Milwaukee Public Museum reports losses after new Egyptian exhibit

The Milwaukee Public Museum faces a $1.6 million loss in the first quarter of the current fiscal year, after opening “Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt” and losing 5 percent of its attendence compared to last year.

The exhibit, which opened on Oct. 14, and its struggles are not unusual, according to Wally Mason, the director of Marquette’s Haggerty Museum of Art.

“There are plenty of examples of museums that have brought expensive programs to a community with the hope that through admission and earned income they will glean not only a new audience but actually show a windfall of profit,” Mason said. “It is hard to predict public taste.”

Marquette associate professor of classics Patrica Marquardt said the quality of the exhibit may not directly correlate to public interest.

“People I know who have seen it have enjoyed it,” Marquardt said. “I think maybe the cost is what is keeping people away.”

Brittney Lutsch, a graduate student in the in College of Health Sciences who has visited the museum multiple times, agreed that high prices are keeping people away. A standard adult ticket to the exhibit costs $27.50 from Monday through Thursday, and $29.50 from Friday through Sunday.

“I’ve been to see the Titanic exhibit, the ‘Streets of Old Milwaukee’ exhibit and the butterfly exhibit,” Lutsch said. “I looked into the Cleopatra exhibit and it is a little pricey.”

The museum is offering free parking at the nearby MacArthur Square ramp and also had a special discount ticket price in January.

The deficit from the Cleopatra exhibit comes six years after the museum was found to be $9 million dollars in the red, with charges being filed against then-CFO Terry Gaouette for allegedly hiding deficits for years.

Mason noted that unlike a lot of museums, the Haggerty does not rely on revenue as a measure of success.

“My experience is in an environment where revenue gained through gate admission is not part of the consideration when determining the success or failure of an exhibition,” Mason said. “Programs at the Haggerty are all free and open to the public.”

A museum spokeswoman was unavailable for comment as of press time. The Cleopatra exhibit closes April 29.