Why You Should Catch the Sarah Ball Allis Museum Takeover

The Charles Allis Museum is honoring her legacy through June 11.

The Charles Allis Art Museum dropped the Ball – as in Sarah Ball Allis. Even though she was responsible for collecting much of the museum’s art and gave the East Side mansion to the city upon her death in 1945, Sarah had requested that the museum bear her late husband Charles’ name, leaving her legacy largely forgotten.  

This year, that changes. For five months, the museum is calling itself the Sarah Ball Allis Art Museum and hosting a museum-wide exhibition honoring the generous socialite. The show poses a question: If Sarah was still alive, what art would she be collecting?  

“We think that Sarah would have leaned into collecting artists that identified as women or non-binary queer because we kind of view Sarah as a radical woman,” senior curator Phoenix Brown says. “We also have work that disrupts expectations, and that’s something Sarah did.” 


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An example of this disruption is Melissa Dorn’s takeover in Sarah’s bathroom. It’s a room that no one would have thought much of before, but now it’s a very feminine space sporting a loud, bright pink wall hanging and tons of textural details.  

“We walked into that space, and it hadn’t been open in maybe 10 years, and we said, ‘It’s awake,’” executive director Jaymee Harvey Willms says. “We got to see Sarah in that space, and I think that installation brought the museum to life.” 

Learn about Sarah’s legacy and see this art collection on display now through June 11 (charlesallis.org).  

“Milwaukee, this is your story and this is one of your mansions on the Upper East Side, not reinventing itself, but rediscovering itself,” Harvey Willms says.



This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s May issue.

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Alli Watters is the digital and culture editor at Milwaukee Magazine. That means that in addition to running this website, she covers art, entertainment, style, home and more for the magazine. It also means she doesn't sleep much.