How David Marskell Landed the Stones' Exhibition In Kitchener
The head of the Kitchener museum has scored a major coup by securing the Canadian premiere of The Rolling Stones | UNZIPPED exhibition. Here the longtime Stones fan explains how he pulled this feat off.
By Bill King
The Canadian premiere of The Rolling Stones' Unzipped exhibition comes to The Museum in November 2021. With hundreds of items and memorabilia forming a multimedia exhibition, including some on loan from the Stones’ private collection, Unzipped offers a comprehensive and engaging experience that gives fans an immersive look behind the curtain at the world’s greatest rock band. I spoke with CEO David Marskell about the behind the scenes efforts to mount such a show.
Bill King: I’m sure by now you’re working towards the opening?
David Marskell: It’s still a way off but we are thrilled at the response both in the media and people looking for tickets.
B.K: They’re on sale now?
D.M: Yes. Considering it’s a year out and leading into the holiday season we thought that a lot of people would be up to purchasing gift vouchers so they could choose their day, date and time of day. We are surprised our members are picking their times and ready to go.
B.K: Why the Rolling Stones and how did you manage to secure the attraction?
D.M: We began as a children’s museum. I was in Toronto and marketing director at the C.N.E. and Ontario Place for several years. This Children’s Museum was fairly new and not meeting its expectations so I had the opportunity to rebrand and grow the demographic by age and geography and we didn’t have a collection because we began as a Children’s Museum. That allowed us to do some cool things and respond quickly to things that are out there.
We’ve worked with Yoko Ono twice and had the Titanic exhibition, so when I realized the Rolling Stones had an exhibition touring four continents and twelve cities, I thought it was something perfect for us and we could put it together quickly. We are in a great location in relation to Toronto and London and other areas – even Detroit and Buffalo. It was just something I wanted to get. At the end of the story – the band manager was interviewed by somebody who asked how the heck did they get that, and she said, “they wanted it.” I take that as a compliment to our tenacity and improves our credibility that we can handle something like this.
B.K: There’s been the David Bowie exhibition in Toronto, and a variety of pop culture touring roadshows. These endeavours take serious planning and time to mount. How far out did you begin working on this?
D.M: We began a year ago in September. It was fifteen to sixteen months we continued the conversation and around January of this year, we were ready to sign and announce.
B.K: What makes this exhibition unique?
D.M: It’s obviously very well put together. It's a large comprehensive show, well over ten thousand square feet. The Bowie show is similar in terms of scale. It has a recreation of the flat the boys lived in Chelsea when they first started out. It’s got guitar collections. With headphones, you can select your favourite song or riff from a song. Zero in on Bobby Keyes saxophone. You really get into the music.
It goes beyond that to show the influence the Rolling Stones have had on film, fashion and so on. There are some wonderful costumes and items of clothing that the band has worn on stage over the years. Some great directors who talk about working with the Stones. The grand finale is a very large screen that takes you to Havana, Cuba for their show there. It’s about a sixteen-minute piece and the band talks then play two songs. It’s all things Rolling Stones and if you are into the Stones it’s probably something you don’t want to miss.
B.K: You must be a big fan?
D.M: I’m a huge fan. They are kind of my kryptonite. When they get going it’s tough not being on your feet dancing. I reference Bobby Keyes who passed a few years ago. People have asked me for my favourite song and it’s coming back to songs his saxophone was central to. I got to see him in a small bar in Buffalo probably six to eight years ago. A bunch of us went down in a stretch limousine just to see the Bobby Keyes band.
B.K: Going back to the early ‘60s, the Stones and Beatles shared common ground. Both bands rooted in the blues.
D.M: Absolutely. The Stone’s brand was kind of created to be the alternative to the Beatles with the little ties, hair cuts and everything. I don’t know if there will be another era like the ‘60s and ‘70s. The Stones are still at it approaching their sixth decade which is phenomenal for anybody working at anything.
B.K: It’s the longevity of the music. As you say, there will probably never be a period of music like that. We live in the digital age and there’s so much music out there. Back then you waited two years between recordings - I mean, waited in anticipation to not only hear the music but to receive the cover art and liner notes. It was magic in the hands.
D.M: I think this goes to the broad appeal of this particular show. I was happy to see the Rolling Stones a year ago June, in Barrie, ON. I went in another sort of rented limousine van thing, and my daughter and some of her friends – twenty-seven-year olds, and myself, 65 now – even people ten years older than me in the van. Just to see the broad appeal, watch their faces and bodies react when the Stones hit the stage. Huge fireworks went off and then the first riff by Keith Richards and away we went. It was thrilling.
B.K: With each decade came challenges for the band. How do you sustain and remain relevant? The punk era, Hip-Hop, New Wave, Alt Rock, EDM. At each juncture, they had to borrow something from each to update their sound.
D.M: You could even see the disco influence in some of their songs, bits of jazz and blues, for sure. I had tickets to see them in Detroit and Buffalo this past summer and think of this – they charge like $330 something dollars U.S. just to get into the building.
B.K: I saw them at the Gardens in 1972 with Mick Taylor on guitar and Stevie Wonder opening.
D.M: I was at that show and was recently putting together my ticket stubs I collect and started looking at some of the opening acts and had no idea as a teenager who the bands I was seeing were. The Eagles opened for them in Buffalo. Billy Preston played with them.
B.K: The Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund invested $150,000 in staging this. How did you convince them of the merits of staging this in Kitchener?
D.M: We are thrilled and pleased the government of Ontario had the wisdom to see how important this was in any year. It’s a good thing to support local tourism and bring people from Detroit and Buffalo and people around the province. After we get past the pandemic and a year from now, I have to believe that if we don’t, we will have bigger problems. A year from now and things have settled and we can safely move people around the province and can have hotel packages, people filling restaurants, it’s going to serve as some sort of reboot to uplift the local economy as people move around the province to come and see the show. Based on our website and ticket sales, people are going to do just that.
Please note, due to the high volume we cannot accept telephone questions at this time. Please see the FAQs page first and should you still have questions, contact Hello@UNZIPPEDkw.ca.
The first block of tickets (November 2-28, 2021) is now on sale. Timed tickets are available with the ability for you to choose your date and a two-hour window to enter.
You may also purchase a voucher for the number of tickets you wish as a gift or in order to choose your timed entry closer to the exhibition opening.
The Rolling Stones | Unzipped, delivered by DHL, a unique, immersive experience providing comprehensive insight into the band’s nearly sixty-year history, will be presented at THEMUSEUM in Kitchener in the fall of 2021.