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January 2019 - David Marskell

Planning to change for the better

THEMUSEUM CEO is listening to the community’s call for more collaboration

by Jon Rohr

To David Marskell, CEO of THEMUSEUM, receiving an award that recognizes his community involvement, generosity, and hard work, was “not expected… and I truly do feel humbled by it”.

Marskell went to Ottawa to accept the Senate of Canada 150+ Commemorative Medal with 50 other people. “When they say making your country a better place … it’s pretty powerful, and pretty emotional,” said Marskell, in an exclusive interview with Exchange Magazine. “I do sincerely accept this on behalf of THEMUSEUM and the Board... my board is so patient with me.” He adds, “Anybody who knows me needs patience with me… the team here is so great.”

Marskell, who has been with THEMUSEUM since 2006, is now totally immersed in thinking about the future and with that, and a generous contribution from BMO, the expansion of THEMUSEUM’s floor space.

Marskell is focused on growth and development of THEMUSEUM. And he has put money where his vision is – he and his brother Ken have personally guided $1,000,000 to this cause, from their parents’ endowment fund.

He has been meeting with various community groups “to get buy-in on a broad basis from the community, to seek their input of what they want here.” He sees this as an important step. “I need to be armed when we get to the municipalities, because the municipalities have to buy into this, or it implodes... it’s as simple as that.”

THEMUSEUM hired Metroline research company to conduct surveys in the community with respect to next steps. “We’ve got 1060 surveys completed.”

From the surveys, says Marskell, came three key results: “1) a huge percentage want us to collaborate with others, 2) interesting feedback on the features and design people want, and 3) dedicated feeder space, permanent family exhibition, enhanced food and beverage, merchandising and so on.”

Marskell considers “the one that really was wonderful and interesting,” is that they want THEMUSEUM to collaborate.

“We gave a choice of who to collaborate with, whether it was the Clay and Glass, the rare Charitable Reserve, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), or Launch Waterloo which is a recent non-profit start-up venture designed to create and curate STEAM-powered programming to harness the creativity and curiosity of our community’s youngest members… People could check all that they wanted.”

The top five results were checked off by more than 65% of respondents. Number one, with 78%, was the ROM. “Very significant” says Marskell. Respondents “want us to partner with the ROM.” Number 2 spot goes to local artists, musicians and theatre; number 3 is working with local tech companies; number 4 goes to cultural diversity; and number 5 is to work with the AGO.

Marskell says, “What respondents said, is they want us to bring really great, high level stuff here, and put it alongside the innovative cool stuff that our local artists and tech companies are doing.” He has been meeting with many different groups, both large and small.

Marskell says, “Before I got here there were some [cultural and artistic] silos, for whatever reason. I believe it stems from not being amalgamated, and funding is a dogs’ breakfast … some of the local theatre groups are thriving… Larger organizations are limping along. We’re in trouble,” says Marskell. “Sustainability is one thing, but we need to flourish.”

Marskell highlights the failure of “The Creative Enterprise Initiative”, founded by a well-meaning group of business people. “They tried and unfortunately for whatever reason it didn’t work. This does give us some opportunity,” he states, adding that a fundamental problem with the model was that The Creative Enterprise model was “top-down”, and “how we’re going to grow… is bottom up.”

His plan will take time, “four to five years at the earliest.” Marskell says to make it work, “the federal government, the provincial government and local municipalities need to be onside.”

The CEO is “truly optimistic” about the future. “I’ve never felt as good about the community. There is a plan and it’s not about THEMUSEUM, it’s about a project. Yes, THEMUSEUM is involved, and helps the organization become sustainable, it helps many arts groups, and it’s also an anchor and entrance to downtown Kitchener”.


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