Putting together an exhibit of mementoes from Justin Bieber's formative years has become a scavenger hunt of sorts for museum staff in his hometown of Stratford, Ont.
Over the past few weeks, the Stratford Perth Museum's general manager John Kastner has been sniffing for clues on the whereabouts of a professional drum kit the pop superstar owned as a youngster. It seemed like the perfect centrepiece for "Steps to Stardom," a Bieber showcase opening at the museum on Feb. 18.
"Somebody said, 'I have those drums.' So, we reached out to that person — well, they weren't the right drum set," Kastner said.
So he started working the phones and sent around a famous photo that ran in the local paper of a pre-teen Beebs banging on the drums his parents bought with money from a small fundraiser.
The drums seemed lost forever until Kastner heard from someone in Barrie, Ont., who was storing them. They're now slated to be part of the Bieber exhibit.
It's just one example of how the museum's organizers have chased leads and waded through boxes hoping to collect a fulsome showcase of the pop superstar's vibrant career. "Steps to Stardom" — named in reference to the young singer's busking shows on the steps outside the local Avon Theatre — focuses on the upside to Bieber's success and ignores his troubled days with the law.
Fans will find an array of goodies like Bieber's Grammy Award, microphones he's used, his Stratford Warriors hockey jacket, and personal letters, including one from Michelle Obama. Kastner estimates the room, which is the second-largest gallery, is roughly 1,000 square feet.
The exhibit was put together in co-operation with Bieber's grandparents, Diane and Bruce Dale, who gave curators access to piles of boxes storing items from the performer's childhood and career.
Kastner said he had considered assembling a Bieber exhibit for a while. The idea came about when a conversation with John Till — a renowned Stratford-born studio musician who's worked with the likes of Janis Joplin and Ronnie Hawkins — began talking about his own memorabilia.
Till had brought the museum a few artifacts of his past, but told Kastner he was frustrated that a photo signed by the likes of Bob Dylan, David Crosby and Jimi Hendrix was lost to time.
"I started to think about Justin Bieber and people like that," Kastner said. "We can keep things for safe-keeping (here)."
But serious plans didn't begin to take shape until last summer when Conservative MP Peter Van Loan, the heritage critic for his party, visited the museum with his family and noted there wasn't acknowledgment of Bieber's impact on the city.
He wasn't the only person who asked about the superstar's absence, Kastner said, but this time it was different.
"This was a (former) cabinet minister," he said. "That sort of stuck with me."
About six months ago, Kastner rung up Bieber's grandparents who thought the idea was great. A few calls to the singer's representatives and the museum had the greenlight.
Kastner discovered Bieber's grandparents held a veritable chamber of treasures from his past. They store nearly all of his award trophies in Stratford and have accumulated piles of hockey jerseys given to the singer by famous sports players and stadiums around the world, Kastner said.
Before they knew it, the Bieber collection was bursting with potential objects — about 125 of them — that needed to be narrowed down to a manageable selection. Organizers plan to put between 50 and 75 pieces on display and will refresh the exhibit with new items as time passes.
"For one concert tour he got a different pair of running shoes for every venue," Kastner said.
"So there's a pair of running shoes for Melbourne, Australia and another pair of running shoes for Wembley Stadium."
Fans have already started calling about reserved tickets (there aren't plans for any), though visitors who show up the first day will receive a limited-edition replica of Bieber's backstage passes, Kastner said.
Considering that Bieber's childhood stomping grounds have been a highlight for many tourists to the small city for years, the museum expects a considerable turnout.
In 2010, Stratford's tourism board unveiled a downloadable "Bieber-iffic Map" highlighting 24 locations linked to the singer. It has proven so popular that printed copies will soon be available at the board's office.
Organizers hope "Steps to Stardom" will have a similar appeal to Bieber's loyal fan base, but also draw more casual music fans.
Kastner acknowledges some visitors will probably scoff at a pop star's history being on display alongside more traditional artifacts, which include a history of the local fire department and a tribute to Stratford as a railway hub.
Even if not everyone is ready to catch Bieber fever, he hopes they'll understand why the museum thinks this exhibit makes sense.
"You (must) tell this story if we're going to be relevant and we're going to be modern," Kastner said.
"I think it's a job for museums to tell stories and this is a great story."
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