TheMuseum gets $300K from Kitchener to remain open, develop new funding plan

The face of THEMUSEUM in downtown Kitchener. Google Maps

Kitchener City Council voted to give TheMuseum $300,000 to help prevent the local attraction avoid closing over the summer and to develop a better funding model.

The money will come in instalments over four months. The final $100,000 will come to the museum in August and there was a vote by the council on whether to defer that payment until June, which ultimately failed.

The council voted to send senior staff from TheMuseum to the regional council to ask them to pay for half of the bill.

“I think this is something that council needs to consider very, very seriously,” Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said on Monday night at a special council meeting to decide on the funding. “It’s a defining moment, not about just any arts and culture organization in the city. It’s about a key cultural institution.”

The special meeting of the council was called for after David Marskell, TheMuseum’s CEO, and its board sent a letter to the council pleading poverty while asking for the funds throughout the summer.

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Marskell and board member John Durden, spoke to the council beforehand to plead the case for keeping the cultural institution open.

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The CEO noted that TheMuseum came to life initially as a children’s museum more than 20 years ago in the old Goudie’s Department Store building.

“The Waterloo Region Children’s Museum opened with a flawed financial model way before our time at TheMuseum, and we’ve been with that underfunding ever since, having to earn almost 75 per cent of our earned revenue each year,” he explained. “This model, the inverse of most museum financial models locally and across Canada, is simply not sustainable.”

Marskell has been in charge for over a decade now and was asked why this was not addressed sooner.

“We have to raise 75 per cent of our of our revenues,” he explained. “Most museums raise 30 per cent of their revenues. We’ve talked to all councils. We’ve done our best to try to change that part, to flip that around, and we haven’t been able to.”

The delegates seem to offer little in the way of answers as to how to how they might improve the situation over three extra months other than a rebrand.

Marskell believes that if they shrunk the size of the museum, then it would lead to a decrease in foot traffic as well.

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They did say they had a $1.4 million reserved in case they had to pull the plug on the institution to refund events that are booked as well as pay staff.

The councillors grilled the pair for well over an hour before they provided their reasoning for their votes.
Ward 1 Counc. Stephanie Stretch noted that while she would love to see TheMuseum receive more funding, it needs to have a plan around it.

“We aren’t a bank,” the downtown councilor offered. “We can’t just continually, continually, continually fund this more and more and more. We need to have it be worked into our budget in a much more sustainable way ourselves.

“So, I agree, I have struggled a little bit with this but really, I would love to see, TheMuseum do well for our downtown.”

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