Note: This post is part of my “Museums Project“, a collection of 200+ high-concept ideas for museums.
Museum gift shops are curious places to me.
Some offer incredibly specific and relevant items like books so specific and niche in subject matter that there’s no way there could be more than a few hundreds copies in existence.
Other museum gift shops stretch the limits of what has anything to do with the museum. (A plushy giraffe in the Texas History Museum? Sure, why not).
What’s In The Museum?
I picture the museum being partly a quiz. You see one item and have to guess which museum it came from. Maybe you can get a hint – a choice of three options. Then you can check the answer.
Maybe some of the answers would be obvious. And others would be completely unexpected.
Maybe the items are there on their own merit – they are worth examination and reflection. Perhaps some of them even have interesting stories about their creation or how the ended up in the museum gift shop. Others are just junk.
Perhaps the items are donated by people who bought them a museum gift shop and they have their own stories about their visit to that museum or the gift shop or the item itself.
The placement of the items could make statements. Perhaps a more hoity-toity museum’s junky plastic trinket is next to a more thoughtful item found in a museum typically only seen down noses? Or perhaps two items from the same museum contrast – cheap plastic dinosaurs and books on being a good environmental steward, for example.
I’m sure there’s a plushy to be bought at nearly every museum that allows children. Should those all be rounded up into one exhibit, showing the interactions of the museums in some sort of meta statement?
Would people have a better appreciation for museums if they saw the things carried in the other museum’s gift shops? How could this museum inspire people to go visit other museums?
Are the things in the museum only things currently sold in other museums’ gift shops or is it a collection of things that have sold in other museums’ gift shops throughout the last century? (or longer?)
The Gift Shop
Would this museum have a gift shop? The pressure of trying to put together a gift shop in The Museum of Stuff I Bought At Other Museums would be pretty intense. Perhaps there is a coffee table book featuring the items that were in the museum.
Would that book also be in this museum? And would it be in its own book? How recursive should we go with this idea? Probably not beyond what I’ve just said because that’s probably unclear as it is.
Should we sell the stuff that other museums sell? Would there be a large rack filled with postcards you can buy – but all of them are from other museums’ gift shops?
Should we draw a clear line between museum and gift shop? Should it be fuzzier? (Should other museums consider this idea? Product placement throughout a museum sounds terrible on the surface.. but is it? Could it enhance the experience and engagement?)