Increasing attendance is a key to the survival of Queenston’s RiverBrink Art Museum, say several people who attended the museum’s open house last Friday.
The museum held a feasibility study open house to determine if it needs to expand its space. About 25 people showed up for the meeting.
RiverBrink received $24,000 from the Canada Cultural Spaces Grant and matched that amount to conduct the feasibility study on its proposed expansion, said the museum’s curator/director, Debra Antoncic.
She said she’d like to attract more visitors and have accessible facilities on all three levels of the museum while preserving signature architectural designs and exploiting the site’s location.
“We have this beautiful property and this wonderful collection I’m hoping the community will support both intellectually and then also financially,” she said in an interview.
Consultants from Lord Cultural Resources led the discussion. Open house visitors split into three groups, spending about 20 minutes with each consultant, pitching ideas and suggestions on the museum’s expansion.
Consultant Ted Silberberg noted the museum has not been able to adopt an “aggressive” marketing campaign due to cost concerns. The museum earned about $5,400 in admission revenue last year.
“Attendance is paramount in getting private and government supporters because they want to see that return in attendance,” Silberberg said.
He said one possible solution to increase attendance could be making admission free and using a variety of techniques, like the so-called “guilt messages” on donations boxes or Tap To Donate payments, to encourage people to contribute.
Some of the suggestions proposed by open house visitors included more parking, adding an elevator and expanding the space to allow more storage. The museum’s second and third floors can are accessible only by stairs or through a virtual tour.
The consulting firm’s president, Gail Lord, said people expressed the need for more space so the museum can showcase both contemporary art and the RiverBrink collection.
Another theme that emerged touched on a “lifelong learning” as NOTL residents, who are generally older and more financially secure, are eager to learn more about art and want to attend lecture series and hands-on activities, Lord said.
“Because they’re at the stage of their life, here in Niagara-on-the-Lake, when they can do this,” Lord said in an interview. “People think this is a very special place because it has a unique view of the river and … there are lots of historical reasons why that is.”
RiverBrink member and Niagara Falls resident Patti Malkiewich said the challenge is putting in an elevator without ruining a view of the river, disturbing neighbours and reducing the number of parking lots at the same time.
“I think there should be more room made somehow for the storage of collections. There are vaults downstairs but they’re getting very full,” she told The Lake Report. “And if you’re going to expand, you have to expand that, too.”
Some other ideas voiced at the open house included widening doorways, having more permanent collections and letting people lend or bequeath their artwork.
One resident also suggested using the former hospital site in Old Town for storing and showcasing collections. Another suggestion was to hold weddings and catered events at the site to attract more visitors and boost revenue.
Richard Baker, a past director of the museum, suggested having an outside teashop in the summer where people could come in and enjoy the view of the river.
“People need to stop in Queenston. They don’t,” Baker said. “Bringing more people is the key to survival.”
Another person suggested making a package comprised of a wine tour and admissions to the museum.
Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum curator Sarah Kaufman and Pumphouse Arts Centre office manager Gail Kerr said they were on hand to support RiverBrink and bring ideas to the table from their own experience operating a cultural space in town.
One of Kaufman’s proposals was having a separate multipurpose room that could be used for lectures and would prevent any damage being done to exhibits.
After the consultants review the suggestions, they will come back with a report for RiverBrink by the end of February or early March.