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Kitchener city council votes to give THEMUSEUM $300K to stay open

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Kitchener city councillors voted in favour of giving THEMUSEUM $300,000 to avoid being forced to close. 

THEMUSEUM has been in the City of Kitchener since 2010. It was originally the Waterloo Regional Children’s Museum which opened in 2003.

According to THEMUSEUM, the Children’s Museum financial model was unsustainable from the start.

“The Children's Museum was opened with a flawed financial formula, very little money. This was coming from grants and so on, and we inherited that. And we've been saddled with this underfunding ever since,” said David Marskell, CEO of THEMUSEUM.

Unanimous vote 

On Monday night, after hours of debate, council unanimously voted in favour of giving THEMUSEUM the $300,000 it is asking for.

Councillors also voted in favour of an amendment to ask the Region of Waterloo to split the amount owed. So the city will be asking the region for $150,000 before July 1. 

"I think council now understands the inequities of funding locally, how our own organization are funded, how this municipality is not funded by the federal government, and that it really is a dog's breakfast," said Marskell. "We really need to pull it together. I'm really glad they saw that today."

There was also an amendment on the table to defer the decision to June, but it failed.

David Marskell from THEMUSEUM at the special council meeting on May 13, 2024. (CTV Kitchener/Dan Lauckner)

Before the meeting

Staff with THEMUSEUM said the money from the one-time grant would support continuing operations with plans to work with the city to find a sustainable vision/model.

In a letter to city staff, THEMUSEM said the money would help with additional staff needed in the summer months and would help them continue all programs, camps and rentals during that time. The letter said they will also consider rebranding options.

The councillor for the area admitted that the city has been supporting the museum for years. It even operates out of the city owned building that they do not pay rent for.

“I guess what's frustrating about it is that we're at this point of emergency funding and needing to kind of see them through to be able to vision for what's next and what could be sustainable going forward,” said Stephanie Stretch, ward 10 councillor, before the meeting. 

Report to council 

In a report that went to city councillors on Monday, city staff recommended giving $300,000 to THEMUSEUM but with some stipulations including a collaborative negotiation process to look at changing THEMUSEUM’s business model to one that would be sustainable in the future.

City staff said in the report that losing THEMUSEUM would be a “significant impact on the community”. The report goes on to say losing the facility would mean a loss to core programming like exhibits for educational learning. Staff also noted a loss of summer camps, tourism traffic and community events without THEMUSEUM.

“We can't lose this,” said Marskell. “There’s two scenarios for downtown Kitchener, one with THEMUSEUM and one without one. And I don't think anybody wants to see that scenario with one without.”

Marskell added that bringing in exhibits that bring in guests costs money and he isn’t sure if scaling back is the route to go.

“Scaling back is a tough one because as soon as you scale back and you don't bring in exhibits, then your attendance goes down and your membership goes down and it starts to implode,” he said.

He hopes they don’t have to close but if it did come to that, he wants to ensure it happens right away.

“Our board has said we have enough money in our reserves should we close, should we be forced to close, we have enough money to pay our bills and to wind down, take care of our staff in an orderly manner and walk away with heads held high,” Marskell said.

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