The Associated Press
• A growing number of museums are creating merchandise to satisfy a new demand.
The Associated Press
SCOTTSDALE – Monica Levine is a gift store junkie.
The 38-year-old accountant from New York City has tried to shop the malls. But they don’t offer the tidbits of art and culture found in museum gift shops, she said.
Earlier this month, Levine was browsing through the gift shop at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts to buy Christmas gifts.
”The Gap cannot compete with Van Gogh,” Levine said. ”I won’t buy something found in malls all over America. I want something a little funky, with a high-brow feel to it, even if it’s not a real piece of art. Who wouldn’t want some Van Gogh under the tree?”
She bought a Mona Lisa pillow for a newly divorced friend. The pillow chuckles when touched, and Levine believed it would cheer up her friend. She packed it inside a large, overstuffed gift bag from the Frank Lloyd Wright Museum.
Levine reluctantly admits that she didn’t actually go inside the galleries or buildings.
”I never do,” she said. ”I’m no art expert. I don’t see much difference between paintings on a gallery wall and the picture on the side of a coffee mug. For me, browsing through the gift store is like a quickie tour of the museum.”
Levine’s words would outrage many artists and art critics but would not surprise most museum curators. A growing number of museums are creating merchandise, ranging from Picasso playing cards to Cezanne baseballs, to satisfy this new consumer demand.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York kicked off the gift store trend more than a century ago when it started selling etchings. Not so long ago, only major museums ran gift shops. But now, shoppers buy magnets at the Arizona Science Center and Phoenix Art Museum baseball hats.
The statistics highlight the growing importance of the gift shop on the national museum scene. In the past five years, retail space in national museums increased 29 percent compared to the 3 percent increase in gallery space, according to the Museum Store Association.
The Heard Museum in Phoenix is about to double the size of its store. The Scottsdale Center for the Arts and the Phoenix Art Museum have each recently doubled shop space, and a retail store was added to the Arizona Historical Society Museum in Tempe last year.
”The people who come to museums today really expect a place to shop at the end of their trip,” said Karin Crismon of the Arizona Historical Society gift shop. ”And the museums really depend on that extra income, too. It goes both ways.”
Retail profits from museum gift shops are going up, local store managers say. According to the American Association of Museums, gift shop sales make up 18 percent to 26 percent of museum income, surpassing traditional money-makers such as admission and memberships.