This Rolling Stones exhibition is a big deal. The timing could be just right: The cautions and restrictions of the coronavirus era will likely diminish, bit by bit, over the spring and summer. A November through January run is unusual for a major event like this, but if everything goes well this should be a time when we’ll all be eager to move around some.
A request for a bit of extra marketing support — $100,000 to intensify advertising in Toronto, Montreal, Quebec and potentially Buffalo and Detroit — seems reasonable.
Still, with local/regional media struggling and the regional arts community devastated, you wince when you see scarce resources going to metropolitan ad sellers, and weep when you see such dollars tossed in to the gaping maw of social media behemoths.
But that’s the way of the world nowadays, and there’s no question an influx of visitors from near and far can help the local economy break out of the doldrums of the “Great Cessation”. So I’m not raising any objection.
No, I’m going to be so bold as to suggest an even larger amount be earmarked, the sooner the better, to help ensure the communities of Greater Waterloo make the most of the opportunity David Marskell and his Museum team are providing for us here.
The idea I have in mind goes back to the latter days of my work with the WR Arts Council: a proposal to mark the 200th anniversary of Waterloo as a name in Upper Canada in a grand way, including a Cultural Capital of Canada bid for 2016.
This would have come with several millions of investment from the federal government.
There was considerable interest, including from the newly formed Creative Enterprise Initiative and from Kitchener Centre MP Stephen Woodward, who recognized the potential immediately and provided the most enthusiastic and effective support I’ve ever received from a member of parliament, federal or provincial.
But the Harper government cancelled the program — no blame, it wasn’t well conceived. Canada just doesn’t have enough cities to go around. But we here in the Tri-City area, the 10th largest urban centre in the country, could have made very good use of that kind of investment. And I am certain that our bid would have been successful: We were ready for this.
Even though the Arts Council had shut down by then, I would have worked hard to try to make sure that the bulk of the funding was dedicated to paying artists for doing the work only they can do. The plan was to invest in making art happen in our communities, like the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund has been doing year after year.
So to ensure the money stretched as far as possible, we had to be frugal. The plan was to engage people in Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and the townships in a kind of citizen tourism promotion effort. But it wouldn’t have been just to save money: If it had succeeded, it would have provided a kind of messaging that money couldn’t possibly buy.
I’m not sure what more recent tourism figures look like, but at the time I was struck by the fact that, according a current study, the #1 reason people come here is to visit friends and relatives. That’s right: WE are the top tourist attraction — by far — in Waterloo Country.
So the idea was to organize a campaign encouraging everyone in the region to invite friends and relatives to come and visit, thereby adding a homecoming aspect to the anniversary year and the Cultural Capital of Canada designation.
The Rolling Stones have been part of my life almost from the beginning of their career. I’m not the hard core fan type, but at the peak of the youth culture era, I was awe-struck by these artists and their work. My regard began to wane somewhat when they became a global brand, complete with a tacky logo that is now almost as recognizable as the classic Coca-Cola script.
I remember the point when I started noticing people I’d grown up with going to Stones concerts with their teenage sons and daughters: The Rolling Stones had become an intergenerational point of connection. And that was going on 40 years ago.
Since then, they’ve become a global connector. They really have taught the world to sing, if not in perfect harmony, at least in time with a U.S. blues beat.
Their reception in Cuba in 2016, during the Obama era thaw in relations between the superpower and the mini revolutionary republic south of Florida, suggests that they have been more effective missionaries of freedom than the CIA, the United States Information Agency, Voice of America, Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and Radio Free Europe combined.
They’re not saints, but what we’re getting for three months starting November 2nd, is the 21st century equivalent of religious relics, the original tourist attraction of the Western world. There’s even talk of a living, breathing member of the band coming here in person to offer his blessings.
This could prove to be a real godsend, and we’d be wise to take full advantage of the opportunities that open up.
So here’s my proposal: Let’s all throw in a couple of quarters, say, to a town and city funding pot, and another four bits to cover Waterloo Country as a whole.
That would add up to five times the amount the Region has been asked to contribute. Let’s make the goal to at least match that amount with sponsorships and donations. So in total a cool million, which is about the price of an average house in Toronto.
The fund will be to encourage and facilitate other community groups to come up with other things for people to do while they’re here to see the Rolling Stones exhibit and/or visit friends and relatives in November, December and January
This will have to be done immediately, because November, December and January are not far away.
I recommend forming a jury of trusted community members, and paying them a fair amount to quickly set the criteria and then proceed to make decisions about how best to invest the money.
The thing is, almost every extended family or friendship cohort must have at least a couple of Rollings Stones fans interested in seeing the relics. If we made the exhibit a homecoming event, people would come in more than just groups of two or three. And they’ll stay a few days longer if friends and family are part of what brings them here.
There are only so many hotel, motel and bed/breakfast rooms available in these parts. By opening our homes to friends and relatives, we could dramatically expand the region’s capacity for welcoming visitors.
The ancillary attractions could be anything:
An off-season Oktoberfest session.
A Caribbean equivalent, featuring calypso, soca, salsa, reggae, reggaeton and zydeco instead of polka.
Special offers for symphony concerts already scheduled. Choral presentations.
Singalongs in churches: Beatles only; Rolling Stones only; Sound of Music; show tunes; ABBA; psalms and hymns.
A church organ extravaganza (2021 has been designated the Year of the Organ).
An arena-sized Art$Pay style show and sale.
A really big blues, Waterloo Country style, show.
A really big Country & Western, Waterloo Country style, show.
An immersive Celtic Real Life offering.
Poetry slams. Book fairs. Pow Wows. Talks. Lectures. Tastings. Guided walks.
Art in the forum and the public space.
Dancing in the streets, with boots, scarves and mitts.
In contrast to the Culture Days formula, I recommend charging, even if it’s just a nominal amount, for every offering.
There are roughly six months left to imagine, plan and get organized, and after that, another three months to invite friends and relatives to come and visit, and to get the house ready to receive them.
Treat it as an experiment. Make notes while the adventure unfolds. Let our imaginations run off the leash for a few months with a view towards doing it again, on a bigger scale, with a more original and dynamic focal point, in 2022, 2023, 2024 … .