Oreos, iPhone cases, TikTok could help museums make millions

What number of occasions have you ever been to a museum within the final 12 months? Most likely not many. The truth is, customer figures for the world’s high 100 artwork museums dropped by 77% in 2020 as international lockdowns ravaged the cultural sector. Whereas this has left many museums in dire straits, it has additionally triggered a radical reimagining of how they will attain wider—and importantly youthful—audiences to help them recuperate from a 12 months of losses.

A serious a part of that is how museums are quickly changing into extra subtle in how they capitalize on their cultural IP—the artworks and artifacts of their assortment—to diversify their enterprise and take their collections far past the museum partitions.

In 2019, international gross sales of licensed items have been $292.8 billion, following a sixth consecutive 12 months of development. Traditionally, artwork and nonprofit museums have represented a tiny fraction of this, at 1.5%, however meaning the probabilities for development are large. The truth is, these sectors noticed the biggest growth by way of licensed merchandise in 2019.

Museums have 1000’s of artworks to capitalize on, a few of that are probably the most recognizable photos on the earth. Previously, their use has been restricted to easy reward store souvenirs like tote baggage emblazoned with the Mona Lisa. However now museums have gotten rather more progressive in how they use their IP, making the most of memes, social media, and rising know-how to have interaction shoppers and promote the museum whereas benefitting from new sources of revenue.


China is main on this space, with Beijing’s Palace Museum reportedly making $222 million by way of product gross sales in 2018 alone. With the pandemic pushing many museums around the globe to create new income streams rapidly, the stage has now been set for widespread international development.

Collaborations get inventive

An increasing number of museums are saying progressive licensing partnerships with sudden manufacturers from the worlds of trend, magnificence, luxurious, and meals and beverage. The Met labored with with Estée Lauder on a makeup line impressed by paintings from their assortment; the Pure Historical past Museum made choose items obtainable to buy from inside design firm Made; and Beijing’s Palace Museum’s collaborated with Oreo on limited-edition cookies.

[Photo: The Met]

It’s a mannequin we’ve seen within the leisure and sport trade for years, however it’s new floor for the cultural sector. These partnerships give museums entry to a lot wider audiences and create new income streams that exist independently from customer revenue. In our expertise, retailers and types are desirous to collaborate with cultural establishments as a result of it provides them entry to the distinctive iconography and storytelling alternatives of a number of the world’s most celebrated artifacts and artworks.

On the similar time, we all know Gen Z makes use of artwork and tradition for self-expression and needs to have interaction with manufacturers that share their values. Museums at the moment are beginning to attain this viewers by collaborating with trend and life-style manufacturers to create progressive merchandise and experiences that flip youthful generations into ambassadors for the museum.

[Photo: Thibaut Grevet/courtesy Musée du Louvre/Off-White]

The Louvre’s collaboration with Virgil Abloh’s fashion brand Off-White, launched on the cusp of the pandemic, was an indication that museums have been already beginning to consider these strikes, even earlier than lockdowns compelled their palms. The vary of T-shirts and hoodies that includes a number of the museum’s iconic Leonardo da Vinci works introduced the Louvre new cultural relevance, an expanded viewers, and new retail alternatives through Off-White’s shops and stockists like Browns.

Extra not too long ago, the Louvre introduced its collaboration with tech accent large Casetify, which launched a set of art-inspired iPhone instances, AirPod instances, and wi-fi charging pads, once more rising its attain in addition to its revenue. The Louvre’s model partnerships reportedly generated $5.3 million in 2020, in comparison with $3.2 million in 2019.

MoMA adopted an analogous mannequin with its collaboration with Vans final 12 months: a particular version assortment of footwear and attire impressed by MoMA works by Dalí, Kandinsky, and Monet. It follows Vans’ earlier, and in some methods pioneering, collaboration with Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum of a limited-edition footwear assortment impressed by a number of the artist’s best works. Pushing the inventive potential of cultural IP licensing offers even additional, the Van Gogh Museum simply introduced its first ever perfume: Sunflower Pop, a collaboration with main British perfume model Floral Avenue that engages entire new audiences with its artworks in a extremely sensorial method.


Going digital

Over the past 12 months, we’ve additionally seen museums utilizing more and more subtle digital means to convey the entire museum expertise to guests around the globe through VR excursions, on-line retail experiences, livestreamed occasions, and in-app filters and stickers. These are sometimes at their strongest when mixed with storytelling round cultural IP licensing collaborations.

The Brooklyn Museum not too long ago collaborated with Netflix to develop a digital exhibition of costumes from the acclaimed dramas The Crown and The Queen’s Gambit. These are proven alongside a fastidiously curated collection of objects from the museum’s everlasting assortment, which relate to the exhibits’ themes and characters, a shrewd instance of utilizing digital know-how to convey the expertise of viewing a museum’s assortment to entire new demographics.

[Screenshot: Netflix]

TikTok has additionally been a lifeline for sure museums over lockdown. Throughout the Euro 2020 soccer match, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum posted well-known portraits with faces “painted” with a succession of collaborating nation’s flags, accompanied by the caption “Get your recreation face on!” In the meantime, Madrid’s Museo del Prado has develop into one of the common museum accounts on TikTok with its insightful explorations of key work from its assortment. For anybody doubting if these novel TikTok methods will translate into precise footfall, Florence’s world-famous Uffizi Gallery revealed that the variety of youthful guests has doubled because it joined TikTok final 12 months.

Cultural IP can be weaving its method into in-app filters and digital sticker collections as a solution to embed itself into on a regular basis world of digital messaging. One in every of my favourite examples is a collection of social app stickers from the gathering of China’s Gansu Provincial Museum, which brings sudden humor and wit to ceramic and carved wood artifacts, casting them in a brand new mild.

The cultural sector has had a brutal 18 months. However there are actual alternatives within the international licensed merchandise market, which is set to reach $338.7 billion by 2027. By leveraging their collections in intelligent, distinctive, and on-brand methods, museums can safe new income sources whereas reaching new and various audiences.

Yizan He’s founder and CEO of Artistory LLP, an IP licensing agency working with a number of the world’s main museums, galleries, science facilities, and libraries. He additionally serves as an investor and basic accomplice of SIPIC Singapore, an funding fund that focuses on artwork and cultural IP.