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Behind the Scenes at the CMA Shop

January 14, 2016

Visitors can count on finding unique and artistic gifts at the CMA Shop (and they’re tax-free!), but how do these items get selected? From planning which products will complement an exhibition to shopping for the perfect gifts for you and your loved ones, CMA Shop Manager Brantley Cox has an eye for the best. We sat down with her to talk about how she does it.

What was the first exhibition you worked on as manager?

I started as manager right when Charles Courtney Curran started, but From Marilyn to Mao: Andy Warhol’s Famous Faces was the first big one I got to shop for.

What’s the process for curating the shop around an exhibition?

It’s about cohesion—with Warhol, I tried to go for more portrait-centered products since the theme was famous faces. With Georgia O’Keeffe, I looked for more natural objects. For REMIX: Themes and Variations in African-American Art, there’s so much opportunity to play on ideas and introduce visitors to living artists they may not know. I also try to branch out a bit for customers who want to find lesser-known works by a given artist.

Tell me about your window displays.

I usually have quite a bit of freedom with it, as long as I can tie it into the exhibition as far as decorating goes. With Warhol, I had soup can lamps that would have been out of place any other time but were perfect for that. For Georgia O’Keeffe, I tried interpreting the Santa Fe landscape we associate with her. All displays use recycled materials or things that just would have been thrown away. 

Product-wise, we tend to rotate every two weeks to keep things new, refreshing, and eye catching. We want people to stop what they’re doing and look at the window and say “I haven’t seen that before.” I try to put bright, big, or very unique objects to catch the eye of people on Main Street who otherwise wouldn’t look. 

What’s your favorite thing in the Shop?

I have a few things that I absolute love. For example, all-natural wood bowls made from fir. These are absolutely gorgeous and no two of them are alike in shape or finish. 

How is the CMA Shop different from other museum shops?

I try to make it different through accessibility. There are plenty of museum shops where you’re afraid to touch anything because it’s so beautiful, fragile, or expensive. I want everyone to feel welcome to touch things and interact with things.

We are a museum shop, but we’re also a shop in the heart of downtown Columbia where people can come in, have fun, and look for things they can’t find anywhere else. We want to be the place where people can say “You have to go here! They have the best gifts.” I want it to be a place people remember.

How does the shop engage with the community?

With events like First Thursdays, we try to have something to bring people in like a Make an Offer sale or a tag sale. During events like members’ openings, we tend to have a lot of people come in the shop. We’re being included in the party, and it’s fun to talk to members and catch up with museum patrons we haven’t seen in a while. We love it when people make it a point to come in and say hello.
I am also very active on Instagram (@cma_shop) not only to catalogue new items and old favorites in the shop, but to include behind-the-scenes photos of us goofing off with our products or getting shipments. We can also connect with other local businesses through social media and we have a lot of fun interacting not only with other Main Street businesses, but with our customers. 

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