How important is the Stratford Festival? Very!
This statement is in support of the Stratford Festival and to underscore its importance to the City of Stratford, the region, the province and in particular to the Stratford Perth Museum.
Unlike nearly all community museums in Canada, the Stratford Perth Museum gets less than half its funding from municipalities and we must raise over 50% of our revenue. So we can’t imagine there is a community museum that has been impacted by this pandemic any more than the Stratford Perth Museum.
We are more of a tourism destination than a community museum. Our entrance surveys tell us that 60% of our visitors, from May to October, were at the Festival the same day they visited the museum, the day before or the day after.
Additionally, 25% of our visitors annually are not from Canada. Not all are Beliebers - many are here to go to the Festival and the museum becomes a second stop.
In addition to visitors, how important is the Stratford Festival to the museum?
It was the bond formed with the Festival in 2013 that turned the museum around. That partnership, where the museum tried to augment the visitor experience for people coming to the Festival, led to Shakespeare’s First Folio being at the museum, the Anne Frank House exhibit, the Franklin Expedition exhibit, the foremost collection of Inuit art in the world from the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Harper Lee museum’s first foray out of Alabama to mount the To Kill a Mockingbird exhibit in Stratford.
In 2013, the museum had 853 visitors and in 2018, we had over 12,000. A lot of good work and good fortune went into that turnaround but without question, the one defining moment that made that series of events possible, was the support of the Festival.
But there is so much more to our relationship than presenting exhibits that line up with the Festival season.
The Stratford Festival sells tickets to the museum via its box office and its website, it provides us with space in its Visitors’ Guide and a full page ad in one of its playbills – all free of charge. The Festival invites us to speak about the museum at events where they have invited hundreds of teachers and tour operators. We partner on grants. The Theatre Store provides us with stock for our gift shop. We teamed up with the Festival to animate the gazebo outside the main theatre with promotional video for the Festival, the museum and Perth County. Our manager of exhibits works closely with the Stratford Festival archives on a myriad of things, including our annual exhibit about the Festival.
The Festival is the museum’s best friend and partner.
It makes one think of Justin Trudeau’s father when we think about the museum’s (and this city’s) relationship with the Stratford Festival. Pierre Trudeau was asked about Canada’s relationship with the United States (in 1969, not now.) He remarked that “living next door to the United States is like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered it is … one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”
And so it is in Stratford. When the Festival is hurting, we are all hurting – including, if not especially the museum.
It was the Stratford Festival that pulled this city out of economic collapse in the 1950s after the CNR shops closed. It was the Festival that reached out to the struggling museum in 2013 and helped it become the vibrant, popular and relevant place it is today.
And so it will have to be again. By saving, supporting and coming to the aid of the Stratford Festival you are not only throwing a lifeline to the best theatre company in Canada, one of the best in the world and its hundreds of employees but you are in turn paving the way for an economic recovery in the entire region. Restaurants, stores, hotels and bed and breakfasts, countless other businesses and all the people who work there are as worried about the Festival as they are about their own business. That’s because they know it’s all entwined.
Similarly, the current situation at the Stratford Perth Museum is one of some dread. We have questions as to what we will have to do to be solvent, relevant and sustainable. We are fearful and there are a ton of unknowns.
But there is one thing we are certain of – without a strong Stratford Festival, the museum does not have a bright future and to be honest, not much of a future at all. Nor do hundreds of other businesses and thousands of people.