While working on the upcoming Smith production of “Fun Home”—a musical based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel—cast and crew members experienced a bit of behind-the-scenes magic: A trip to Special Collections in Neilson Library, where Bechdel’s papers are housed.
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‘Oh, Good, There’s a Museum Shop!’
One of the best parts of any museum outing is picking up a little something special from the museum shop on the way out. With its handcrafted jewelry, exhibit-related items and creative signature Smith pieces, the Smith College Museum of Art (SCMA) shop upholds that tradition and has developed a loyal following since it was established in 2003.
“It’s not a typical museum gift shop,” says SCMA shop manager Justin Thomas. “We feature more designers and craftspeople. Every piece in the shop has been carefully selected. It’s one of the things that makes us so unique.” Some museum shops, by contrast, feature primarily mass-produced exhibit- and collection-related merchandise, with some major museums even opting to outsource their shops to retail companies.
Thomas, who has a background in fine arts management in western Massachusetts, says the SCMA shop staff members listen to what their customers—from alums to the local and Smith communities—would like to see. Unique artisan jewelry and handmade textiles are among the shop’s most popular items. Beyond the museum, the shop goes on the road to offer trunk shows, coordinated with Smith clubs. “Alumnae get together, socialize, and they shop,” Thomas says. “People just love them!”
Like just about everything else these days, the traditional trunk show went virtual for the first time in November. And since the pandemic began, sales have soared in the online SCMA shop. “We definitely are going to expand it,” Thomas says, promising greater emphasis on the designers and makers whose work the shop features.
In pre-pandemic times, Thomas adds, he often overheard patrons say, “Oh, good, there’s a museum shop!” when they stepped inside SCMA. “The shop is oftentimes one of the only points where people will interact with the museum staff,” he says. “You can have some pretty deep conversations about life and art and the exhibition. We’re another access point to the museum.”
This story appears in the Winter 2020-21 issue of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly.