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Circus wagons (copy)

Doreen McCarthy, Gary Zahn and his grandson Marshall, 1, of Milwaukee, check out restored circus wagons Aug. 2017 at Circus World.

The Wisconsin Historical Society is taking over control of operations at Circus World this month.

The Baraboo museum’s five year-round staff members became state employees Jan. 1, as the agency assumed responsibility for management of the site. The changes came in wake of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed funding for Circus World in the 2017-19 state budget.

The measure will provide Circus World with more than $1 million over the next two years, while transferring control of operations from the privately funded Circus World Museum Foundation to the Historical Society.

The Historical Society and the Museum Foundation have worked together in the past to keep Circus World operating. Under the old agreement, the Historical Society owned the land, buildings and collections housed at Circus World, while the Museum Foundation oversaw operations at the site.

The Museum Foundation no longer manages the site under the new agreement, but serves as an advisory board and private fundraising entity for the museum. Museum Foundation leaders say the organization will continue to play a “strong advisory” and “philanthropic” role to draw enthusiasm and support of community members and circus fans across the country.

“The infusion of state funding, along with the enhanced relationship between Circus World and the state Historical Society, will provide a period of growth and sustainability for the museum,” said Baraboo Mayor Mike Palm, who chaired the Museum Foundation’s Transition Committee. “This will ensure that future generations continue to experience and enjoy Wisconsin’s rich circus history.”

The budget agreement will provide Circus World with $500,000 in state aid starting in 2018, and $700,000 for the 2019 fiscal year. The money will finance employee salaries and other operations.

The budget estimates Circus World will generate $925,000 in annual revenue, and the Museum Foundation will raise an additional $250,000 for the museum independently each year, creating a total operating budget of about $1.7 million in 2018 and $1.9 million in 2019.

Circus World is now part of the network of 12 museums and historic sites managed by the Historical Society. The transition occurs as the Baraboo museum prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of Circus World in 1959. Circus World’s summer performance season will begin May 18.

“We will be rockin’ around the clock to recall the decade Circus World first opened, with an all-new, 1950s-inspired ‘Doo-Wop Big Top Show,’” said Circus World Executive Director Scott O’Donnell.

Follow Jake Prinsen on Twitter @prinsenjake

Baraboo News Republic Reporter