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How Museum Stores Support Their Institutions and the Community At-Large

August 19, 2019

Compiled by Stuart Hata

Throughout my 30 years as a museum retail professional, I have often had to explain to others how museum stores support their institutions and the public at-large. These conversations have occurred within professional circles, through my personal network of friends and family and with casual acquaintances and complete strangers. Many people were unaware of the facts and, once divulged, all expressed great appreciation for the roles and responsibilities museum stores and their staff deliver. I have also heard and received valuable explanations from fellow Museum Store Association colleagues, both institutions and vendor members alike.


As Museum Store Sunday, MSA’s signature advocacy initiative, takes root and expands in the consciousness of consumers and the general public with each passing year, I would like to offer the following compilation of views why our work in the museum retail industry is so important and vital to the cultural landscape. Please feel free to share these collective thoughts with your colleagues, institutions, customers and communities as we work to make every day a Museum Store Sunday day.

  1. Museums are a trusted resource for communities, and the products sold in museum stores reflect the mission, collections and programs of the museums and cultural institutions to which they belong.
  1. Museum stores perform integral and multifaceted work for their institutions, from earning income and extending mission-related programs, to visitor engagement and educational outreach through store products, programs and experiences.
  1. Dedicated directly to and an integral department of their institutions, museum stores operate as nonprofit retailers under section 501(c)3 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code and are a key earned revenue department of the museum.
  1. Museum stores further the educational mission of their institutions through the offering of products, which allows the public to “take home” a part of the museum for their enjoyment and ongoing memory of their museum experience.
  1. Museums traditionally attract broad market bases, and those attending will range from school children to professionals, from college students to retirees and from families to single adults. Therefore, museum stores effectively service these diverse visitors by offering a wide variety of items and price points that help capture the interest of each of these various patrons.
  1. A museum store creates long-term patrons of the museum by specifically engaging children, teens and young adults in programming and events and with store products that are educational. This important demographic that can be reached through the museum store helps to create future audiences that can support and sustain the museum.
  1. Products found in museum stores are curated just like the works displayed in their respective institutions, with many items often developed exclusively by the museum, resulting in distinctive and unique offerings for consumers.
  1. A museum store and their products are one of the strongest marketing tools that a museum possesses. When a patron wears a piece of jewelry, looks at a print, reads a book or plays with a game purchased from the museum store, they are subtly communicating key marketing messaging and reinforcement of the institution.
  1. Museum stores are vital front-line ambassadors for their institutions, ensuring visitors receive welcoming and enhanced experiences and knowledgeable and meaningful engagement from their museum visit.
  1. Revenues generated by museum stores are deposited into the operating budgets of the parent organizations, providing economic sustainability for the museum and cultural engagement for the community.
  1. Museum stores extend the brand of their parent institutions, helping museums communicate, reinforce and amplify their unique offerings and experiences to the general public.
  1. Museums foster ongoing appreciation and knowledge of art, nature, culture, science and history. When consumers purchase a gift from the museum store, they help to sustain the museum’s service to the public.
  1. Museum stores help their institutions create a sense of pride and ownership from their members, visitors, local governments, communities and the general public.


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A veteran museum store retailer for over 30 years, Stuart Hata is the director of retail operations for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the de Young and Legion of Honor. He is responsible for driving a multimillion dollar retail business at two museum locations and oversees merchandising, store operations, warehousing, product development, retail marketing, licensing, wholesale and the online FAMSF store. Stuart also currently serves as a co-chair of the 2019 Museum Store Sunday Committee and is a past president of the MSA Board of Directors and MSA Western Chapter.

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Motivating Staff Members: Cash Is Not King

August 5, 2019

By Susan Saylor

Recently, MSA President Susan Tudor asked for suggestions from other MSA members on ShopTalk for ideas that would help motivate employees to convert visitors to members. I replied to Susan in a private message, and she appreciated the suggestions so much, she encouraged me to share the information in a blog post.


In a past life, I designed incentive programs for the corporate world. Some of the main “rewards” I provided were weekend family getaways (no timeshares involved). I worked with businesses to move big ticket items, like opening a $25,000 home equity line of credit for banks and credit unions or construction-related wholesalers like electrical, plumbing or HVAC dealers to incentivize customers (i.e., contractors) to spend a certain amount during a specific period of time (usually 90 days). These are just two examples of the businesses I worked with. I always advocated for including employees in the program and gave suggestions on how to incorporate incentives for them.

Businesses traditionally give cash incentives, especially in the sales world. However, usually the cash gets used to pay for everyday expenses like groceries or a dentist bill. Therefore, it just goes away with no memories attached to the reward.  A weekend getaway produces memories of a happy time together — usually with pictures and souvenirs from the destination, not to mention Facebook and Instagram posts. They also remember how they earned the reward!

With so much to see and do in your area, you could use things like dinner for two at a fine restaurant, tickets to a concert, theater, or sporting event of their choice or any number of wonderful experiences in the area. You could award individuals or put employees together in teams, which is an effective way for the team members to motivate each other. You know your own staff and what they would see as a delightful and motivating event.

To help your employees recruit, give them free passes to the museum, but create a special pass named “Get to Know the Museum” or some other title that sets it apart. It would give the visitor a choice of dropping in during normal hours or an option to book a special guided tour in advance with a docent so they can become acquainted with other services or events at the museum. Perhaps give those who tour a goody bag or maybe even a discount card good for purchases made on the next for Museum Store Sunday.

I wrote a white paper at the time, and I will highlight some of the statistics. If anyone wants a full copy which references the studies behind the statistics, I’m happy to share it:

  • Tangible incentives dramatically increase work performance by an average of 22%.
  • Incentive programs aimed at individuals increased performance a substantial 27%.
  • Moreover, programs aimed at teams increase performance a stunning 45%.
  • Incentive programs have an equal, positive impact on both quality and quantity goals.
  • Incentive programs structured with employee input work best; however, only 23% of incentive systems are selected with employee input.
  • Long-term incentives are more powerful than short-term incentives (44%gain for programs beyond a year versus a 20% gain for programs less than one month).

So, reward them with experiences — anything but cash. The concept parallels why we have museum gift stores. As Julie Steiner so aptly put it in her blog post “What Is a Museum Store?” on September 25, 2017, “The magic [is what] happens when a guest finds the perfect thing to carry out, just the right object for them that will connect their long-term memory back to this experience.”


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Susan Saylor is CEO of Scarves for the Arts, a division of National Promotions. Her career began in advertising and marketing and evolved to executive sales and marketing. Her lifelong interest in the arts and concern for on-going funding challenges for many arts and nonprofit organizations led her to create Scarves for the Arts in 2016. She became an MSA vendor member in 2017.


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PRO-File: Katherine Kornblau

July 22, 2019

By David Duddy

Katherine J. Kornblau is the founder and president of KJK Jewelry, Inc., which specializes in working with museums and other cultural institutions to create custom jewelry that complements collections and exhibitions. Katherine studied art history at Oberlin College. A lifelong New Yorker, Katherine reflects on her career, the impact of MSA and she even shares her favorite pizza topping.


Where did you grow up? KJK

I was born in Brooklyn, moved to Long Island and then I moved to Manhattan when I was 12 — and I am still here!

What does your company do? How long has your company been in existence?

I started selling to stores 35 years ago. We specialize in working with museums and other cultural institutions to create custom jewelry that complements their collections and exhibitions. We also offer a full range of our own thematic collections designed specifically for MSA customers.

What is your role within your company? Have you changed positions within the company? Worked for another company?

“Chief cook and bottle-washer?” Since we are a small business, I oversee every aspect of our operations. My role is to design beautiful collections, have my studio execute them to perfection and ensure that they are delivered on time. I love the client contact and working directly with buyers to make sure that what we produce is exactly what they need. I work closely with my staff — some of whom have been with me for decades. While I was growing my company, I worked for several schools teaching art and jewelry making. It was wonderful to guide people creating their own works!

Describe the life journey that brought you to this career.

I started selling jewelry out of my little red wagon on Fire Island. I have been selling jewelry to stores since I was 16. I took art classes at The Metropolitan Museum of Art growing up. A real watershed moment was the famous King Tut exhibit — it was an inspirational, life-changing exhibit for me. I fell in love with ancient Egypt: the history, the art and, of course, the jewelry. I even studied hieroglyphics!

In high school, I was an intern at The Met in the Jewelry Reproductions Studio. I also worked in The Met Store. I lived in Peru as an exchange student, which gave me a unique opportunity to experience another culture. After that, I went to Oberlin College, where I studied art history. Then, I had another international experience studying Egyptian archaeology during my junior year abroad at the Ecole du Louvre in Paris. These international experiences were enriching and left me with a desire to study, travel and discover other cultures and their arts. These experiences, combined with living in the inspiring fashion capital of New York City, brought me to where I am today.

Tell us about the first sale you ever made to a museum or nonprofit institution. What was it? Who did you sell it to?

Years ago, I met with the buyer from The Guggenheim about an upcoming show they were hosting, “5,000 Years of China.” Since I had just finished my degree in art history, I started making a bunch of suggestions like,  “If it is Shang Dynasty, we should show bronzes. If it is Tang, let’s bring in some porcelain.” After listening to my thoughts on what she should consider including, she said: “You just do it.”

Did you feel like a partner in that process? Are you still?

Yes! My business is all about the partnership. I listen to my customers’ needs and advise them based on my experience so that we are all successful.

What is unique about your product, production technique, design or other aspects? What would the MSA membership really want to know about you?

Because I have worked with so many institutions, I truly understand the challenges that museum buyers face. We produce high-quality pieces that fit into the price range that works for institutional buyers. We have thousands of designs that we can produce in a wide variety of topics.

Every piece is made to order and our clients know they can rely on us.

I believe that many of my clients value that my work is made in America and that we are woman owned and operated.

Since we have so many collections, we have many clients that will use us one month for a Deco exhibit, the next month for a recycled-materials exhibit and then use us again for an Impressionist show. If we do not have what an institution needs in our collections, we will make it. For them, we represent reliable one-stop shopping!

Currently, there is a lot of turmoil in the retail world. Can you tell us one exciting trend that you’ve noticed? Are you taking advantage of it?

There is always perceived turmoil in the retail world. I think that if you offer unique products at a fair price with excellent customer service, customers keep coming back to you and they recommend you to others. An exciting trend I have noticed is that my highest-priced pieces are bringing in a healthy percentage of my annual sales. I am always cautious about designing pieces with a high wholesale because my MSA customers are hesitant to bring in higher-end goods, but I am delighted to report that they are selling them. They may not move as many pieces per style, but the high end makes the cases look great and their profit per piece is so much higher. Museums have such credibility with their public that they are able to sell luxury goods as well as moderately-priced items. This makes me want to go design more higher-end pieces right now!

What are some concrete goals for your next three years working with members of the Museum Store Association? How do you see MSA helping you achieve that?

First, I need to say thank you to MSA. I am deeply honored to receive the MSA Vendor of the Year Award. It is wonderful to be recognized for my many years of hard work and devotion to cultural institutions. For me, winning this award was like winning an Academy Award. It is the highest achievement I can think of in my industry. I have attended the MSA EXPO for 23 years, missing only one the week I had my daughter. My mom, Helen, who regularly attends with me, had to go to that one without me. MSA is the organization that helped me establish myself in this industry. I am grateful. I hope to grow with the organization and find many ways to help us continue to unite buyers and vendors and to bolster our recognition as an important, unique facet of retail with a valuable mission — to support our great institutions.

Have you ever attended an MSA chapter meeting? Tell us about that experience. 

I attended one in New York City many years ago. I would love to attend more, but I need lots of advanced notice with my busy travel schedule. We do support chapter meetings in other ways, like sponsorship, even if we cannot attend.

So, you are marooned on a desert island. What three music albums do you take?

Yikes — that is just too hard! One would have to be a selection of classical music. It is what I listen to while I work. One would be something like “Motown’s Greatest Hits” because it makes me happy and I love to dance! And finally, Carole King’s “Tapestry” because it reminds me of my youth and I sing it to my daughter at bedtime.

Go-to pizza topping?

I am a veggie girl — so probably spinach and mushroom, but plain cheese is just fine. As long as it is a great, crunchy crust New York City pizza!

Last one. “Star Wars” or “Star Trek”?

No question, “Star Wars”! It’s about recognizing the power of good energy in the universe.

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Museum Product Photography With an iPhone: The MSA Photo Challenge

July 8, 2019

By David Graveen and Erin Brown

We all know that smartphone photography is key to selling products in this digital age. At MSA FORWARD in San Diego, I led a “hands-on” education session on product photography with an iPhone. I shared photo tips including how to build your own in-store photo studio for under $50 to ensure that your product photos come out perfectly. The second part of the session was led by social media expert Erin Brown, and she concentrated on using Instagram to build a following to help store sales. Our idea was that everyone in the session should leave “photo and Instagram ready.” Erin and I challenged session attendees with five goals to implement on their return to their respective museum stores. This challenge is now being extended to the entire MSA Community!

Photo taken with an iPhone X

Photo taken with an iPhone X


The MSA Photo Challenge

Goal 1: Build a photo studio or buy an LED studio photo box (theflashery.com/lightbox). Define and plan the photo studio’s role in your store’s busy, everyday social media workflow.

Goal 2: Learn all camera settings/capabilities on your phone and use them for best results.

Phone Model iPhone X*

*Not all camera phones can deliver professional results. I recommend Apple’s iPhone 8 Version or higher.

Recommended Camera settings:

Color: Original

Display & Brightness – Set at mid-point

Storage – 64 GB Minimum, 256 GB Recommended ($1,150)

iCloud 2 TB ($10/month)

Flash: Off

HDR:   Off

Live:    Off

Grid:    On

Zoom: Off

In the Photos App, create “Product Photography” Album

Goal 3: Learn all image editing tools on Instagram and use them for best results: filters, perspective, brightness, contrast, warmth, saturation, highlights, shadows, tilt shift, sharpen and vignette.

Note for advanced users: Instagram is a great app, but when it comes to making your photos stand out, dedicated photo editing apps usually surpass Instagram’s capabilities. Snapseed, A Color Story, VSCO, Adobe Photoshop Express and Pixlr are great picture editing apps. Beyond image editing, these apps offer time-saving actions like saving “image recipes” if you have a set of adjustments you like to apply to all your pictures. While most of the tools are available for free, some apps may lock these features behind a pay wall.

Goal 4: Make a professional product photo in 10 minutes or less.

Goal 5: Create an effective Instagram post in 10 minutes or less.

The DIY Basic Studio                                                                                                                                        LED Studio Photo Box

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My office is roughly 12’x15’ and packed with a desk, two large dog crates, bookshelves, filing cabinets and a conference table — and still I have space for both of these photo studio options. Look for a permanent studio location so that your setup time is minimized.

Here’s what you’ll need to build your own basic studio:

(2) Pieces of 24”x36” White Foam Core (Michael’s Art Supplies)

(2) Pieces of 18”x24” White Foam Core (Michael’s Art Supplies)

(2) Goose Neck Table Lamps (Staples)

(2) 65 Watt Daylight LED Light Bulbs (Staples)

(1) 2” White Gaffers Tape (Art supply Store)

(1) Dust Off Air in a Can (Staples)

DIY Budget: $50.00

LED Budget: $69.95

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Escama Bag                                                                                                                                              Corey Wood’s Sunglasses

These photos were made in less than 10 minutes using my iPhone X (image adjusted in Instagram) and shot using the DIY basic studio. I prefer the basic studio over the LED studio lightbox because it is larger and more forgiving, but the “seamless” background effect is easier to achieve with the lightbox. Both are super simple to use and can deliver great results!

I also used and recommend the following studio accessories:

  1. Floor Standing Tripod * Manfrotto’s “Compact Smart Model” $59 B&H Photo
  2. Shutter Release Blue Tooth * Camkix Wireless Blue Tooth $29 B&H Photo
  3. Acrylic Cubes in Various Sizes * Clear Solutions

Tip: A tripod will discipline your eye and improve your compositions, and, when combined with a Bluetooth shutter release, it will ensure that there is no camera shake and your image will be remarkably sharper.

Why white?

These two studio images were made with a white backdrop to highlight the product. Social media influencers in the nonprofit retail industry have established and embraced a white style for their social media — check out MoMA and the Art Institute of Chicago’s white style on Instagram. A white background is best practice. White encourages consistency. White is the Amazon standard, and white will save money in product photography time and resources. You may wish to develop a style and a vison to personalize your feed that does not include a white background, but an exercise with white is invaluable when learning the fundamentals of lighting.

You have your photos … now what?

  • Label your photo files and file folders clearly and consistently.
  • Save them in one accessible location (Dropbox or Google Drive if you can).
  • Plan your social media one month at a time in an editorial calendar.
  • Write and double check your captions.
  • Tag vendors, your museum and other relevant accounts in the post.
  • Engage with your audience.
  • Be strategic. Create recurring content threads for your account.

What are content threads?

By thinking strategically and planning ahead about what makes your institution and store unique, it will be easier to generate new content. Examples: #MakerMonday, Item of the Week!, Meet the Staff. Add threads to your editorial calendar, leaving space for impromptu posts. Think about promoting products, educating followers on designers and artists, engaging with your community and staying entertaining.

Image Specs for Social Media

Each social media platform has different image sizes for their posts, profile pictures, etc. Ensuring that your images are sized appropriately will increase their quality in your followers’ feeds.

Instagram posts can be 1080 x 1080 pixels.

Facebook posts should have an image attached, 440 x 220 pixel (minimum, 2:1 ratio), or the photo won’t fill the feed appropriately.

Don’t forget to standardize your profile pics across platforms checking to be sure they’re the proper size.

Dos and Don’ts of Social Media

Do…

Find or create graphic, clear images.

Keep things vertical. Long images take up more space

Be thoughtful, but don’t belabor it.

Tag your vendors.

Post regularly (at least three times per week).

Keep your captions concise, but don’t forget to infuse personality.

Ask questions, reply to commenters and make it feel human.

Don’t…

Post blurry, low-resolution images ever.

Use someone else’s image without permission or recognition.

Over post (more than three times a day).

Post millions of unrelated hashtags.

Spend hours agonizing over a single post.

Forget to create a geotag location and tag your posts.

Grow your Following

Use the right hashtags.

Use the right filters.

Post at the right time.

Pay for sponsored posts and product reviews.

Use geotags to boost local discovery.

Organize your Stories into Highlights on your profile.

Ask new users who engage with you to follow you.

Be consistent.

Hop on trends.

Run a giveaway.

Monitor your following closely over time.

Use the Instagram tools at your disposal.

Win $500!

Now take what you’ve learned and enter the Museum Store Product Photography Contest!

Instagram Post: Museum Store Sunday

Deadline: Oct. 1, 2019

Photograph and create a Museum Store Sunday Instagram post. Posts need to be completed and shared with Erin Brown, “the judge.” Erin will choose the most effective Museum Store Sunday Instagram post. The Best Museum Store Sunday post will receive a $500 credit toward any custom product from Popcorn. Hint: Make sure you use the hashtag #museumstoresunday

Engage your staff and have fun!


headshotDavid Graveen is the managing partner of Popcorn, a specialty design and manufacturing company dedicated to the nonprofit and specialty retail marketplaces. In the past year, Popcorn partnered with fellow MSA vendor Original Source to form the “Single Source” Brand, delivering an unprecedented range of services, products and best pricing to the museum store community. Over the past 17 years, David “Popcorn” has served on the MSA Board of Directors as a Vendor Advisor, he has championed LARGE group photos at chapter meetings and led several education sessions at the annual conference. David has served on the Museum Store Sunday Committee from its inception and is proud to be a founding sponsor.

 

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Erin Brown is a social media consultant and part of the Hello PR Team responsible for Museum Store Sunday press and social. She studied Art History in college and began her career in the marketing department of a museum in Los Angeles. From there, she lived in San Francisco and New York, working as the director of marketing and communications for Design Within Reach, where she brought the stories of emerging and established designers and their products to life through print and online media. In 2014, Erin returned to the LA area to live and work, starting a social media consultancy for retail brands, designers and more.

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Big Ideas from AAM’s Annual Meeting — and How They Fit Into Museum Retail Stores

June 24, 2019

By Julie Steiner

Part 1: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion

I had the privilege of attending the American Alliance of Museum’s (AAM) 2019 Annual Meeting last month. I participated in learning sessions with museum professionals from all areas of the field: curators, educators, administrators, trustees, directors, collections staff, volunteers, students and more. AAM’s Annual Meeting provides an invaluable forum for sharing and strategizing with top-level presenters and a wealth of big ideas. I left invigorated and inspired, my mind swimming with possibilities, and my courage bolstered by the passion of so many museum peers engaged in so many ambitious projects.


Along the way, I observed that some of the conversations happening in the broader forum of the museum industry do not yet consistently have an active place in the space of our retail-specific niche of the field. I would like to share some of my observations from AAM and adapt them to museum-store specific applications that MSA members can use.

First is prioritizing DEAI: diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion. In their 2016–2020 strategic plan, the AAM board (with president and CEO Laura Lott) identified DEAI as one of the most vital issues to the field’s viability, relevance and sustainability, and AAM has since made the subject an imperative in all activities. Dr. Nichole Ivy wrote, “We believe that those who have historically been relegated to the margins of society due to legacies of racism, ableism, sexism, heterosexism, xenophobia and all other forms of injustice must be fully included in museum workplaces and communities.”

Click here to read AAM’s full report, “Facing Change.”

This focus was on display throughout the conference, primarily in the topics presented for discussion. Session examples included “Welcoming Guidelines for LGBTQ Audiences,” “Going Beyond English,” “Understanding Everyday Bias,” “The Principles of Feminine Design,” “Creating an Inclusive Museum Field Trip” and “Is That Hung White? Getting Real About Diversity in Exhibitions.” The catalogue of sessions reveals an industry struggling to diversify and to correct a variety of imbalances — a field of professionals hungry to learn how to do better.

Another visible way AAM differs from some conferences is in a concerted effort to represent a diversity of participants among panels and presenters. Who are the voices of “experts” in the museum field? A wide variety of media sources have recently discussed the move against all-male panels across a broad range of industries, reassessing the ways conferences establish authoritative voices in a field, and how frequently those focus on male and white perspectives. However, AAM understands that the problem goes further, and that often when conference planners do grant space onstage to others, they relegate minority participants to those conversations that specifically center the issue of DEAI. AAM’s panels more frequently include gender and racial diversity throughout subject topics, although efforts in this area are continuous and ongoing.

The focus on DEAI was also on display on a practical, operational level: from opening the event with a tribal land acknowledgement, to a gender-inclusive restroom policy, to pronoun ribbons provided for attendees’ name badges (see photo below), to live-captioned meetings, ASL interpreters, and clear communication about physical access to all event and excursion sites. AAM attempts to build an event accessible to and inclusive of attendees of all race, nationality, gender, sexuality or physical ability. As an organization, AAM puts in the work to model best practices and make DEAI an underlying principle of their operations.

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How does this apply in a retail environment?

I posit that when our stores align with our institutions’ missions, as all good museum stores strive to do, then all of the factors important to our overarching institution will also figure into planning our business operations. Museum stores provide the last (and sometimes longest-lasting) part of a guest’s visit, so to leave the stores out of the most meaningful conversations is to lose an opportunity for an institution to draw its final conclusions,  solidify its impression on our guests, and extend the conversation the institution has with them.

Museum stores should adopt AAM’s practices to measure and improve diversity, access, inclusion and equity. Our retail professionals can access AAM’s DEAI materials and apply them to our staff and operations, as well as to the guests we serve. Examples of the resources offered by AAM include HR best practices for staff diversity, a booklet with tips for interacting with people with disabilities — especially helpful for those training frontline staff — and a newly published transgender inclusion toolkit. Our stores, as well as food service areas, ticketing, theaters and event spaces, can demonstrate the commitments held by our organizations and model elevated DEAI standards to our communities.

Nonprofit retail cannot be separate from these larger museum world changes and conversations. Museum stores are vital points of access to our museums, and our team members are invaluable for engaging with the public. As retail professionals, we have a great opportunity to assess our businesses with renewed consideration. We are fortunate to have access to the resources that AAM is pioneering for our field, and by collaborating with professionals across departments on these endeavors within our institutions, we can stand shoulder to shoulder with museum educators and program professionals to create museums that are safe and welcoming to all individuals in our communities.


headshotJulie Steiner (pronouns she/her/hers) is the director of retail operations for the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and was the 2017-18 president of MSA.

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My Two Favorite Weekends of 2018 Were Both Spent at MSA Chapter Meetings

June 10, 2019

By Kristen Daniels

I’ve been a member of MSA for over 10 years, but it wasn’t until 2018 that I learned a secret that I’m going to share with you: MSA regional chapter meetings, most of which take place in the fall, are the best weekend getaways out there. If you are a member of MSA, you are welcome to join as many of them as you’d like — the meetings are a membership perk that I had never taken advantage of but am now hooked on. At the MSA FORWARD conference, you get to meet and network with an even larger group, but these smaller chapter meetings have a wonderful vibe all of their own. I’m here to get you hooked on this terrific local experience.


My intrigue began several years ago after reading about and seeing pictures of the North Atlantic (NA) Chapter’s annual autumn meeting on ShopTalk. They toured museums and held educational sessions during the day, had parties at night and were genuinely enjoying the company of their MSA friends. After reading their posts, I always wished I had been there with them.

Years pass quickly, and it wasn’t long before another NA regional meeting was being gushed over on ShopTalk. Posts about other fun and interesting chapter meetings also started appearing, leading me to feel what can only be described as “chapter meeting envy.” It was a feeling I haven’t had since high school, when I would occasionally miss a weekend house party because I was babysitting the kids around the block. My teenage FOMO (fear of missing out) resurfaced in a big way, and this time I knew I was missing out on something much more fun and interesting than a teenage keg party.

Late last summer, on one of our chapter vendor advisor (CVA) video calls, we decided that each CVA would gather information about their chapter’s upcoming meeting and ask the MSA office to post the files under the “Chapters” menu on the website so that they were easily accessible to the whole membership. See the Chapter Upcoming Events for 2019 information as each chapter’s plan becomes available.

As I read the itineraries that were posted, it dawned on me that, even though we live in North Carolina and are members of the South Atlantic Chapter, we could get a cheap and direct flight to St. Petersburg, rent a car and drive 50 miles to Lakeland, Florida, where the Florida Chapter meeting was based.

I signed Kamibashi up to be a conference sponsor for the reasonable price of $300, which included registration for one person to attend all of the events that weekend: a cocktail party, a lunch, a dinner, and all museum entry and tour fees. My husband Chris’s registration was $80 (Florida Chapter members paid $60), the convenient and comfortable hotel was $99 per night and the whole weekend, including our flights and rental car, cost us about $1,000 total. Had we not sponsored and had we lived close enough to drive, this would have been a much lower figure.

What we got for our modest investment can best be described as an extremely memorable and fun time that was filled with surprises at every turn. We started off the weekend with a Friday evening reception at the Polk Museum complete with appetizers, wine, and beer and a chance to get to know the 26 people we’d be spending the weekend with. There were new faces as well as faces we recognized but, most importantly, they were all friendly faces brought together by three letters: MSA. After mingling and meeting everyone, we were treated to a curator-led, after-hours tour of two fantastic exhibitions before we headed off to dinner in small groups.

The next morning, we all gathered in the hotel lobby and sorted out who would be in which person’s car for what turned out to be a full day of one highlight after the next. It is not an exaggeration to say that we were treated like VIPs everywhere we went the entire weekend. We started out with a wonderful tour of Florida Southern College, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and then had lunch at a café that was on a little lake just a short drive away.

From there, we headed to yet another amazing experience: a trip to Bok Tower with a very special tour that included going inside their famed Singing Tower, which houses a carillon, an instrument that I had never heard of. A carillon is an organ-like instrument that gets its sound from 60 perfectly tuned bells hanging from the ceiling of the 205-foot tower, the heaviest of which is 12 tons. We climbed the stairs to the office and studio of the carillonneur, a full-time position held by a Belgian gentleman (one of the best in the world) who told us about himself and gave us a brief history of the instrument before playing it for us. Little did any of us know that this private meeting and concert with the carillonneur is a treat that only “Tower Level Members” are privy to, and that the vast majority of visitors, including many people who have worked at Bok Tower for years, have never been to the top of the tower.

Next, we headed to a conference room where the volunteer coordinator from Bok Tower talked to everyone about making the most of your volunteers and thinking outside the box when it comes to who your volunteers are. After this, each sponsoring vendor had 15 minutes of everyone’s complete attention to present our companies and our products, which we had set up on 8-foot tables that had been assigned to us.

After a short party in the store, we headed off to their state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen where a delicious taco dinner with homemade tortillas awaited our group. After more comradery, we headed to our cars for the drive back to the hotel, feeling grateful for all of the work that the dedicated conference committee and hosts had put in to make this an unforgettable experience for all.

You would think that after this 12-hour, very eventful day, everyone would have been ready for bed, but not this group! After we got back to the hotel, the majority of attendees gathered near the bar in the lobby and hung out and chatted together for another hour or two — and maybe longer — Chris and I were not the last to turn in.

On Sunday, we headed back to the Polk Museum for the Florida Chapter Meeting and an educational session about Museum Store Sunday by Susan Tudor, who everyone applauded for her dedication to Museum Store Sunday and its success. From there, everyone headed home, full of fabulous memories.

Just a few weeks later, our own chapter, the South Atlantic (SA) Chapter, met in Charlotte for the first weekend-long chapter meeting the SA has had in many years. It did not disappoint. Hosted by Amy Grigg of the Mint Museum and planned by Diana Walpole of Crystal Bridges, we were blessed with a gorgeous fall weekend and VIP treatment by both locations of the Mint Museum, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Levine Museum of the New South and the Carolinas Aviation Museum. The educational sessions were terrific, the exhibits and tour guides a delight and the vendor product presentations over Sunday breakfast very well received and interesting.

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This conference, which I had even played a small part in organizing, was also full of surprises, the biggest of which occurred at a catered dinner on Saturday night at the Carolinas Aviation Museum on the grounds of Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Little did any of us know that we would be seeing the “Miracle on the Hudson” plane that Captain Sully landed perfectly after a flock of geese shut both engines down shortly after taking off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport in January 2009. I know I was not alone in getting goosebumps from seeing this plane in person and hearing the stories that our tour guide told. It was really memorable!

My memory for details is not as good as it once was (I can barely remember a movie the day after I’ve watched it), but I am not exaggerating when I say that I can remember almost every minute of both of these weekends because they were truly wonderous affairs that I felt very privileged to have been able to attend. From my point of view, being invited to attend these amazing chapter meetings that take place at top-notch museums with top-notch people are worth your MSA membership dues and more. Thank you to all of the volunteers who spend many hours organizing these educational and fun weekends — they are something that every MSA member should take advantage of, and I encourage you to get hooked on them too.

P.S. This year, the South Atlantic Regional Conference will be held in Asheville, North Carolina (the hometown of Kamibashi) on the weekend of Sept. 6–8, 2019. Be on the lookout for more information on the Chapter Upcoming Events page of the MSA website around the middle of June.


headshotKristen Daniels is the president of Kamibashi (the string doll people) and one of two vendor advisers to the MSA Board. When she and her husband Chris travel, they love to visit museums and their shops, so attending regional chapter meetings is going to be something they happily do for many years to come.

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We Need Your Thoughts, Your Expertise and Your Willingness to Share

May 13, 2019

By MSA Staff

We Need Your Thoughts, Your Expertise and Your Willingness to Share

MSA is always seeking relevant content for our biweekly blog, and we hope you are interested in sharing your skills and experiences with the MSA community. All the members of our community are trained professionals and experts in the field — and have interesting, personal and relevant material to share with their peers. One of the defining characteristics of our association is our members’ unflagging willingness to assist each other — and a blog post offering info, suggestion, and practical steps is a way to spread that word across our community.


We hope you will all consider this as a way to shine at your own institutions and businesses. Publishing your expertise in a blog for your association of 1,200-plus members shows the knowledge and willingness to contribute that makes you an industry leader.

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Perhaps you have an intriguing industry topic you’ve been itching to write about, or you devised a solution to a common nonprofit retail problem. Did you present something at the recent conference in San Diego or find inspiration there that led you to investigate an issue? Maybe you recently presented to your board and the content is relevant and would be of use to our community. What have you been working on that you would love to share?

Blog Submission Details

MSA Blog submissions should be between 400 and 900 words.

Topics can include anything relevant to our profession or association under the

Topics must be educational — offering tips, information, and advice that would be useful to the MSA community. The MSA Blog is not a platform for advertisement or solicitation.

MSA Blog submissions should be emailed to David Duddy at dduddy@decordova.org with the email subject line: “MSA Blog submission.”

MSA Blog submissions should be accompanied by your headshot portrait and one or more photos of your business (or a photo relevant to your content).

MSA Blog submissions should include, in the body of your email, the MSA Knowledge Standard(s) that your blog applies to.

Here is a link to recent MSA Blog posts as examples.

Here is a link for tips on writing a great blog post.

We hope that you will find this an exciting prospect and will contribute in the near future. The volunteer MSA Marketing and Communications Committee has taken on the solicitation, submissions and editing of these blog entries. We look forward to reading your submissions … start typing now!

Marketing and Communications Committee (MARCOM)

  • Ione Saroyan/New-York Historical Society, Chair
  • Kate Botelho/The Preservation Society of Newport County
  • David Duddy/de Cordova Sculpture Park & Museum
  • Stuart Hata/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
  • Samir Jhaveri/Nina J. Design Studios
  • Bradley Platz/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
  • Susan Tudor/Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens
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Cross-Continent Connections

April 29, 2019

By Louise Kirby, MSc

Preparing for MSA FORWARD

The Deep is an environmental and educational charity, employing 160 people, built to promote regeneration within Hull, the UK City of Culture. A member of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, it is renowned for its research and conservation work. Inevitably, the spotlight falls on the likes of turtles, penguins and sawfish instead of the crucial supporting commercial departments. I am delighted, therefore, as the director of operations and people, to have been given the opportunity through ACE to showcase The Deep’s work on accessible tourism at MSA FORWARD in San Diego.


As a one-site organization, The Deep recognizes the benefits of working in partnership with other attractions, reminding ourselves that we are within a major global industry. We appreciate that helping to deliver industry excellence is healthy for our business; enjoyable days out and fantastic commercial experiences fuel further visits to similar attractions. This conference exchange is a super opportunity to share ideas, inspiration, and examples of good practice, products and services; and grow wider support networks to realize the potential of the Purple Pound (the spending power of disabled households in the United Kingdom).

louise-kirby-msa-forward-1Having worked at The Deep since its build, I recall being determined that as many people as possible would enjoy the aquarium and providing inclusive tourism for all is key to this aspiration. Having managed the customer service that has delivered over 7.5 million visits since 2002, I see these not as casual days out, but rather the potential to inspire, inform, educate and entertain to as wide an audience as possible. The availability of accessible leisure and tourism opportunities should be the norm rather than the exception.

Although there are clearly legal requirements with regards to accessibility, organizations can be too quick to categorize accessible service provision as merely a business obligation rather than an opportunity; many improvements actually provide an inclusive service for all. The consequences of not engaging can be missed opportunities, lack of employee confidence and reduced customer satisfaction across the board. Under the “people” element of my job role, I am an advocate for the benefits to Deep Crew Staff of accessibility excellence, with increased employee engagement and satisfaction as a result.

A recent customer with challenges ended their “thank you” by saying:

I was so grateful to them, and they both deserve recognition for their care, kindness, lack of judgement and quick thinking. She made sure we were all OK before we went on our way. I am used to being stared at and judged when faced with a meltdown in public. Your staff did the exact opposite and helped me in a very difficult situation. I felt quite emotional that I had been treated that well in a public place.

I find it heartbreaking that being stared at and judged is considered the norm. I look forward to sharing with MSA colleagues how The Deep strives for accessibility excellence with positive commercial, reputational and employment outcomes as a result ― creating a network of accessibility ambassadors.

The MSA FORWARD Experience

MSA FORWARD keynote speaker Bob Phipps (aka “The Retail Doctor”) quoted one of his clients, saying: “Since doing this training, our customers have got nicer!” Well, since being at MSA FORWARD in San Diego in March, I can safely say that, for me, the world of attraction retailing has become smaller, the potential of retailing in our industry is larger, and my pool of friends, colleagues and contacts has grown from the aquarium tanks of The Deep across the Atlantic to the shores of the Pacific. My sincere thanks go out to everyone involved with making the inaugural exchange program between ACE and MSA happen in 2019.

The quality of the conference, presentations, workshops, attraction visits and informal sessions at MSA FORWARD was flawless. What struck me most of all was the realization that it clearly doesn’t matter if you are working for an aquarium in Hull, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Museum in Florida, the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library, or San Diego’s own Balboa Park Visitor Center, the issues we are faced with and the discussions we are having with our colleagues are the same. Recurring topics for discussion were pricing policies, supplier negotiation, liaison and joint initiatives, when to mark products down, and light-hearted (on the face of it!) familiar arguments on 99 cents versus $1! We were also reminded on a couple occasions that we should not lose sight of the fact that we are often sourcing and pricing products not for the size of our wallets, but for those of our visitors ― and do we really know who those shoppers are, what they want and how much they are prepared to spend?

Delegates included both buyers and vendors, and the welcome I received from everyone was incredible. It was a pleasure to deliver my presentation on “Championing Accessibility and Inclusivity for Commercial Excellence.” At this (and all sessions I attended), you could sense a natural, genuine zest for knowledge, learning and information sharing from the industry community. It’s hard to believe that any of the attendees would need their customers to “get nicer,” with great communication and retail techniques already in place! Since the conference, I have been emailed by people with positive stories to tell me about the impact of my presentation on their attractions’ accessibility, which is incredible to hear.

So next time you are working on a Sunday afternoon, and it feels like everyone else is at home, and no one in the world understands what it is like to be in attraction management, why not reach out to a fellow ACE member or, better still, apply for the Exchange Programme 2020. And MSA members: Reach out to find how you can come to the United Kingdom to attend and present at our ACE conference. Be sure to save the date for the Rock and Roll Capital of the World, Cleveland, Ohio, April 23-27, 2020! Good luck!


louise-kirbyLouise Kirby, MSc, is the director of operations and people at The Deep aquarium in Hull, England. The Deep opened in 2002, by which time Louise had already joined the organization as the personal assistant to the chief executive, bringing with her substantial experience in office and business management. As so often happens with PAs, Louise’s remit evolved over time and she grew from being responsible for recruitment paperwork, through to achieving a master’s degree in human resource management and from taking minutes at board meetings to becoming a core member of the senior management team. Louise now holds responsibility for all aspects of the company’s HR activities, as well as the commercial elements of the business, with the managers of retail, food and beverage, guiding and ticketing reporting to her. As a champion of service excellence, people development and accessible tourism, Louise delights in supporting people’s aspirations and achievements in her home city as well as within the attraction industry worldwide.   

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Recognizing Excellence at MSA FORWARD

April 15, 2019

By MSA Staff

From March 28 to April 1, over 600 MSA members — museum store professionals and vendors alike — had the opportunity to come together to learn, buy, sell, network and explore at MSA FORWARD 2019: Create, Innovate, Educate!, the 64th annual Retail Conference & Expo, in San Diego, California. Thanks to everyone who participated and supported MSA FORWARD 2019.

Our time in San Diego was extraordinary. We participated in essential, elevated and exclusive learning sessions designed for all MSA members. We made new connections during our many excursions and networking events. At our first-class expo, we discovered incredible new products destined to be top sellers in our stores.

During MSA FORWARD 2019, we also recognized and celebrated several of our MSA leaders and members for their creativity, passion, hard work and dedication that make the MSA community so special and vibrant. We are proud to recognize the 2019 recipients for the MSA Buyer’s Choice Awards, the MSA Board Awards for Outstanding Service, the MSA Store of the Year Award and the MSA Recognition Awards.


Buyer’s Choice Awards

Each year at MSA FORWARD, buyers select their favorite new items in the categories of Books and Multimedia, Custom Design, Eco-Friendly, Education and Games, Fashion and Paper Products. This year, with over 20 products on the ballot, buyers were faced with hard decisions across all categories — but six creative, eye-catching and forward-thinking products ended up taking home the coveted awards.

 

Books & Multimediabuyerschoice

Mudpuppy, Little Artists Board Book Set

Custom Design

David Howell & Company, Contemporary Pencil Tree Ornament

Eco-Friendly

Prime Line Packaging, Love is Stronger than Hate 9/11 Memorial Museum reusable canvas tote

Education & Games

Pomegranate Communications, INC, Charley Harper’s Spot the Birds Board Game

Fashion

DONA Scarves, Wedding Package – Joslyn Museum

Paper Products

Girl of All Work, Museum Collection: Great Masters Page Flags

 

MSA Board Awards for Outstanding Service

Each year, MSA’s Board of Directors has the opportunity to recognize individuals in the Museum Store Association community who exemplify the MSA spirit — leaving a lasting impact on MSA and paving the way for the association’s future. This year, these awards took five forms: the Merit Award, the Special Recognition Award, the Advocacy Award, the MSA NEXT Award and the M Award.

MSA Merit Award

The Merit Award is bestowed only on individuals who have contributed to the significant improvement of MSA.

Alice McAuliffe, Walters Art Museum – At conferences, in MSA’s blog posts and as a past Mid-Atlantic Chapter president, Alice has been a powerful presence in MSA for many years. During her two years as board treasurer, MSA reaped the benefits of Alice’s talent, expertise and professionalism during challenging times. She has a tremendous ability to stay focused on the future of MSA and the great need we have to cultivate and mentor emerging leaders. Her work on MSA’s behalf has had a meaningful impact on individuals, our community and our industry.

MSA Special Recognition Award

The MSA Special Recognition Award honors a staff member’s contribution to the advancement of the association.

Dana Butler, Managing Editor, Museum Store Magazine – Dana has been the managing editor of Aspen Magazine, PaperCity and Denver Magazine, and she has brought that experience and talent to MSA’s Museum Store Magazine since 2014. Dana believes that the magazine isn’t doing its job if it doesn’t serve the members’ needs first and foremost, and Dana does so by consistently sourcing relevant content, and by using her journalism, management and editing skills to advance MSA.

MSA Advocacy Award

The new MSA Advocacy Award is bestowed to any individual, institution, vendor or organization who has demonstrated sustained effort and accomplished significant progress in advocating for MSA and its mission.

AmericasMart Atlanta – Our colleagues at AmericasMart Atlanta have taken action on many fronts to promote MSA and its initiatives: as a founding member of the Advocacy Committee, a founding sponsor of Museum Store Sunday, through their successful launch of the Museum Collective, which has given the MSA its first permanent branded location at a major trade show, and as a consistent supporter and promoter of MSA. AmericasMart Atlanta has proven itself invaluable as an advocate and partner for MSA.

MSA NEXT Award

This award honors a young professional whose efforts inspire future museum retail professional leaders through unique contributions that benefit all MSA members.

Steve Santangelo, Popcorn Custom Products – As a leader within one of MSA’s newest initiatives, Steve brings fresh ideas, enthusiasm and innovation to MSA. He motivates future leaders of our industry through his unique contributions and participation in creating dynamic, fun and engaging programming. His many talents and adventurous spirit are a tremendous benefit to MSA NEXT and to the entire MSA community.

The M Award

The M Award is the highest award given by the Museum Store Association. To receive the M Award, the recipient must show outstanding dedication and loyalty to the association through creativity, effectiveness, and the spirit of volunteerism and support.

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Over the last four years, a remarkable group of volunteers made up of both institutions and vendors faced unprecedented challenges in their work for MSA. This year, the MSA Board chose three deserving individuals to receive the M Award. While this is unprecedented, so is the work these individuals have done on MSA’s behalf.

  • Chris Michel, The National World War II Museum – Chris’s diligence, expertise and vision with all financial matters pertaining to MSA positioned our organization to dramatically improve its financial standing. His mission to add value to MSA membership resulted in an inclusive annual conference filled with fun, camaraderie, exceptional speakers and professionalized programming overall. His mastery at budgeting and tough negotiating skills resulted in profit for MSA. Chris served two years on the MSA Board as director at large. He served twice as Conference Committee co-chair and continues to serve on the MSA Finance Committee.
  • Julie Steiner, Barnes Foundation – Julie’s vision, research and exploration led MSA to a stable foundation with a sophisticated association management company. Her work as MSA Board president resulted in a world-class Retail Industry Report that re-established MSA’s leadership position in this industry, the ongoing publication of an annual Membership Directory, and the promise of a future filled with international opportunities for MSA members. Julie’s leadership has had a powerful impact on, and has benefited MSA, in innumerable ways. Her talent, skill and extraordinary ability to place museum stores in the larger context of commerce and consumer value have made a lasting impact. Julie continues to volunteer on the Finance Committee, the Advocacy Committee and MSA NEXT.
  • Paul Stewart-Stand, Stewart/Stand – Paul’s passion, critical thinking and sheer tenacity benefited MSA through many important initiatives and challenges. The results include MSA’s right-sized gem of a conference, with his specific skills at work to ensure responsible budgeting, planning, marketing and branding. Paul’s creative ingenuity also helped MSA win the 2018 ICON Honors for Museum Store Sunday brand identity development and brand launch. Paul served two years on the MSA Board as vendor member adviser and two years as Conference Committee co-chair.

Through the dedication and efforts of Chris, Julie and Paul, MSA is a far better organization. On behalf of our entire MSA community, we thank you for your creativity, effectiveness and spirit of volunteerism.

Museum STORE OF THE YEAR

One of MSA’s newest initiatives — the MSA STORE OF THE MONTH, culminating in the MSA STORE OF THE YEAR — launched in August 2018 with this goal in mind: advocacy for museum stores and the professionals who create them. The new awards recognize outstanding achievement within our community.

We are pleased to bestow the inaugural MSA STORE OF THE YEAR award on Waite and Peirce Authentic and Exotic Goods at Salem Maritime National Historic Site. This unique store concept is inspired by the real story of Salem shippers and privateers. The store reflects the location’s history in maritime trade through their product assortment and creates an immersive shopping experience on the wharf. Through this effort, the store has created a lifestyle brand that is connecting with local residents as well as appealing to national park tourists.

Recognition Awards

In order to recognize excellence across a wide array of talents, MSA presents annual Recognition Awards. This year, we spotlighted recipients and finalists in seven categories.

Product Development

Recipient: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco for its exclusive San Francisco Skyline Collection, developed with artist and designer Yoni Alter.

Finalist: Eastern National, for the Garfield Wallpaper RainCaper

Finalist: The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, for the À la Bodinière die cut magnet

Visual Merchandising

Recipient: The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for its exhibition shop display for Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China.

Finalist: Filoli Historic House and Garden, for their Bees and Lavender display

Finalist: Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, for their Asianic Tropical Floor display

Web Presence

Recipient: The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which created a site that links in-store promotions and social media, museum exhibitions and programming, and features the best the VMFA Shop has to offer.

Finalist: The New-York Historical Society

Vendor of the Year

Recipient: KJK Jewelry, a leading designer and manufacturer of handcrafted jewelry.

Finalist: Found Image Press, maker of unique stationery lines featuring vintage images

Finalist: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd, independent publisher of high- quality, nonfiction books

Best Pop-Up Store or Event

Recipient: The New-York Historical Society for their pop-up exhibition shop for Harry Potter: A History of Magic.

Finalist: Frederick Douglass National Historical Site organized by Eastern National

Finalist: The Witte Museum, for their White Shaman Preserve pop-up store

2018 Best Museum Store Sunday Event – Institution Award

Recipient: Fourteen Philadelphia-area museums that participated in the collaborative MSS Passport Patron program, which included: Barnes Foundation, Brandywine River Museum of Art, Delaware Art Museum, Eastern State Penitentiary, Fabric Workshop and Museum, Grounds for Sculpture, Hagley Museum and Library, Mutter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, National Museum of American Jewish History, New Jersey State Museum, Penn Museum (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology), ,Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library.

Finalist: Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh

Finalist: The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures

2018 Best Museum Store Sunday Event – Vendor Award

Recipient: Popcorn Custom Products for their creation of an Andrew Wyeth Limited Edition Archival Print: “Northern Light” in collaborations with Brandywine Museum of Art. Brandywine marketed this print to their members in a targeted newsletter and participated with regional museums in the successful Museum Store Sunday passport campaign.

Congratulations to the award recipients, finalists and nominees! And sincere thanks to everyone in our community who makes contributions toward the success and future of the Museum Store Association.

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Neighborhood Watch in San Diego

March 18, 2019

By Chacho Herman

With MSA FORWARD being in San Diego this year, MSA gave me the unenviable task of doing a write-up about the wonders and delights of the city (thanks, David Duddy). I say unenviable because there is so much! Starting south in Tijuana (Centro Cultural Tijuana (CECUT), Tacos El Franc and Telefónica Gastro Park!) all the way north to Oceanside (if you get a chance to go to Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub for an omakase meal by executive chef Davin Waite, do it. You will thank me forever.) — there is a lot to cover, and I will invariably miss something. What I thought I’d do is list some of my favorite neighborhoods and places to go and give you a “guy who’s lived here all his life” overview. The nice thing is that all the places I talk about are at most a 10- to 15-minute Lyft ride from the conference hotel.


One of my favorite neighborhoods is just south of downtown. Barrio Logan is home to Chicano Park and all of its historic, colorful and powerful murals that are painted on the supports of the Coronado Bridge. After visiting the murals, walk or drive south down Logan Avenue to grab lunch or dinner at Salud Tacos. My favorite is their birria tacos — stewed beef served in a crispy shell — but, really, you can’t go wrong with any of their food. Across the street from Salud is a little warren of independently owned shops you can browse, and Border X Brewing where you can grab a craft beer with a Mexican twist and, if you’re still hungry, another taco from their taco cart on the back patio. Finish off — and feel like a local — by getting a coffee down the street at Cafe Moto. People make pilgrimages from all over the country to visit this bean roaster. Yeah, it’s that good. Their outdoor patio furniture is repurposed industrial components like old oil barrels and giant industrial gears. Barrio Logan is also home to several galleries like La Bodega Gallery and Chicano Art Gallery. Be sure to see what’s happening at Bread & Salt, a former Wonder Bread bakery and now art hub in the neighborhood with rotating exhibitions, performances and concerts. Over the weekend of MSA FORWARD, there are glass-blowing workshops and a found music opera.

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What do you not know about Balboa Park, the largest urban park in the country (yes, bigger even than Central Park) that you haven’t already read about? I imagine you already know that there are nearly 20 cultural institutions, including The San Diego Museum of Art, golf courses (Frisbee and the other kind), the world famous San Diego Zoo, miles of hiking trails, the largest outdoor organ in the world and glorious gardens. If you are into cars, science, natural history, humanities, local art, photography and theater, then Balboa Park has something for you. Visit one — or several — of the museums, and shop in each of their unique stores. Each cultural institution is independently operated, as are their stores, so there is a lot to see. Also of note, many of the stores will be offering discounts to MSA FORWARD attendees. Just show them your MSA FORWARD badge. Next, stop for lunch or dinner and a local beer or wine at the fabulous Panama 66 at The San Diego Museum of Art. (Hot tip: Every Wednesday, there is a free jazz jam hosted by multi-award-winning trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos.) The beers are all San Diego microbreweries, the wines from local vineyards and the food made from local fresh ingredients. You can panama-66-in-balboa-parkfind other good eats a short walk across the Cabrillo Bridge. For a high-end experience, visit Mister A’s where the meal (and prices) match the glorious view. Kitty corner to Mister A’s, on Fifth and Laurel, is CUCINA urbana where you will have a wonderful Italian meal. For great ramen, it’s Hachi Ramen. (It’s my lunchtime go-to. I always order the Tan Tan ramen). Hachi is on the same block as Mister A’s and CUCINA urbana.

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The Adams Avenue corridor includes several neighborhoods that all have great, and local, food and beverage establishments. I live in Kensington, the first “suburb” in San Diego, which was subdivided in 1910. It’s home to palm tree lined streets, 1920s California bungalows and Ponce’s Mexican Restaurant. It’s at Ponce’s where you will get the best margarita in town — I promise. Sit on the patio, order an enchilada combo plate or a burrito and a margarita, and then pretend you’re a local. Hey, you may even see me walking my pup, “BB” (be sure to invite us for a drink!). Across the street from Ponce’s is the one remaining single screen theater in San Diego, Landmark’s Ken Cinema. It features independent and classic films. Heading west on Adams Avenue, you get to Normal Heights, where you’ll find Blind Lady Ale House, which is consistently rated among the top brewpubs in the country. They even have their own microbrewery, “Automatic,” in the back. The food is exceptional. Jaynes Gastropub on 30th Street near Adams is locally owned and a no-brainer for a great dinner and superb service, especially on their back patio (make a reservation). Across the street from Jaynes is sign-over-adams-avenuePolite Provisions, a cocktail bar where you will be taken back in time to the era of the sophisticated cocktail. Finish off your evening at An’s Dry Cleaning, a Zagat-rated homemade small batch gelato shop housed in a former dry cleaning shop (open until 11 p.m.). If you don’t have a sweet tooth, then head a block or two south on 30th Street from Jaynes and visit Fall, another of the many great local breweries. Be sure to check out the bathrooms, which are decorated with hundreds of old punk rock flyers from the early ’80s. They’ll usually have a food truck out front to help with hunger. Oh, and the beer is pretty good too. Be sure to tell Dave that Chacho sent you! All the places listed in Normal Heights are within a three-block walk, so Lyft there and then let your feet guide the way.

sign-over-adams-avenue-2Heading south, 30th Street bisects El Cajon Boulevard and University Avenue. The 30th Street corridor has  become a dining and shopping destination. This area is known as North Park. As you travel south down 30th, you’ll eventually get to South Park. Both North Park and South Park are very vibrant and old neighborhoods. The old North Park Theater (now known as “The Observatory North Park”) first opened in 1929 and is now a concert venue with musical acts to fit most any taste. If you decide to see a show at The Observatory, enjoy a pre-concert dinner at Saiko Sushi across the street. Their unusual rolls have delighted diners like me since they opened in North Park in 2014. Of course, it’s San Diego, so there are tacos. Among the best taco places in that neighborhood is City Tacos. As you make your way around North Park, there are several eateries, shops and bars. Of note for food are The Smoking Goat, One Door North and Underbelly. For drinks, try Modern Times Beer, Live Wire (a ponces-in-kensingtontrue dive bar with a great jukebox) and Bar Pink. Visit Tiger!Tiger! on El Cajon Boulevard for wood-fired oven-roasted sandwiches. Tiger!Tiger! is really, really good — so good, in fact, that I understand a certain MSA chapter will be hosting its chapter dinner there! For the vegetarian and vegan foodies, South Park’s Kindred is a must. It’s a heavy metal vegan must-do. Great cocktails, hardcore décor and delicious food — all really good and vegetarian. Across the street is Buona Forchetta, which has absolutely amazing Italian fare. A wood-fired homemade pizza oven creates among the best pizzas in town. Make a reservation to sit on the front patio. For shopping, try Pigment for gifts, The Book Catapult for books and gifts, Artelexia for unique Mexican crafts and decor, and Simply Local, which has seemingly endless options for handmade and local products, all from local artisans.

blind-lady-ale-house-in-normal-heightsI can’t possibly include everything that makes me happy about San Diego. It’s a great town to explore. I didn’t even mention Cabrillo National Monument and its tide pools located in Point Loma. On the other side of Point Loma is Liberty Station where the Mingei International Museum has its temporary store while their huge museum remodeling project takes place in Balboa Park. Visit the Mingei store, then head to the exceptional Liberty Station food court. Maybe even pay a visit to Fathom artelexia-in-north-parkBistro, Bait, and Tackle on a pier off of Shelter Island. It’s a fishing pier, so they do sell bait and tackle, but their specialty is their homemade (yup, made on the pier) artisanal sausages and rare beers. Sit on the pier, sip a beer with a nibble and enjoy an incredibly beautiful view across the bay toward downtown San Diego. And if you want authentic tiki, there is the Bali Hai Restaurant, which is also on Shelter Island.  There’s so much, and I didn’t even mention hikes in Torrey Pines State Reserve, walks on the beach in Coronado and the Hotel Del Coronado, San Diego’s Old Town — a cultural center with many great places to visit, and Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala in Mission Valley, which was founded 250 years ago this year. So, now that you’ve read through this entire post, your job is to — in between meetings, roundtable discussions, seminars and shopping — get out and explore all that this great city has to offer. See you soon!

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chachoChacho Herman is a native San Diegan and associate director of earned income at the San Diego Museum of Art. Herman has over 30 years of cultural commerce experience. When not working, he and his wife can be found playing fetch on Coronado Beach with his dog, BB, or exploring the deserts and beaches of Baja.