2018 Museum Gift-Giving Guide

Museums offer a vast treasure trove of items for the public to view. Museum shops offer an equally vast trove of treasures that you can take home with you 🙂

People who love museums know that their shops contain more than a few dusty books and printed scarves, and can, in fact, be opportunities to find unique and quirky gifts. (Not to diss books and scarves, as a lover of both things I’d be happy to receive either as a gift).

If you’re looking to find a gift for your friend or family member from a museum, it’s likely because you see them as a unique individual whose style or preferences extend beyond the usual go-to holiday gifts. Or you just like supporting museums. But with so many museums across the country, and with so many of those making their shops available online, it’s hard to know where to start. I’ve gathered just a few examples of what you can look to find at just a small sampling of museums, but this list is by no means extensive or comprehensive. The best place to start may actually be the shops at your nearby museums, where you can #shoplocal and feel good for supporting them through your purchase.

Unique Gift Items

You may already know to look to art museum shops for unique items like jewelry or fashion pieces, and to natural history or science museums if you’re looking for more kid-friendly space- or dinosaur-themed gifts, but you may be wondering what other items may be available to you.

The MoMA design store is perhaps one of my favorite museum shops, maybe because in recent years the museum has made public their intentions of broadening their shop offerings beyond what the general public would expect from an art museum. You can shop everything from holiday cards to rare original artist posters, but my favorite gift found in their shop might be this crepe myrtle bonsai plant kit.

MoMA store page

And you don’t have to limit your gift options to only non-exhibition related items. Look for exhibitions that call to your friend’s fun or quirky character like the City Museum of New York’s Rebel Women exhibition collection.

Museum Books

I want to make it extremely clear to readers, I do not dismiss books sold by museums as dusty or boring, because I know for a fact that many of them are not. Exhibition catalogues are masterful works that enable museum-lovers to bring home insights and beautiful artwork to be enjoyed for years. Often museum shops will sell the catalogues to current exhibitions, as well as catalogues to past exhibitions.

The North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) has current and closed exhibition catalogues in their online shop, and one of my all-time favorites is this catalogue on M.C. Escher. My parents bought this exhibition catalogue a few years back, and I still love reading through its pages on occasion when I’m visiting them. Not sure what that says about our family functions, or if it’s just a really engrossing catalogue. I’m fairly certain it’s the latter.

NCMA store page

Maybe you’re unsure whether the friend you’re shopping for prefers Matisse to Monet, or maybe they appreciate something on the subject of history or science. Every year, Smithsonian Magazine publishes a list of books recommended by scholars and curators from the Smithsonian institutions, from which it is possible to find inspiration for a gift opportunity. This year’s list offers a nice range of nonfiction books that span a range of subjects, and a few notable works of fiction as well.

Museum-Branded Gear

Do you want your family to argue over something other than politics at the dinner table this year? Buy them something from one of the many museums that recently rebranded their logos. The Field Museum is just one example; their new brand dropped earlier this year. It was adored by some who praised its dynamic reinterpretation, and, shall we say… not adored as much by those faithful to its traditional design.

The Field is just one in a long line of museums who have recently updated their logo to reflect modern changes in design styles. Other recent updates include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mystic Seaport Museum, and Minneapolis Museum of Art. Maybe your holiday gift recipient has a beloved museum more close to home that has made some updates to their logo recently. Show their favorite museum some love by purchasing a museum-branded item like a tote bag or mug to give as a gift, and spark some friendly conversation about how it’s necessary for museums to have a modern brand that cements their institution as unique in the minds of visitors (here’s a blog post on this topic to help you get the conversation started).

And if you want to stay away from modern and traditional logos altogether, go with something funny, like this wonderful shirt from the Field.

Field museum store page, t-shirt says "T-Rex hates presents"

A Museum Membership

Not sure which item in a museum’s shop best speaks to the uniqueness of your friend? Give them the opportunity to go for themselves and figure it out. Not to get preachy, but a museum membership is a meaningful gift that gives continuously throughout the year, and can fit a wide range of gift recipients. It is perhaps one of the more meaningful gifts you can give a friend and shows you care about giving them opportunities to learn and explore new places. Because we millennials are all about the #experience.

Not sure which membership level to subscribe them to? Of course it depends on your budget, but for someone without children I’d recommend a membership that allows them at least one free guest pass or discounted guest tickets in case they want to bring a friend or partner along to exhibitions throughout the year. For families with kids, look for memberships that give discounts or free passes to children, or even the added perk of family days at the museum. Exhausted parents who can let their children run free under someone else’s supervision will thank you.

Whatever you’re looking for this year, it’s never a bad idea to turn to museums to find that unique gift, something that says “I saw this and thought of you.” Or, if you’re like me (who has selected items to highlight that I would love to receive this year *hint hint*), and just think museums are cool, gift shopping through museums is a great way to find neat items and support these valued institutions, all at the same time. Take that, Amazon Smile.