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W. Jerome Frautschi donating $10 million to new Downtown Wisconsin History Museum
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W. Jerome Frautschi donating $10 million to new Downtown Wisconsin History Museum

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The state's GEF 1 building

Philanthropist Jerome Frautschi is donating $10 million to the Wisconsin Historical Society to benefit the proposed $120 million Wisconsin History Museum to be built at the site of the four-story, 271,493-square-foot General Executive Facility, called GEF 1, Downtown.

Madison philanthropist W. Jerome Frautschi is giving $10 million to the Wisconsin Historical Society to support a new Wisconsin History Museum, pushing private donations for the $120 million, 100,000-square-foot project beyond a required $30 million match to secure $70 million in state funding.

The state recently moved the preferred site of the proposed museum from the top of State Street to a full block that now features a massive, half-century-old state office building near Capitol Square. The new site, which holds the four-story, 271,493-square-foot General Executive Facility, or GEF 1, is bounded by the 200 blocks of East Washington Avenue and East Main Street, and 10 blocks of South Butler and Webster streets.

“It has always been important to me for Downtown Madison to have the cultural vitality that reflects the values of the city’s residents,” Frautschi said in a statement. “It has been a pleasure to support projects such as Overture Center, and now the new Wisconsin History Museum. The history museum on its new East Washington Avenue site will join Madison Children’s Museum and the new Madison Youth Arts Center as shining examples of cultural excellence that will attract thousands to Downtown Madison each year.”

Madison Youth Arts Center under construction at the corner of Mifflin and Ingersoll Streets

The $10 million gift is in addition to $3.5 million Frautschi previously donated to the new museum fundraising campaign. Frautschi’s $205 million gift built Overture, and his wife, Pleasant Rowland, created an endowment for its resident arts organizations. Rowland has also given tens of millions to the Madison arts community, including a $20 million gift to the Madison Youth Arts Center under construction on the 1000 block of East Washington Avenue, funding theater, music and visual arts.

“Mr. Frautschi has been a longtime friend and generous supporter of the Wisconsin Historical Society,” said Christian Overland, director and CEO of the Wisconsin Historical Society. “We are humbled and deeply appreciative of his incredible gift. He is a true visionary, and generations of Wisconsinites will benefit from his leadership in helping to build this exciting new museum.”

The project is in the very early stages of the formal state building process, meaning many big decisions have not yet been made, such as whether a project will combine museum and office space, what state agencies may be housed in the building, and the future of the existing museum property if the historical society moves, the state Department of Administration has said.

Of the $120 million, $100 million would be for building the museum with the rest for an endowment and transitioning from the existing to the new facility. The Wisconsin Historical Foundation will continue to raise endowment and operating funds as the project proceeds.

The campaign for a new museum is co-chaired by two former governors, Tommy Thompson, a Republican, and Jim Doyle, a Democrat. They applauded Frautschi for the gift.

“Thanks to Jerry and the generosity of many other private donors, and the support of the governor and legislative leaders, we are ready to make the museum a reality.” Doyle said. “I am very pleased that the new preferred site maximizes the use of state property and serves all 72 counties.”

Thompson echoed the sentiment, saying Frautschi “has shown time and again his devotion to our great state, and Wisconsin is awfully lucky to have someone like him with such strong foresight. Wisconsin deserves an engaging and inspiring state history museum that tells our wonderful diverse statewide stories. Now we can decisively move forward on this incredibly exciting project.”

The project has received financial support from donors in all regions of the state, the historical society said, adding that it will identify other early lead donors in the coming weeks and months as the project moves forward.

The society has been working toward building a new state history museum for more than 20 years. The new museum will more than double exhibition space and include modern technology while providing greater access to the world-renowned collection of the society, which is celebrating its 175th year this year.

The museum is expected to attract about 150,000 visitors and double student visits to more than 50,000 annually. It will replace the outdated and undersized current Wisconsin Historical Museum, located since 1984 in a converted hardware store at the top of State Street on Capitol Square.




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