Museum Store Sunday: Seeing the Forest and the Trees

October 28, 2019

By Angela Colasanti

An international collaborative advocacy event

Pennsylvania is my home … it always has been. I adore the changing seasons, the variations in landscape from mountain to field to city. For much of the year it is green, except for the punctuated starkness of white in the winter and the warm orange hue of fall. Close to my home is Valley Forge National Historical Park, where we go to walk on the trails, picnic in the fields and reflect on the historical context embedded into this preserved landscape. My favorite place in the entire park is near Washington Memorial Chapel, where a massive plane tree lives. It is a true gem of nature, worthy of reverence and respect.

As I stand under the tree, reflecting on Museum Store Sunday, I envision that the soil is our community, the cities and places embodying our shared culture. The trunk is the institution, the building and the mission preserving that culture. The branches are the arms of the institution, the store, cafe, many other departments and the collections providing support to the mission. The leaves, catchers of light, as the employees, volunteers, community outreach, events and educational programming, giving the tree its energy and life force. And finally, the sun, the rain, the birds, the insects — they are the patrons. They have the honor of giving nourishment to the tree and receiving the fruits of its bounty. And they, in turn, carry the seeds and share them, starting the whole cycle anew.


For the past three years, I’ve had the privilege to serve on the Museum Store Sunday Committee, watching a sapling grow strong under our collective tender care. It has been a professional honor to work with both institutional and vendor MSA members dedicated to the advocacy of museums and museum stores. In a very short time, we have collaborated to build an international event, with participation from over 1,200 stores, in all 50 states and 18 countries. The event has received international press attention, and we are on track to increase our participation by another 25% in our third year. This year, alongside my co-chairpersons, Stuart Hata of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and Laura Murphy of The Preservation Society of Newport County, we have focused our efforts in three key areas: strategic partnerships and Advocacy, marketing and communications and engagement and recruitment. Our goal is to engage all parts of our tree and see continued growth throughout.

The Strategic Partnerships and Advocacy subcommittee, including Julie Steiner of the Barnes Foundation, Michael Guajardo of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Michael Higdon of the National Building Museum, David Graveen of Popcorn Custom Products, Kristen Daniels of Kamibashi and myself, has been specifically focusing on developing best practices for creating relationships within the cultural sector that advances Museum Store Sunday as a whole. We are actively engaging international, national and regional museum-affiliated associations and consumer arts organizations, as well as advocating directly to elected officials. Along with Susan Tudor, President of the MSA Board of Directors, of Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, letters and communications have been developed and sent to organizations and elected officials around the world, starting a broader dialogue on the benefits of Museum Store Sunday throughout the full breadth of the cultural sector.

Through our strategic partnership with the American Alliance of Museums, the diversity of institutions domestically participating in Museum Store Sunday has substantially increased. Laura L. Lott, President and CEO of the AAM, said, “Museum stores create wonderful opportunities for visitors to interact with, and take home, unique items inspired by their museums’ missions, while also supporting the local economy. The American Alliance of Museums is proud to be a supporter of Museum Store Sunday and hopes that this international day brings in new visitors who want to support museums’ vital work in an exciting way.”

Museum Store Sunday is an international collaborative advocacy event. The Strategic Partnerships and Advocacy Committee invites both institutional and vendor participants to contact their own local, state and federal elected officials on behalf of Museum Store Sunday. Tell them about this opportunity for their constituents to “Shop with Purpose” and “Be a Patron” of their local museum store. Using the advocacy letter templates available in the toolkit on the Museum Store Sunday website, you can easily insert your store’s information and send out your message to your own elected officials. We have created both printed and online submission versions, which you can customize to your specific needs. Be sure to invite your local representatives to attend your Museum Store Sunday events. Showcase celebrations or discounts you are offering, and take this opportunity to educate your legislators about the value museums and museum stores hold in our communities. For a listing of your legislators, click here for the American Alliance of Museum’s federal legislator search.

As I always do, I will once again visit that special tree at Valley Forge this winter. I will be reminded of the important work we do every day, and the strength and permanence embodied by the Museum Store Sunday event we have all cultivated. We, together, actively support institutions in the preservation of literature, history, nature, science, art and culture — for the benefit of all. Together we are a forest of trees, honored to share our work with patrons around the world. Museum Store Sunday is the celebration of all these relationships, and it creates unique opportunities for all of us to engage our communities directly through advocacy.


Angela Colasanti is the founder of VIELÄ Jewelry, located in bucolic Chester County, Pennsylvania, just a short drive from Philadelphia. Surrounded by the beautiful woods and trails of Pennsylvania, and in close proximity to the New Jersey and Delaware beaches, there are abundant sources of inspiration for her jewelry designs. VIELÄ Jewelry partners with museum stores and cultural institutions nationwide, and Angela is proud to produce her line in the United States. She is a co-chairperson of the Museum Store Sunday Committee, a founding sponsor of Museum Store Sunday and has received a Service Award from MSA. Please reach out to Angela directly at, or contact the committee at


Catch a Rising Star: ‘Museums and More’ 40 Under 40 Honorees

October 14, 2019

By Kate Botelho Sibya

Museums and More magazine recently released its list of the 40 people under 40 who are rising stars in our industry. We caught up with three of the honorees who have close connections to MSA: Lindsay Hagerman, co-founder and CFO of RainCaper; Jill DeDominicis, visitor experience manager at Mingei International Museum; and Sarah Schuetz, director of buyer services at International Market Centers. When we spoke with the honorees, we couldn’t help noticing one overarching theme to their responses: the value of networking.

Each of the winners stressed the benefits of reaching out, whether it’s within the MSA community or to other networks — and credits this interaction as important to their career growth. The sharing of ideas has been core to their success as museum institution members, vendor members and market representatives. It’s all about connection.

We asked each winner how they stand out in their organizations as young professionals and if they see their perspective as different.

Lindsay Hagerman

Lindsay Hagerman

Hagerman says, “I am constantly looking for new ways to improve RainCaper. I leverage many business networks, including the Museum Store Association and other focused entrepreneur groups, to help me make the right decisions for my business.”

DeDominicis’ perspective is informed by the unusual career path she took to her position. “Prior to this role, I worked as a magazine editor, mainly for the publication Ornament magazine, which focuses on artists, craft and wearable art. I also helped run a craft and furniture business for a short period of time, so I think I approach my work with an understanding of both the nonprofit, museum and retail side, but also with experience in the artist and crafter’s realm.”

Schuetz speaks of the power of serving others well. “Always follow through,” she says. “Ask yourself, how does the ‘other side’ benefit? Anticipate your manager’s needs. Proactively deliver before they even ask for it. Results speak for themselves.”

How did these young professionals achieve their positions, and what advice would they have given to their younger selves? Schuetz says to advocate on your own behalf. “You are more likely to receive that for which you respectfully ask,” she says. “Remember that hardly any decisions in life are forever. You have the privilege to make a different choice later, as your needs or desires change.”

Jill DeDominicis

Jill DeDominicis

DeDominicis agrees. “I would encourage my younger self to stick with what makes me feel inspired and excited and trust that it will all come together in the end,” she says. Also, to “spend way less time doubting myself; try to push myself even if it’s uncomfortable and scary.”

Hagerman believes that success is not achieved by working in a vacuum, “It is best achieved by networking, by hiring people who are smarter than you in their specialty area and by paying professionals for expert advice in their fields.”

When asked about their involvement with MSA, there was unanimous agreement in the power and value of our community. DeDominicis highlights ShopTalk as her go-to source for answers and inspiration. “It’s so encouraging to be able to talk with other colleagues in different museums and to hear about what they are working on, to have a sounding board to share ideas and to ask questions. It’s such a cool, supportive and helpful community,” she says.

Hagerman credits MSA with driving many product development decisions for her company. “In addition

Sarah Schuetz

Sarah Schuetz

to sales, we have also developed professional relationships through the last several years of MSA FORWARD — in particular, vendors helping vendors with our business,” she says.

Schuetz sees MSA as an “unbelievable resource … and proactively moving toward the future.” She adds, “Get involved, attend events, introduce yourself, actively participate. Network with talented retail experts to learn, grow, and prosper.”

Schuetz shared with us a list of questions she uses to “check in” with herself and make sure she’s keeping her priorities in focus:

  • What did you do this year of which you’re proud?
  • What are ways that you exercised self-care?
  • What are the most important things you learned?
  • What compliments did you receive that affected you?
  • What is the best advice you heard this year?

On behalf of MSA and MSA NEXT, we wish to congratulate the Museums & More Magazine 40 Under 40 Class of 2019!

msa-next-logoArticle provided by Kate Botelho Sibya of Newport Mansions on behalf of MSA NEXT.


Museum Store Sunday … Is It on Your Radar?

September 30, 2019

By Laura Murphy

Museum Store Sunday, MSA’s global one-day initiative, will be celebrated on Dec. 1, 2019. Cap off your Thanksgiving weekend with this shopping event highlighting your store’s unique, curated merchandise and representing the best in creativity and culture. Everyone is invited to shop the incredible offers at museum stores on six continents and in all 50 states, including Washington, D.C. Museum Store Sunday is for all nonprofit retailers from art museums, historic houses, presidential libraries, botanical gardens, zoos and more. It is a time for all nonprofit retailers to highlight their fantastic store merchandise.

The time is now to join the 1,200 museum stores who are planning for a successful day. We want you to take part in the third year of Museum Store Sunday success. Join the excitement and be part of this growing momentum. Our goal this year is to increase participation by 25%, and we are almost there! Let’s surpass that goal and increase our reach to 35%. Be a part of the excitement!

Do not stress. Yes, we can reach the goal together. The goal is to make your store a destination. It is to be part of your community. The benefit of registering for Museum Store Sunday is to gain international recognition for your institution and your contribution to it.

Let’s get engaged and put Museum Store Sunday on your holiday radar. You can do it in a few easy steps.

Visit the Museum Store Sunday website and click on the museum portal. Follow registration, and get your store name on the locator. After registering, you may then add the event you are hosting that day. Planning your event can range from working with one of your vendors to host a trunk show, developing a special product or asking them to show up with treats and talk up their products. Great signage, mugs, tote bags and pin-on buttons are available for purchase to promote the day. It is easy to participate, and 73% of participants saw an increase in sales that day just by being a part of the event.

Get your marketing department involved. Publish it on the museum’s website, Facebook and Instagram. Ask for assistance in writing copy to get the message out to the local media from print to radio. Be sure to get listed on local event calendars. Involve membership — emphasize it as a great shopping opportunity for the holidays and for members to support their favorite institution.

Check out the toolkit. Here you will find the branding guidelines for advertising, and purchase branded merchandise like signs, mugs and tote bags for in-store promotions.

Community outreach is another way to boost visitation. Involve other nonprofit stores in the area to become part of a program to increase store visits. How about passport programs listing all participating stores in your area and including their events and discounts being offered on that day? The message can be “support your local museum stores on Dec. 1, 2019.” Strength in numbers!

Support your local vendor. Reach out to them to assist you in making the day a success. Invite them to launch new products — products you have never offered. Make them a partner in your success.

Get your staff involved. Make them part of the excitement. Prepare by putting out the signs, having them wear the buttons and talking up the event to the visitors. Let people know this is a day not to be missed.

Now do you feel like you can make this day a success in a few easy steps by creating a store atmosphere to delight your patrons? If you have questions, please contact the Engagement and Recruitment Committee. We will be happy to walk you through any concerns, help you plan your day and give you even more reasons to join our international celebration.

Laura Murphy is the chair of the Engagement and Recruitment Committee for Museum Store Sunday. She can be reached at


Big Ideas from AAM’s Annual Meeting (and How They Fit into Museum Retail Stores), Part 2: Embracing Change

September 16, 2019

By Julie Steiner

Part 2: Embracing Change

You’ve probably heard some of the statements attempting to summarize the scope of propulsive changes in our culture today:

  • More data has been recorded in the last two years than in all of prior history.
  • More immigrants have come to the United States since 1966 than in the entire time from 1776-1966.
  • Never before has the workplace accommodated four generations working side by side.
  • More than half the world’s population now live in urban areas.
  • Although over 90% of communication is nonverbal (tone, expression and body language), email, texting and social media have all caused verbal communication to decrease dramatically.

Simultaneous demographic, social, technological and economic changes are uprooting norms across all industry sectors. The program at AAM’s 2019 Annual Meeting made it apparent that today’s museum professionals wrestle with the ever-increasing speed of change in American culture. Advances in technology and rapid data accumulation change not only what we do, but how it is measured. Problems and solutions are increasingly global rather than local; generations are changing; centers of power shifting; individual stories are amplified and empowered just as “privacy” simultaneously becomes commodified; and on and on.

These are sweeping changes with far-reaching implications, not only in museums but everywhere in our lives. Never in history have humans had to reconcile so much evolutionary and social change so quickly. In addition, an individual organization’s reactions and efforts at adapting to cultural changes often happen on an international scale, at an ever-accelerating pace, and quite often (thanks to social media) directly in the public eye.

As an example of this, by now you are likely already familiar with the conversation about salary transparency that sprang from the AAM keynote address with Kimberly Drew, where Drew (an African-American woman) disclosed her salaries from previous jobs and compared one museum salary to that of her white male predecessor. This disclosure garnered many murmurs from the crowd, followed by even more tweets, Facebook posts and discussion on social media, which, within weeks, prompted another museum employee to launch a shared spreadsheet for museum workers to make similar disclosures anonymously.

This spreadsheet grew rapidly from a few entries to thousands. In this sequence of events beginning with a single AAM session, we see the kind of seismic shift happening in real time that illustrates so many of these converging simultaneous changes:

  • Workers demanding new levels of accountability from the organizations they serve
  • The speed of transmission of ideas our technology provides
  • Increasing demands for transparency in nonprofits
  • Changing values as younger generations become more influential
  • Lessening distinctions between personal, political and professional

How Does All this Apply to Retail?

No one is immune to cultural change. As nonprofit retailers, we can prepare ourselves by admitting that “business as usual” is not going to cut it in these times. Together, we can assess how some parts of this shifting landscape have extra implications in retail, as the changes affect not only our institutions, but essential retail business practices. Museums are under pressure to collect more visitor data, with higher needs for specialized skills of analysis and reporting. Processes that can be automated will increasingly be so, such as staffing levels determined by visitation algorithms, and the now-ubiquitous self-checkouts at so many discount stores and drug stores.

Complicating this further are expectations of our changing consumer marketplace. These pattern changes scale from large (like demanding sustainable manufacturing) down to individual transactions, like customers expecting smartphone-enabled payment options, or bringing their own shopping bags to reduce waste. Even our own buying patterns are shifting, as the wholesale trade shows fluctuate, merge and re-emerge.

As we face this barrage of changes across the landscape, let’s admit that change is inherently unsettling, even on a small scale. Humans intuitively resist change out of deep-seated fear of uncertainty that is part of our psychological evolution. However, change is also a necessary part of growth. Growing our businesses to accommodate these changes, addressing them head on to provide support for our employees and others who rely on us, and assisting our organizations’ larger transitions all show our own adaptive leadership.

Additionally, we can know that we are not alone. These are broad cultural shifts shared across institution types, sizes and locations. Tension and resistance are normal. The changes required in our institutions sometimes challenge long-held, comfortable practices. Fortunately for MSA members, in addition to AAM, our association community provides a localized and subject-specific platform for us to pose questions, embrace challenging discussions, and to scale these grand ideas down to the specific intersection of museum culture and consumer needs. Our localized conversations at MSA chapter meetings, in committees, at MSA FORWARD, in Shoptalk discussions and through direct networking should increasingly support our individual, professional and organizational development as we weather these changes together. I look forward to the shape these conversations will take on in our Museum Store Association.

headshotJulie Steiner (pronouns she/her/hers) is the director of retail operations for the Barnes Foundation and past president of MSA (2017-2018).


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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 ( 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



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


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


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.