The Kitchener City Council has desperately tried to determine what the region needs during the pandemic, with financial limitations increasing due to COVID-19. On Jan. 14, 2021, the council decided to postpone a $100,000 one-time grant request from THEMUSEUM’s CEO, David Marskell for an upcoming exhibition about The Rolling Stones.
As it stands, THEMUSEUM owns the exclusive rights to UNZIPPED, an exhibition to celebrate The Rolling Stones’ 60th anniversary by exploring the untold history of their lives.
Tickets for the exhibition were put on sale a year before the opening date and THEMUSEUM plans to make announcements regarding progress for UNZIPPED throughout the year. “We’ve had over $100,000 in sales already. We’re booking tours, bus tours, one from as far away as Nova Scotia. We have significant support from the Province of Ontario through the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund – $150,000. We’ve got local corporations that have come together, and we’ve got well over $100,000 collectively from them,” Marskell said.
The grant, in addition to Ontario Cultural Attractions and local corporations, would give THEMUSEUM a total of $350,000 in funding eight months before the grand opening. The exhibition’s potential helps account for the high cost.
“We’re going to be upwards, close to $800,000 or $900,000 when we’re said and done with marketing, building out a merchandise store which we have opened online already, but we will open up one at the front of our building, and some of the other activities we intend to bring in and announce along the way,” Marskell explained.
Marskell hopes the grand opening for the exhibition coincides with the widespread rollout of vaccines for COVID-19. He is predicting that a considerable number of people will go out and experience the UNZIPPED exhibition.
The idea behind the one-time grant was to give the economy a head-start in boosting the tourism industry back into shape. Marskell views the grant as the perfect opportunity to help the Kitchener-Waterloo region to attract tourists once more. He believes the exhibition will revive the regional economy as a whole as it will also help local restaurants, hotels, gas stations, and retailers. “People are going to come from far away, and if we can work together as a community to have them stay overnight, see something at Drayton at St. Jacobs, at the symphony, or what have you, we need to take advantage of that,” Marskell said.
While Marskell hopes the exhibition will be a financial success, he is unsurprised by recommendations from regional staff that the council should not approve the grant request. Money is tight because of COVID-19, and many organizations need support. “This will come back hugely, way more than the $100,000 investment. If that prompts 10,000 people, and 10 per cent of them or 1,000 book a hotel for $200, that’s $200,000, plus the restaurants and all the other things. So, it’s not an easy decision for them, and I get that. And they do support us on an annual basis, but it’s just them trying to balance things to make the community the best possible place it can be.”
There are additional concerns regarding Marskell’s statements, in particular regarding what would happen if the vaccine process is slower than expected. Will the region be forced to delay the exhibition to 2022? Furthermore, since the exhibition is opening in November, how many people and tourists will they expect to have? Usually, most tourism occurs during the summer. It could take months for people and businesses to recover and return to normalcy. Regardless, the council’s decision was to postpone a decision on the one-time grant request, with potential for review at a later date.