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The original item was published from 9/11/2021 9:33:34 AM to 1/1/2022 12:00:15 AM.

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Rahr West Art Museum

Posted on: September 11, 2021

[ARCHIVED] A Renovation for Generations



Anyone recently driving north on Eighth Street will have seen a lot of activity in front of the Rahr-West Art Museum. Tree removal, heavy equipment digging up the lawn, and piles of gravel hints at big changes. With word coming out earlier in the year that the museum is to undergo a significant elevator addition, one might get the impression that it must be a gigantic elevator or otherwise the expansion project has grown out of control. In fact, the changes to the lawn are a distinct project separate from the elevator expansion. The museum’s grounds are undergoing significant landscaping changes to both preserve our mansion and allow for more public use.

The Rahr-West Art Museum recognized through a series of internal and external studies that the landscaping of the museum’s east lawn was encouraging water runoff to seep back toward the historic Vilas-Rahr Mansion. While engineers did not observe any damage to the building, the potential for water damage to the mansion, a nationally registered historic site, made re-grading the lawn a necessity. 

The practical need to change the museum’s landscaping led staff and board to re-think how the East Lawn could be used. Art museums in Wisconsin and elsewhere operate outdoor sculpture parks, and the Rahr-West believes that an opportunity is available now to do something similar for our community. Working with a landscape architect, the museum developed a plan for new landscaping that would better allow for access and usage of the East Lawn. 

The Rahr-West Art Museum’s East Lawn revitalization plan included three main components:1. Pathways for a future sculpture walk, 2. Accessible spaces for classes and events, 3. A designated area with information on the Sputnik IV crash. 

The revitalization of the museum’s East Lawn will eventually include an outdoor art sculpture path. The landscaping plan includes paths and designated sites for future art additions. In the coming years, the Rahr-West plans to work with artists, both local and international, to create permanent art sculpture for the museum’s East Lawn. The museum will also create footings to support temporary outdoor sculpture, allowing for a rotating schedule featuring local artists. The phase two sculpture walk project will result in a twenty-four-hour public exhibition.

For the Rahr-West Art Museum’s East Lawn landscaping plan, the museum wanted to ensure that it included gathering spaces accessible to all. This includes a kids and family area, tree-lined and surrounded by new landscaping, that will be used for outdoor art classes and events. 

Many visitors have commented on the museum’s new outdoor sign. This was the first component of the revitalization project, and includes an auxiliary sign that, when completed, will give visitors more information about the 1962 crash landing of the Sputnik IV spacecraft. The sign looks out over the actual impact site where Sputnik hit North Eighth Street. New landscaping will include a gathering area adjacent to the sign, and will serve as a staging area for future events. The museum envisions evening music, art talks, and other happenings that will make the Rahr-West Art Museum’s East Lawn a place for the public to come together.


The Rahr-West Art Museum’s Historic  Vilas-Rahr Mansion, a Queen Anne style home built in 1893 that is on the National Register of Historic Places, will be accessible for the first time in its 128 years 

The four story mansion currently requires visitors to ascend stairs to reach any of its levels, effectively prohibiting guests with mobility issues. The museum has consulted with architects, engineers and historians for decades in an attempt to rectify this limitation. Due to the historic nature of the building, most solutions have been in excess of available funding. Presently, the museum can only offer accessibility-impaired visitors a basic video tour of the Mansion.  In order to meet the goals and allow all visitors to fully experience everything the Museum has to offer, the solution is to add an elevator that enables access to each of the six floors of the facility – 4 floors of the Vilas-Rahr Mansion and 2 floors of the connected exhibition galleries.  Architectural solutions have been drafted and could be revised and modified for updated needs.

Funding for this project comes from a special State of Wisconsin Community Development Building Grant Fund administered through the City of Manitowoc. The elevator project was identified as a candidate due to its helping the museum become more accessible. Additionally, the elevator project will kick start renovations to the previously closed third floor of the museum as well as improvements to the mansion’s public galleries. Construction on the elevator is expected to commence in 2021 with anticipated completion by May, 2022. 


Over the next four years, museum renovations will need your support. Contact Executive Director Greg Vadney to find out ways to contribute.

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