How Museum Shops Shape Our Experience

By Susan Tudor

Many people enjoy shopping in museum stores because of the unique items they know they can find. From books to jewelry to children’s products to home accessories and gourmet food, there is something for everyone. Most importantly, however, museum stores perform integral and multifaceted work for their institutions—from earning income and extending mission-related programs, to visitor engagement and educational outreach through store products, programs, and experiences. As an essential department of their institutions, museum stores operate as nonprofit retailers and are a key earned income revenue department of a museum. Revenues generated by museum stores provide economic sustainability for the museum and support cultural engagement for the community.

Just as a museum’s purpose is to foster appreciation and knowledge of art, nature, science, and history, and serves as a trusted resource to their communities, likewise, the stores within also serve and are dedicated to that same purpose. Products sold in museum stores reflect the mission and programs of the cultural institution in which they are housed. The items are curated just like the works displayed in their respective institutions. Purchases from a museum store help to sustain the museum’s service to their community, and extend visitors’ experiences to enable them to enhance their understanding of the museum, its mission, and society as a whole.

Shopping at an institution is a conscious effort on the part of the visitor to turn that positive experience into a long-term memory. Selecting a gift or souvenir – a token of remembrance—complements and enriches the museum experience. Just as importantly, the products serve a valuable purpose: they carry exhibitions beyond the building and into the world. Once the exhibitions have moved on and the educational classes and special events are completed, visitors continue to savor their memories through the objects and souvenirs from museum stores.

In an effort to promote a museum store’s impact, the Museum Store Association (MSA) created Museum Store Sunday, offering a special shopping experience in one-of-a kind stores, showcasing broad assortments of highly curated, unique, mission-specific gifts. MSA created the day to educate the public about the role museum stores play in funding cultural institutions and to offer a new option for gift giving. The day’s motto is “Be a Patron,” which urges museum-goers to shop in support of museums and their missions. Since its inception in 2017, more than 1,400 museums from five continents, 22 countries, all 50 states, and the District of Columbia have participated. Museum Store Sunday offers special events and promotions on a wide range of items, artwork, books, textiles, and jewelry.

Photo: Ryan Ketterman

MSA’s vision, an association for which I am currently serving as president, captures the essence of museum stores: Nonprofit retail which supports institutions will be universally viewed as essential to the success of cultural venues and extending visitor engagement. As an association, we advocate on the importance of the museum store and how it enhances the museum experience. The success of a museum store is not only measured by its financial contribution to the institution, but also by the educational value it contributes to the community. 

Before entering my nonprofit arts institution career, my background was in for-profit retail. Specifically, I worked for Federated Department Stores, which included Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Marshall Fields, Filene’s, and many others. I worked as a regional buyer, one cog in a massive, well-oiled machine. While it taught me many valuable skills, it didn’t prepare me for my first day at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens in 1999. On my first day, I learned that the museum was the mission. I learned that museums are eternal and are essential for our world. They chronicle the past and present, and they prepare us for the future. They teach, they inspire, and they engage.  What an extraordinary gift that the museum shop is part of that purpose, extending the experience beyond four walls.

Visit the museum shop at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, 829 Riverside Ave., 356-6857.

Author: Arbus

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