Come for the art, stay for the shopping

Dorothy Spears, The New York Times' special section "Museums", 3/15/12

Gone are the days when the shelves of museum stores were limited to exhibition catalogs, magnets and coffee mugs. With museums nationwide increasingly bent on establishing their individual brands, their stores have become more sophisticated. For example, the Guggenheim Museum, whose Frank Lloyd Wright building draws crowds, has recently offered a line of jewelry by the designer Andrea Panico, created in partnership with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. A high-end paint line includes shades of white used on the Guggenheim's exterior, colors used in the galleries, and even the red color of the elevator. Stuart Gerstein at the Philadelphia Museum of Art said the creative climate among museum stores had encouraged him to provide "an experience that is, hopefully, as interesting as the exhibition, that relates to the exhibition, and that helps complete the exhibition." For "Van Gogh Up Close," the store offers specialty items from the Netherlands, like Dutch tiles and pottery, waffles filled with syrup, and a chocolate paste for spreading on bread, as well as products conjuring the south of France like Provenšal soaps, linens and perfumed sprays. "Whether van Gogh was eating or smelling these things we don't know. But in terms of sales, that's been going really well," Mr. Gerstein said. Even established institutions like the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, are finding fresh ways to identify themselves. [Its] store has begun enlisting students, faculty and alumni of its affiliated School in the production of artist-made lines. Earnings at museum stores vary, depending on overhead and expenses. But the Boston store grossed $6.9 million in 2011, a figure that ranks third in earned revenue at the museum, behind school tuition and membership. And if reproductions of favorite paintings on mugs and tote bags are likely to remain a reliable source of income at most museums, "visitors today want new, and different, and more," said Mr. Gerstein.


15 years on, the popularity of 'Art-O-Mat' machines continues to grow

Colleen O'Connor, The Denver Post, 3/12/12

There are more than 100 Art-O-Mat machines across the country, vending cigarette-pack-size fine art from locations as diverse as the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and a Whole Foods Market in Houston. The craze started in 1997, when North Carolina artist Clark Whittington got the idea to convert a recently banned cigarette-vending machine into a retro-chic method for dispensing palm-size art at affordable prices. More than a decade later, the Art-O-Mat machines are still in demand. Twenty were installed in 2010, double the number of 2009. Last year, 16 new machines went into service. "I saw one last spring in Washington, D.C., at the Smithsonian and thought it was really amazing," Damon McLeese, director of Denver's Access Gallery, said. Art-O-Mat and Access Gallery share a mission: accessible art. So McLeese contacted Whittington about getting a machine. It has been a great success. "We get about 1,000 people in the door for First Friday, and most of them aren't there to buy art," he said. "They're looking for a good time, the experience." But they line up to plug $5 tokens into the Art-O-Mat and see a piece of art drop down.  Half the machine is stocked with work by professional artists from Colorado and around the country. The other half is filled with pieces created by teens with disabilities who participate in the workshops and programs at Access. Artists receive 50% of the sale. About 400 artists from 10 countries participate nationally. Denver artist Phil Bender has already sold out an edition of his work. He's busy making more. "It's exposure," he said. "They're international." He likes Art-O-Mat's goal of encouraging art consumption "by combining the worlds of art and commerce in an innovative form," as its website says. "I think it's a great idea," he said. "It's better for you than cigarettes."


At War Horse, audiences wipe tears and ask 'What size does that shirt come in?'

Brendan Lemon, Lincoln Center Theater blog, 2/7/12

In talking to Matt Murphy, whose company oversees the merchandise for "War Horse" -- I was reminded again of one of the overwhelming truisms of this show: "War Horse" is a play that thinks it's a musical. "That's so true," said Murphy. "Typically, you sell a lot more merchandise for musicals than for plays. However, the merchandise sales for 'War Horse' have exceeded those of even some musicals. The sales are similar in quantity to 'South Pacific,' which was a huge success at Lincoln Center Theater." To what does Murphy attribute the merchandising bonanza of "War Horse"? "Because the show is so spectacular, audience members want to take a piece of it home with them. A lot of people are very moved by the ending. They come out of the show crying, and are wiping their tears as they ask, 'What size does that shirt come in?'" A common audience comment to the sales staff at the merchandising booth, "Oh my God: this show is so amazing. How do they do it?" That comment gives the salespeople the opening to reply, "If you'd like to know the answer, we have some great merchandise that gives you the behind-the-scenes story." Murphy is referring to the DVD called "Making War Horse" and the beautiful volume "Handspring Puppet Company," about the artists who developed the show's puppets. Murphy says that people buy merchandise to continue their experience of a production, or to spark their memories about it: "A trigger for those memories is a show's art work. Generally, we do not put a show's poster art right on a tee shirt. You usually do the logo. But for 'War Horse' we do have items with the poster art." The souvenir tote bag is popular in part because its art work is subtle. "It doesn't scream at you. You have to get close to it to really appreciate its beauty."


Study: Merchandising is irrelevant to most musicians

Paul Resnikoff, Digital Music News, 1/30/12

There's more opportunity than ever for [musicians] to sell merchandise and monetize their brands. The only problem is that very few artists are making any money from these non-traditional sources. Or even pursuing the possibilities:

In aggregate, income from merchandise sales accounted for about 2% of respondents' revenue.

This [data] was presented at Midem [in January] by the Future of Music Coalition. It's the result of 18 months of surveying musicians across the US, with nearly 5,400 participating in exhaustive, time-consuming questionaires. "Merchandising and branding is only relevant to a small number of US-based musicians," consultant Kristin Thomson shared. In many cases, it's not that artists can't or won't spread into areas like merchandise, it's simply that it wouldn't make much sense. For example, certain sub-groups like orchestral instrumentalists and session musicians are typically investing little time on t-shirts. Those musicians typically get overlooked, but they formed a substantial part of the survey. But the study also included a lot of bands -- and the Coalition uncovered not only a shockingly-low level of income from merchandise, but also from other non-traditional, brand-related streams like sponsorships on an aggregated level.

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