La Crosse Historical and Cultural Museum

Live Spark

La Crosse Historical and Cultural Museum Spark Session

Welcome citizens of La Crosse to your live Spark Session! Over the past few weeks team members from FEH Design, Historical Society representatives, City and County representatives, and the community have been working behind the scenes to facilitate this interactive experience. 

The Goals for Success were created to guide design decisions and help evaluate design outcomes for the museum project.

Scroll down and review the designs that have been created by team members from FEH Design with the input and guidance of the community. 


A La Crosse Historical and Cultural Museum that:

  • Reflects and celebrates the diversity of the community
  • Builds a better community
  • Houses the entirety of the collection safely under one roof with space to expand and the ability to display its variety and vastness
  • Increases the awareness and educates all visitors to the value of local stories, history, and cultures
  • Is an economic asset to the community
  • Attracts young visitors and families to the La Crosse area to live, work, and gather
  • Is financially, environmentally, culturally, and socially sustainable
  • Becomes a platform for other community, regional, and national entities
  • Preserve local history

A process that:

  • Creates a fundable capital and operable solution
  • Thoroughly evaluates available site options in a timely manner
  • Develops the “big vision” to be phased over time
  • Innovatively engages people with a wide variety of backgrounds, perspectives, and interests
  • Collaborates and partners with other institutions
  • Fosters community relationships
  • Produces an inspiring story that motivates people to participate

Lord Cultural Resources Top Line Findings 

  • A new vision: The results of the research and analysis suggest that the new public-facing component of the LCHS (i.e., the new Museum) should not be merely a larger version of what it now is. It must instead offer a fundamentally different type of visitor experience, showcasing the County’s stories using new methods from multiple perspectives and disciplines using up-to-date techniques. A dynamic new vision of what a County historical society museum is and can be must be the goal.
  • The importance of cost control as a path to sustainability: While the vision must be new and ambitious, the size of the building and operation must be controlled. Other museum institutions in La Crosse and successful museums across the country all focus on cost control as the main path to operational sustainability. Keeping costs low via measures like a right-sized facility, phasing, restricted operating hours and a reasonable public program schedule (to keep staffing costs low) will assist with this goal.
  • Sustainability is achieved via a healthy mix of earned, contributed/donated, investment/endowment and government operating revenue. Virtually no museum is able to earn 100% of its operating requirement; the average U.S. museum earns about 35% of its annual operating requirement via earned revenue sources such as admissions, facility rentals, memberships, public/educational program charges and retail. Private donations and contributions will therefore be crucial, especially in the context of Wisconsin where government operating support to museums is low. This means that fundraising and development expertise on staff will be crucial for the new Museum.
  • Maximizing attendance should be a priority: The most important measure of impact is attendance and therefore the new museum should be planned in such a way as to maximize this. This helps private sector funders justify their decision to contribute – the more people the Museum can reach, the more impactful a donation will be. The best way to maximize attendance is through an engaging, interactive and relevant visitor experience as well as operational strategies such as reasonable admission charges.
  • Weaving science, technology and environmental themes into the historical narrative will be key to broadening audiences. The data analysis and the interview process in support of this study both confirmed that these types of themes and experiences hold more appeal to a broader range of potential visitors than what many imagine as a typical “history museum” experience. This does not mean that the new Museum should be a science center or natural history museum, but it does mean that these themes should be woven into the stories of La Crosse County over its long history.
  • The importance of providing value for money: Another way to maximize attendance is to ensure that admission charges match the community’s perception of value. Our analysis shows that the La Crosse area is a relatively low admission charge environment for museums. The most successful museum-related institutions in the area are seen to offer excellent value for money: a good visitor experience for a reasonable admission charge.
  • A new and dynamic name for the Museum: From other projects completed by Lord Cultural Resources, we note that local history museums are moving away from including the term “Historical Society” in their names. This trend is particularly pronounced for state history museums: of the 48 in existence, just 15 continue to utilize the “historical society” name because it appears archaic or anachronistic to many visitors, or suggests that the museum is an exclusive club.
  • Recommendations to support of these directions appear in our Phase 1 report and include:
    • Interpretive and visitor experience strategy
    • Site analysis and facility space program
    • Operational recommendations (admission charge, hours of operation, marketing and revenue generation)
    • Staffing plan.

Spark sketches

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