The new face of museum shops
Although museum shops may have started out as unassuming salesdesks where books and postcards could be purchased, they are becoming spacious, well planned , dramatically lighted emporiums offering literally hundreds of art-inspired items and reproductions.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Almost everyone who visits a museum these days browses through its shop, perhaps departing with a memento in hand. It may be only a 30-cent postcard of a great painting one has just admired, or it could be a book about the artist who painted it. It could be a children's game or a small reproduction of a fine piece of sculpture or Byzantine jewelry. Whatever the object, it is always related to the museum's collections or special exhibitions and therefore has implicit cultural and educational value.
In recent years the development of museum shops has become something of a phenomenon. Many are seen as profit centers that can help keep the museum's doors open and make up some of the revenues that once came from other sources, such as government, foundations, and endowments. All are viewed as enriching extensions of the museum visit and a means of building art awareness through a multitude of take-home objects.
Although museum shops may have started out as unassuming sales desks where books and postcards could be purchased, they are becoming spacious, well planned , dramatically lighted emporiums offering literally hundreds of art-inspired items and reproductions.
For both museums and the visiting public, this trend is significant. Museumgoers perceive the shops as places where they can purchase, with trust, well-designed gifts in keeping with the museum's own standards of beauty and quality, and at prices they deem fair.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has been engaged in the sale of art publications and reproductions virtually since its beginning more than a century ago. Founding trustees saw that such a program would serve a double purpose. It would educate and widen awareness of art through inexpensive and readily available reproductions. And it would add revenues to help meet basic operating expenses.
So the Metropolitan Museum has long led the way among American museums in making its collections known and understood through its publication and reproduction programs. Today, revenues from these programs help maintain the high levels of service the Metropolitan provides.
With 3.8 million visitors in 198l, the museum's gross sales of merchandise and scholarly publications were $23 million. This included sales through the burgeoning mail-order division, which each year sends a series of catalogs to more than a million people and is still struggling to master the latest mail-order techniques. (Total income for the museum, as listed in the annual report for 1980-8l, was over $54 million.)
As a comparison, in 1968 gross sales of publications and merchandise were less than $2.5 million. In 14 years, sales have increased well over 1,000 percent. Merchandise manager Lisa Koch says this growth has corresponded to a generally rising interest in museums themselves and to the fact that so many more people feel comfortable and welcome in them. The idea that museums are intimidating and elitist temples of culture has largely disappeared.