. On June 22, 2022, the Wisconsin State Building Commission approved the release of $4 million in building trust funds to launch the architectural and experience design phase of the new history center.
“This is an exciting step as we forge ahead in building a best-in-class state and national history center and cultural attraction,” said Christian Overland, Ruth and Hartley Barker Director & CEO of the Wisconsin Historical Society. “We’ve assembled an industry-leading design team to ensure the guest experience—whether in-person or virtual—is immersive and accessible, and the storytelling is diverse and powerful.”
The Wisconsin Historical Society has kicked off initial planning with world-renowned exhibit designers Ralph Appelbaum Associates, and in partnership with the Department of Administration, has selected Continuum Architects + Planners and SmithGroup to design the history center.
The new 100,000-square-foot history center will utilize the site of the current Wisconsin Historical Museum as well as two adjacent properties on Madison’s Capitol Square. The new facility will more than double the exhibition space of the current museum and is expected to welcome more than 200,000 guests annually. State-of-the-art digital technology will virtually connect the Society’s collections and interactive programming with residents across Wisconsin and the world.
“We’ve started calling it a history center rather than a museum because we envision a dynamic cultural hub that transcends the traditional museum experience,” said Overland.
Demolition and construction are expected to begin in 2024, after authority to construct is granted by the State Building Commission. Construction will take approximately 27 months. The funding for the new building has been successfully secured through $70 million in State support and $30 million in private gifts.
“We are humbled by the generosity of our early donors that made it possible to meet our $30 million private funding requirement to support the design and construction of the new facility,” said Julie Lussier, executive director, Wisconsin Historical Foundation. “Now we shift our focus to the next phase of fundraising to deliver an incredible visitor experience and provide programming resources long into the future.”
An additional $20 million in gift funds is needed for programming, collections, and an endowment necessary to support the history center.
The Wisconsin Historical Society stewards and shares one of the largest collections of historical artifacts and archives in the world, including treasures such as Abraham Lincoln’s shawl, Liberace’s jacket, and a 1,200-year-old dugout canoe recovered from Madison’s Lake Mendota in November 2021.