Thursday, 8 December 2016




Hello museum folks!      

I bet we could all use a little retail therapy right now, so this week I decided to check out what creative or “innovative” things museum stores are doing to enhance the experience of visitors.

National Gallery of Art store, Washington  D.C.
I may have been a little influenced by our first year classes… But according to research people don’t differentiate between time spent in the gallery and in the store or cafe; they are all “parcel” to the experience. And should visitors differentiate?

If museums are about the total sensory experience, then these components would seem vital parts to the larger institution. The museum store has a long controversial history due to the tension which has and continues to exist between its multiple roles including educator and money maker (Source). Since the 1990s it is believed that the precedence of education and the museum’s mission are winning out over money making (Source). As such, the museum store is becoming more of an extension of the actual exhibits and museum space by taking steps to become more integrated into the institution

According to Charles McIntyre - a specialist on consumer behaviour, to be integrated, museum stores should feature personal products that encourage personal transformation related to the learning process of museum visits (McIntyre, 2010).  He suggests that the store should be immersive, investigative, interpretive etcOne stellar example of a more “integrated museum store” is the store in Minneapolis Institute of Art, which has advocated these experiential components as part of its mission.

MIA Store
For instance, in a recent interview with Ryan Ross the head of retail at MIA, he emphasised that the store keeps products - even valuable jewellery pieces out on display and therefor open to touch (Source).

Staff even encourage customers to try on pieces. According to him, it is very important for visitors, after being surrounded by closed exhibit cases, to be able to have a tactile experience that can fulfil their desire for a bodily immersion at the museum which might otherwise be incomplete. This understanding and “counterbalance” of the store with exhibit space, suggests that both museum and store are capable of working together to provide the “parcel” experience.

Another aspect that embodies the mission of the MIA is its dedication to the stories behind the retail objects and their artists. In this way the store acts as an extension of the “investigative” and “interpretive” learning components of the exhibits. Customers want to learn about the products and where they come from and staff are fully trained, like gallery docents, to tell their compelling narratives.

MIA store

As another form of integration, it has also been suggested that the museum store have products related to the exhibits. Many museum stores are stocked with replicas or objects related to the exhibits but to different extents. The MIA in particular, states that many of their products connect not only to their special exhibits but also to their permanent collections and programming.
Spice products featured at MIA for their chef exhibit

A similar recent example of this, is the store within the National Museum of African American History and Culture. A news report claimed that the curators spent an extensive 2 years with merchants discussing objects in the collection to create products suited for the Museum store (source).

Museum stores have been referred to as liminal places, a place not fully integrated into the museum or fully separate, however, rather than this exemplifying a disconnect with the museum’s mission and its exhibits, I believe with this label specifically, it has the ability to be fully integrated into the museum 
1920 styled gloves from the VA museum
 store for the "Undressed Exhibit"

“Liminal” is often a term used in relation to places of magic. As such, museum stores as “liminal” can be integrated into the museum experience by being an immersive, interpretive and investigative place where people can piece together self identity and create transformations.

For anyone wanting a bit of magic, retail therapy or Christmas shopping I would also recommend checking out the Royal Victoria and Albert Museum Online store.

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