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The History of the MOA Shop: Four Decades of Curiosity and Collaboration

Where in a museum can one engage with hundreds of touchable objects from around the world, discover leading contemporary artists, and take a piece of artwork home? The gift shop, of course.

MOA’s retail space was established in 1977, just one year after MOA opened the doors to its current home. Over the past 42 years, the MOA Shop has continually found new ways to instill a sense of curiosity, discovery and learning in its visitors. Originally dubbed the Anthropology Shop and staffed by a dedicated team of volunteers, it was tucked into a 150-square-foot alcove just inside MOA’s entrance. The first products – postcards and print reproductions of objects from MOA’s collections – were spearheaded by longtime MOA staff Salma Mawani, Administration Manager, and Bill MacLennan, Curator Emeritus. Handmade Northwest Coast Indigenous artwork, stationery and prints were also for sale. From the beginning, Salma says that the visitor demand was clear, “Whatever was brought in to sell went out the door very quickly.”

The Anthropology Shop in its original location in the MOA lobby, 1999

As demand increased, the shop further professionalized in 1994 with the hire of the first Shop Manager, Deborah Tibbel. For over 20 years, Tibbel cemented the shop’s reputation as a curated destination, where one could find everything from one-of-a-kind Kwakwaka’wakw cedar masks to detailed textiles from Peru. She also organized highly-anticipated annual holiday bazaars, introducing visitors to handcrafted artwork from cultures around the globe. The MOA Shop soon outgrew its original space as it incorporated sought-after limited-edition prints, apparel and books into its offerings.

Following museum-wide renovations in 2010, the gift shop moved to its current location, which offered three times as much space, under the new name MOA Shop. With room for an increased range of products, more pieces from a broader array of world cultures could shine. This expansion also helped serve wider demographics of visitors through the addition of a reading nook for children, plus increased space for exhibition-related merchandise and large-scale fine art pieces.

Holiday bazaar market in MOA’s lobby, 1990s

What has stayed the same over the decades is the importance of the MOA Shop’s financial contributions to the museum’s overall operations. The revenue it generates is essential, as it, “helps the museum run public programming events, purchase acquisitions and employ students,” says Salma. She also underscores the MOA Shop’s responsibility to always recognize artists through purchasing their work, or paying royalties for the use of their designs in licensed works.

The MOA Shop has proudly collaborated with a legendary roster of Northwest Coast Indigenous artists for its licensed pieces. Highlights include a stuffed bear by Bill Reid (Haida), apparel by Jim Hart (Haida), scarves by Susan Point (Musqueam), and blankets by Debra and Robyn Sparrow (Musqueam). The ongoing Emerging Indigenous Artist Contest, now in its sixth year, furthers this legacy of supporting artists by retailing t-shirts with the winning designs. A continually successful venture, this year saw the contest’s first-ever tie between two artists, John Velten and Maka Monture Päki.

The MOA Shop in 2019

As MOA continues to evolve and connect with its visitors in new ways, so does the MOA Shop. Current Shop Manager Sharon Haswell has a strong vision for the MOA Shop’s future direction that focuses on responding to the needs of today’s visitors.

“We’re working to deliver what the customers have been asking for,” she says. This includes expanding the MOA Shop’s web presence this fall, providing better access to its online visitors. In response to requests for more museum-branded merchandise, a new line of accessories and homewares celebrating the MOA’s iconic building is also on the way.

Finally, the MOA Shop continues to stay true to its rich legacy of artistic partnership. New artisanal soaps with sacred essential oils are coming soon, in partnership with Haida-owned and -operated RavenSong Soap. And in conjunction with the Museum’s 70th anniversary this September, the signature Salmon design by Lyle Wilson (Haisla) will be the focus of limited-edition shirts and sweaters. With the motif rendered in metallic silver, these pieces bring a modern twist to Lyle’s classic formline design, in hopes of capturing the interest of longtime visitors and new audiences alike.