1. Money

Selling Arts and Crafts at Museum Gift Shops


One of the many ways to sell your arts and crafts is to market them through museum gift shops. Think back to every time you've paid a visit to a museum, I'm sure you've noticed that a gift shop is usually front and center, luring you to come in and browse after your visit. If you've ever done so, you'll find some of the items in museum gift shops are mass-produced, others are hand crafted. Here are some tips on how to place your arts and crafts in museum gifts shops, some practical information on firming up your relationship with the museum and a caveat or two sprinkled in along the way.

1. Is Your Art or Craft Suitable for a Museum Gift Shop?

Before you consider this type of marketing effort, consider if your arts or crafts product will be attractive to the average museum gift shop customer. Most museum gift shop attract two different types of buyers:

  1. Souvenir shoppers looking for a memento of the day or purchasing a gift for a friend or family member who didn’t make the trip.
  2. Impulse buyers who see something they just can’t live without or haven’t been able to find elsewhere. 

2. Finding The Perfect Museum Gift Shop for Your Arts and Crafts

Start locally. Most cities or towns will have at least one art museum within driving distance. Another important point to consider besides geography are the exhibits shown in the museum and items already being carried in the gift shop.

Consider the permanent collections and temporary exhibits at the museum. Many museums publish their planned temporary exhibitions many months in advance. Use this information to tailor a line of arts or crafts to the specific exhibition.  For example, if a planned exhibit is African Textiles, create a line of jewelry capitalizing on the social use of beads in Africa. If an exhibit of Georgia O’Keeffe paintings is on the agenda, construct some art or craft items based upon designs from the American Southwest.

3. Learning About the Museum Gift Shop Jury Process

Most museum gift shops use a jury system. You submit info about yourself and your work and if the museum is interested, they'll contact you for more information, which usually entails sending in an actual example of your work. Here's the typical lineup of items you'll be asked for:
  • Images of your artwork. This can be a CD with jpg images, photographs, email with attached high-res jpgs, or a link to your website.
  • Information describing all images including: artist's name, title, dimensions, materials, date of execution, retail price.
  • Artist statement and/or bio.
  • A list of galleries currently carrying your work if applicable.

4. Potential Reasons Why Your Art or Craft May be Refused

Never, ever take any refusal personal. Your work could be stellar and still be refused placement. However, if you've done your research on the museum and the items they are already carrying, you'll reduce the chance your work will be rejected. Here are some typical reasons for museum gift shop refusal:
  • The gift shop currently stocks enough similar pieces.
  • Your type of art or craft doesn't fit in with the gift shop market.
  • The price is too high for their market.
  • The art or craft is too big or too fragile.
  • Workmanship is not up to the museum's standards.

5. Museum Gift Shop Arts and Crafts Are Sold on Consignment

While it’s obvious that some of the items sold at the museum gift shop are purchased inventory (post cards, books, calendars etc) most of the handcrafted items are sold on consignment. This means the gift shop acts as your agent and only pays you a commission if your art or craft item sells. This commission can range from 25 to 50 percent.

6. Joining a Museum Gift Shop Retail Association

Finally, find out more about the Museum Store Association, which is an organization that helps museums with their retail sales operations.  Visit the website to find out more about its annual Retail Conference and Expo and how to become an exhibitor/affiliate.

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