KITCHENER — After more closures than there are COVID variants, the largest and most expensive exhibition ever hosted by Kitchener’s TheMuseum — The Rolling Stones/Unzipped — has turned a profit, though the gains could have been more substantial.
“Bottom line, we’ve been pushed back a month, opened to large numbers for a month, closed for a month, then, with our momentum and marketing dollars spent, opened at half capacity with vaccination cards and masks,” says David Marskell, CEO by TheMuseum.
“Nevertheless, financially we have met our budgetary targets and with six weeks to go our fiscal year will be in surplus for the second year in a row.”
The show received some public support: the regional council voted to give TheMuseum $100,000 for its release, and the province funded an additional $250,000.
The exhibition, which opened with much fanfare in late November, drew more than 22,000 visitors during its truncated, shutdown-prone run, making Marskell’s earlier prediction of 60,000 visitors a non-starter, despite its original February 27 closing date of April 18 has been extended.
The surplus, which totals about $300,000 from ticket sales, would have been closer to $2 million had the pandemic not happened, according to Marskell.
“Had we been clean for 100+ days, we would have had a monster win for the community,” he notes, basing his predictions on Unzipped’s opening month with no shutdowns.
Still, it’s good news for the mammoth 10,000-square-foot exhibition, a 300-item themed survey of six decades of the legendary Rolling Stones’ art, music and fashion.
“All in all, it was a success,” says Marskell. “People came from all over Canada and everyone was like, ‘How the hell did you get that? Why isn’t it in Toronto?’
“It never occurred to me that we would not be on budget. From the day we opened when we had a large number I knew people would come.”
“The unwrapped exhibit could not have arrived at our community at a better time,” agrees Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic.
“Amidst our ongoing collective fight against COVID-19, it has brought a new level of hope and enthusiasm to thousands of Rolling Stone fans from our community and beyond.”
“From TheMuseum’s perspective, it was also a great win as it demonstrated the possibilities of collaborating on inter-community events and new partnerships with local businesses, helping to put Kitchener and our region on the broader map of amazing cultural experiences.”
The biggest saving grace, Marskell says, was when The Stones’ management team granted a week-long extension after The Museum reopened “to make up for lost time. They knew what we had invested.”
It was enough to ensure success and launch the museum and region into a new orbit.
“We’re on the right track,” Marskell said of the possibility of winning a future broadcast of the Juno Awards to the Kitchener Auditorium.
“It goes well beyond dollars. Our brand has risen now. This community has benefited tremendously from this show.”
The show gave local hotels and restaurants an economic boost, as 42 percent of the show’s visitors — around 9,200 people — came from out of town.
“Unzipped generated a great deal of media interest and was a driving force for tourism,” confirms Michele Saran, CEO of Explore Waterloo Region.
“It put the spotlight on the Waterloo region at a time when capacity restrictions were being lifted and people were beginning to get back to exploring. When people came to visit Unzipped, they were encouraged to stay longer, which we know results in more dollars being spent at local businesses.”
The museum also generated additional revenue beyond ticket sales – it received a share of sales at the Ronnie Wood Art Exhibition, which sold $1 million worth of original artwork by the Stones guitarist, and will generate revenue once the show moves to Winnipeg, where it takes place runs from June 11th to July 31st at Portage Place.
TheMuseum has secured the Canadian rights to “Unzipped” and as such receives a royalty and a percentage of ticket sales from Winnipeg.
“Unzipped was originally only planned for Kitchener,” notes Marskell. “Once we gained the band’s trust, we negotiated further dates in Canada, the first being Winnipeg.”
“It diversified our revenue.”