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Kitchener’s THEMUSEUM has undergone exciting changes in the nine years since it opened. Originally a children’s museum, the institution’s aims have expanded significantly. Their goal is to be a premier cultural destination in the region and to appeal to a much wider audience while keeping their highly successful child-focused exhibits central to their work. These aims were developed over several years under the guidance of Executive Director David Marskell, and the rebranded institution was launched in late 2010.
THEMUSEUM’s current mission is ambitious: “To scan the globe for fresh cultural content and use it to stage experiences that stimulate transformative connections for our audiences.”
When he first arrived at THEMUSEUM, Marskell was empowered to take risks and explore new strategies. Though management took measures to mitigate those risks without compromising the quality of the exhibitions, they still found it necessary to look into funding options that would serve as a financial safety net. THEMUSEUM’s budget has increased nearly 400% in five years and its audience has likewise expanded. To fulfill its ambitious mandate, THEMUSEUM requires funding for down payments on the world-class exhibits they are promoting.
Attracting and creating exhibitions frequently requires deposits of tens of thousands of dollars up to a year before an exhibition opens. This pushed the capacity of THEMUSEUM’s cash flow, forcing them to carry the burden of debt until tickets can be sold and sponsorships found to cover costs. THEMUSEUM’s management would like to have a mix of exhibits: art-based shows that meet their mandate but don’t necessarily garner a lot of revenue, as well as blockbuster shows that more than cover the cost of launch and development.
THEMUSEUM has also begun to reach capacity in certain areas. They would like to be able to accommodate more schoolchildren for programming, and reduce the number of days per year they must close for exhibition changeovers. They continue to look into opportunities for expansion and they required capital financing to meet their goals.
How CFFAC Helped
In 2011 the CFF team, through arrangements made by their community partners, the Kitchener and Waterloo Community Foundation and the Lyle S. Hallman Foundation met with Marskell and THEMUSEUM’s CFO to discuss the museum’s vision and plans. THEMUSEUM, assisted by CFF’s Director of Lending Services, worked to structure a loan that would work best for the museum’s exhibition and expansion needs.
Because the loan provided THEMUSEUM with the cash flow they needed, they could expand their portfolio of offerings and create value for the arts community in Kitchener and the entire region. It also allowed THEMUSEUM to begin the process of expanding their facility to accommodate growing community needs.
Marskell firmly believes that nonprofits must take the same kinds of calculated risks private enterprises take, in order to fulfill their missions. He realizes, at the same time, that a financial backstop is necessary. He states, “Working with the Community Forward Fund allowed us to pursue growth needed to meet our mission in the community and to make decisions we needed to grow and thrive as a premier cultural organization in the Kitchener Waterloo community.”