THEMUSEUM celebrates 15 years in KW with multiple events honouring diversity and culture

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Photo by Yitian Cai

On Saturday, Sept. 29, THEMUSEUM hosted a celebration in honour of their fifteenth anniversary which featured special announcements, interactive exhibits and of course, birthday cake. 

After 15 years in Downtown Kitchener, the now well-known hub for arts and culture has big plans for the upcoming months and even years to come. 

David Marskell, CEO of THEMUSEUM, talked about the exhibits that are planned for the near future, specifically those connected to “Brain: The World Inside Your Head” which will be open until April 2019.

“On Oct. 17 we have the Gord Downie tribute night — that’s the anniversary of his passing due to brain disease.”

“We have a number of dialogues around the brain and Ben Fanelli — he was a Rangers hockey player that had a brain injury playing hockey — he’s going to be speaking here, there’s a whole series,” Marskell said. 

As well, THEMUSEUM is partnering with The Coalition of Muslim Women of KW (CMW-KW) for “Connections and Context: Islamic Influences.”

“And there are four artists who will explore Islamic influences and traditions. So that’s very much a part of what we do and what we aspire to do,” Marskell said. 

Perhaps one of the most highly anticipated events coming up is the appearance of acclaimed Canadian author, Margaret Atwood. 

“And for those who want to feed their brain, we’re announcing today that we’re having Margaret Atwood — author of The Handmaid’s Tale — she’s going to be interviewed through an informal conversation with Dave Bidini — [he] is the lead of the Rheostatics band.” 

“We want to really understand what university students want, what the tech community wants and what politicians want, so we build something that is part of the DNA of this community and that the municipalities will support.”

A large part of their focus is centred on diversifying exhibits and events in order to appeal to a more expansive array of people seeking arts and culture. 

“We want to have family experiences, we want to have exhibitions, we want to have that community stage and we want to have Museum After Dark events for cultural craving urbanites and university students. So, along that line we have Dance Mix 90s, a big party coming up,” Marskell said.  

THEMUSEUM has come a long way since its meager beginnings in 2003; it was transformed into the building it is today through the efforts of countless people who came together to bring their vision to life. 

“I wasn’t here at the time, but people — parents, the tech community led by Jim Balsillie, [the] University of Waterloo, a number of groups  — came together and raised 17 million dollars. Then created this glorious space and that truly is an amazing vision and it got us to this point and time,” Marksell said.  

As far as THEMUSEUM has come in the past 15 years, the outlook for the next 15 will present its own set of challenges and push for positive changes.

“It was a flawed financial model and it’s been a challenge for us. We’re underfunded — and there’s a longer story to that one — but we believe going forward, status quo doesn’t work and we don’t want to shrink or scale back, so we believe that expansion, being able to double or triple our revenues, will get us to sustainability,” Marskell said. 

Expanding THEMUSEUM will play a large role in maximizing its potential overall and is something that Marskell is hopeful to work towards after receiving a sizable donation as well as support from BMO. 

“They saw not just sustainability for THEMUSEUM, but for other arts and cultural groups that wanted to participate. It would also be a great anchor and entrance to Downtown Kitchener, so they’ve allowed us to buy the building at the corner, our neighbouring building, the bank. They didn’t put it on the market so we’ve got it at a reduced price and they donated a million dollars.” 

In terms of what the outlook is for the new space, that remains uncertain. 

“We’re quietly fundraising to own it and we’re talking to all sorts of people to understand — once we tear it down and build up — what should it be?” Marskell said. 

“We want to really understand what university students want, what the tech community wants and what politicians want, so we build something that is part of the DNA of this community and that the municipalities will support.”

Regardless of the time frame — at least four to five years — before the new building would be ready to open, the success and achievements of THEMUSEUM so far have been numerous. 

“Going back to the fifteenth anniversary, I’m really pleased with what we’ve been able to pull off. I mean bringing rock carvings from China, having a Terry Fox exhibition, a Warhol exhibition, working with Yoko Ono, celebrating Havana and Russia and pushing the envelope — we did an exhibit called ‘Getting Naked’ with a hundred artist works that had to do with nudity and it was about body image — we got into The New York Times with that.”

“We are a very unique organization,” Marskell said. 

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