Where Art & Retail Meet

I visited the Minneapolis Institute of Art this Saturday for probably the 10th time, but for the first time I was truly amazed by the merchandising and selection in the Mia store/gift shop. This inspired me to think deeper into the intersection of art and retail and the psychology behind consuming art or “artsy” products.

Gift shops and stores within art museums are usually strategically placed right by the entrance and exit so that you have to pass them when you walk both in and out of the museum, which makes complete sense. And after looking at art that costs more than your life’s worth (probably) for a few hours, if you’re someone who is often inclined to buy souvenir-type items as a memory of a place, you’re likely to go into an art museum’s store to pick something small up.

This is where you’ll first come across the typical merchandise in an art museum store such as prints, posters, magnets, mugs, notebooks, stickers, pins, scarves, etc. that have the museum’s most notable artworks on them. I can’t afford to buy Starry Night, however, I can afford to buy a Starry Night poster to hang on my wall and a Starry Night mug to drink my coffee out of every morning.

What inspired me about the Mia store was the narrow yet incredibly expansive assortment of products from brands that I’ve often only seen on Instagram. The Mia art store has your typical products-postcards of the works within the museum, a table full of Mia-branded goods such as notebooks, shirts, caps, pens, etc., books covering a variety of art-related topics, and some high-end jewelry that ties into the different exhibits, but it was also filled with quirky, trendy, design-oriented and Instagram-famous products that were carefully placed into their respective places.

By quirky and trendy I mean Baggu bags, miniature things like puzzles, fun food-oriented items, cosmic astrology dust, and affordable and more modern acetate jewelry. Instagram-famous brands would be Baggu and Machete, and design-oriented items would be the HAY monochrome toothbrushes and the Poketo clear acrylic rulers, and protractors.

It was almost as if the store was merchandised specifically for me, and I would have never expected the Mia store to carry any of these products, so props to the merchandising team there. One example of this that I have is the small collection of Woll Jewelry at the Mia store, which is a jewelry brand I found on Instagram based out of California. I have not yet found a store that carries this brand of jewelry but have always really wanted to touch it prior to making a purchase because the jewelry is made out of an unconventional material. With it being in the Mia store, I got to touch it and feel it and interact with it in a way that I couldn’t otherwise do, which benefits both Woll and the Mia store.

Where I’m going with all of this is that there is so much more potential within an art museum store for products beyond the specifically-themed artwork gifts. With the more famous art museums such as the Met, it makes sense for the majority of the products to have prints of the Van Gogh’s, O’Keefe’s, and Monet’s, but there is still room to bring in products from small art and design shops or those jewelry makers you see on Instagram that make jewelry unlike the traditional kind found at art museums.

The Mia art store is a perfect example of an art store that capitalizes on not only the art that hangs within the museum and the educational resources such as books but also the lifestyles of people beyond the average art-goer who have money ready to spend on fun and quirky products that maybe don’t have anything to do with the art museum.

Published by Emma Irwin

Emma Irwin is a passionate student of the retail industry. Freshly graduated from the University of Minnesota with a B.S. in Retail Merchandising, she will be pursuing an M.S. in Apparel Studies with a concentration in Retail and Consumer Studies in fall 2020. Career ambitions include writing a formal research paper, becoming a retail writer and reporter, and maybe being a CEO someday.

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