Recently, museums have started paying much more attention to their cultural and social geography by bringing the concept of “local” to the forefront of exhibitions, educational programs and even museum shops. Museum of Brisbane, located in the heart of the capital of Queensland in Australia, is a great example. Originally opened in 2003 it was renovated in 2013 and currently occupies the special gallery on the top of the newly restored Brisbane City Hall, an important heritage building.

Museum of Brisbane is an institution exploring the living history of the city examining how it changes over time through individuals and communities. It is the belief and never-ceasing interest in citizen’s stories that inspires the vision of the museum. Museeum talked to Christopher Salter, the Museum of Brisbane Deputy Director, about their museum shop which strongly supports creativity and encourages the dialogue with local artistic community.

©Museum of Brisbane
©Museum of Brisbane

It seems like today a lot of museums are rethinking the concept of a museum shop, offering it as a platform for young creative individuals to exhibit and sell their designs. Why did the Museum of Brisbane support this idea for its new shop?

Museum of Brisbane is focused on discovering the people, the places and stories of Brisbane. The museum shop builds on this mission by featuring local artisans, and pieces inspired by our city’s landscape, iconography and narratives. Many artists we stock have created works that stem from a personal connection to a piece of our city, so much like there are many stories behind each exhibition, there are many stories behind the pieces in the Museum shop.

How are curatorial ideas behind exhibitions and collection reflected in the museum shop display?

In addition to featuring local artists, the Museum designs a small product range to accompany each exhibition. Each range uses imagery from the exhibition, and may include pieces such as prints, cotton voile scarves, playing cards, post cards and linen tea towels.

How do you think the museum shop enriches the exhibition experience?

It’s really about being able to take a piece of the exhibition home with you. We’ve just seen the city fall in love with our exhibition Stephen Nothling: The last street in Highgate Hill, and every day visitors would ask for a memento to take with them. I think visitors also enjoying supporting the Museum through the shop, as all of our exhibitions are free.

Is the curatorial team of the museum involved in the selection process of the local designers?

The museum engages Independent Arts Management (iAM) to assist with our retail strategy and operations, but the selection process is a joint undertaking by iAM, the Museum’s directors, and the marketing and retail team.

Where do you find these emerging talents?

It’s a bit of a mix really. We do get a lot of people approach us about stocking their designs, and we also have a great team at the Museum that is always scouting for new designers and artists. Sometimes it’s serendipitous and we happen to stumble across someone at a local market or on Instagram.

Do you think that Brisbane design today is trying to reconnect with traditional local craftsmanship? Is regaining interest in arts and crafts of the region something you are trying to achieve with your museum shop concept?

Yes. We aim to gather unique items from each individual artist and crafts relating to Brisbane.

Are there any success stories how the Museum of Brisbane shop gave a great start for a future artistic career?

We like to think that being featured in the Museum shop provides a boost to all of our artisans, particularly to an international and intrastate audience. Well known local artist Stephen Nothling recently commented in a media article “you know you’ve made it when Museum of Brisbane makes a magnet out of your artwork”.

Can you tell us about your favorite designers from the museum shop whose items you took home or gave as gifts?

That’s a tough one! Each new delivery brings something unique and exciting, so it’s difficult to nominate a favorite as it changes all the time! The museum staff and I are definitely some of the shop’s best customers, for both gifts and for pieces we loved so much we had to take them home.

What are the design names from the Museum of Brisbane new additions we should be hunting for this season?

We are constantly on the lookout for the next designer names we can stock in the shop but some key ones to check out are Core, Bambambu, Liz Herber, Hoopoe Home and Row Faster George