By Steve Rice
When the Stratford Perth Museum opened its Anne Frank House exhibit on June 6 it quickly became apparent that a few changes would be necessary.
“We opened that exhibit at 9 o’clock and at about 10:30 a volunteer came to me and said, ‘we need to do two things right away,’” general manager John Kastner recalled Thursday. “They said, ‘we need to get some kleenex in the building, and we need to come up with a way where people can leave for a few minutes and come back in.’
“Those are the two things that were the most telling for me.”
The heart-wrenching and inspiring exhibit Anne Frank: A History for Today, was witnessed by a record audience of about 12,330 from the June opening through to this past Sunday. That’s more than triple the total of 3,800 who passed through the museum doors over the entire 12 months of 2014.
It’s double the museum’s projection of 6,000 visitors, calculated with the hope that perhaps 10% of the 60,000 people who watched the Stratford Festival’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank might also visit the museum.
It also established a new Canadian record for attendance at the traveling Anne Frank House exhibit.
By the numbers, the exhibit was undoubtedly a success. But Kastner said that comments on social media, in emails and in the museum’s guest book show it was equally successful as an exhibit that was “very meaningful for our visitors and given current global events, very relevant.”
Since forming a relationship with the Festival in 2014, the museum’s numbers have gone up dramatically. Just 853 visited during the 12 months of 2013.
Kastner said visitors this year came from such far off places as British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Texas and Louisiana. But there was also a large influx of Perth County residents later in the season, many of whom said they’d never been to the museum before and left impressed with what they’d seen.
“One of the real benefits of having 12,000 people through is now 12,000 more people know where we are and for 99% of the people, I hope, it was a positive thing. It puts us on people’s radar as something to do,” Kastner said.
“Obviously the museum is a lot busier in the summer now because the last two years we’ve presented exhibits that are connected to the Festival. It’s a great relationship, certainly from our end, and the feedback I get from the Festival is that they think it’s positive as well. When people come to the Festival, it’s something else for them to do that’s related to the Festival. And it’s in keeping with the mission of the museum.”
Besides the Anne Frank exhibit, the Festival had an exhibit entitled Order to Disorder at the museum in 2015.
Next summer the Festival will have an exhibit about Kingship, while the museum will have a second Festival-related exhibit that will be announced next month.
Kastner said there are already talks about some kind of partnering for exhibits in 2017 when Canada will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
Anne Frank: A History for Today, was largely funded by a very successful fundraising campaign by Perth County’s Dutch community, spearheaded by Harry Visser and Johan Bossers.
The museum also received a grant from Canada’s Ministry of Heritage, while many local businesses made donations or significant in-kind contributions.
“To see a whole community work together on one common project is really beyond expectation,” said Julie Couture, coordinator of Canadian educational projects at the Anne Frank House. “So much credit goes to the staff of the museum, the colleagues from the Stratford Festival, the devoted guides, the passionate visitors and to the community for its support.”
Julie Guinard, museum and collection coordinator at Montreal’s Holocaust Memorial Centre, expressed appreciation that their artifacts reached a new audience and hoped they helped visitors “understand the impact of the Holocaust on individuals, families and communities.”