Heritage Month: The growing demand for museum merch and gallery gifting

Tate Enterprises, the business arm of the Tate Modern covering its shop, café and publishing, brought in £2.8m in profit in the 2016-17 financial year.

It’s one of the biggest indicators that licensing in the heritage sector today is more than just a few tea towels or coasters depicting Monet’s Water Lily Pond.

A recent article printed in The Guardian went to a great length to highlight the growing business around licensing artwork and artists out into the consumer sphere. Within it, Rosey Blackmore, merchandise director at Tate highlighted that for many artists, merchandising is a “very democratic way of getting their work out into the world.”

For the likes of Grayson Perry or Damien Hirst, contemporary artists still knocking about today, it could well be the case. Licensing, as we all know, establishes a greater resonance between a brand and its audience; throwing a five to ten per cent cut from merchandise sales for the artists into the bargain.

Perry in particular is famously hands-on when it comes to merchandising and will over see the design of even the most basic product before it hits shelves.

But in that same article, however, the mistake was made of labelling this method of merchandising as ‘art tat,’ the reaction to which, this journalist is sure you can imagine.

In a public post via the social media platform, LinkedIn, David Thompson, head of brand licensing, sales and research at the Tate said that it is ‘art tat’ that helps fund the UK’s galleries and museums.’ Indicating that it is a steady source of income for a vastly underfunded sector.

The cultural responsibility many of these institutions bear is a weighty one, too. Last year, the Tower of London welcomed around 2.8 million visitors through UK tourism. As a landmark, it ranks among one of London’s most visited tourist attraction and one of the leading attractions in the UK.

It also doesn’t receive a single penny in government funding. Instead, managed by Historic Royal Palaces, it largely generates it own income through admissions, donations and, of course, merchandising.

It’s just as well that public demand for heritage branded merchandise is on the rise for what is now a niche but growing segment in licensing.

“For many years, character licensing has typically been the breadwinner of the licensing industry, reflecting pop-culture and global influences from publishing, film and television,” Jenny Smyth, licensing manager at Historic Royal Palaces tells Licensing.biz.

“The progress of this segment can be seen by the growth of the ‘lifestyle brands’ presence at Brand Licensing Europe, as well as the increase in heritage sector collaborations with high street fashion retailers.”

The Van Gogh museum, for example, recently detailed a new collaboration with Samsonite for a line of travel accessories. The collection pays tribute to the Dutch artist’s famous masterpiece, Almond Blossom while, according to the museum, nodding to Van Gogh’s own lust for travel.

“We are now seeing recognition that manufacturers and retailers are placing on partnering with heritage institutions, it gives their customers a relief from the fast consumer industry of today,” adds Smyth.

Of the average Historic Royal Palace consumer, Smyth suggests that ‘they find the historical provenance behind our products interesting and they want to now buy into that. In addition, they are also helping to support these magnificent buildings which will continue to inform, educate and entertain generations to come.”

For the price of a cushion, it’s a legacy that the modern consumer seems only too happy to fund.

At Historic Royal Palaces, the licensing programme has been steadily growing year on year to cover fashion, jewellery, homewares, toys and games and heritage drink. Through its programming the charity manages to maintain the likes of the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Hillsborough Castle; each staples of the UK’s tourism sector.

Next year promises to be an event year for the outfit that is now working in conjunction with Yale University Press on an exhibition at Kensington Palace to mark the 200 anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth. Its expected to become a major attraction and already HRP is busy working with Hobbs on a special collection in time for 2019.

Meanwhile, 2018 has so far been a big year of growth and development for Science Museum Group and its evolving licensing programme. It follows a record year in 2017 for licensing revenues; one that has become synonymous with science kits, innovative toys and gadgets.

It’s looking to diversify this further with new branding and plans in place to develop programmes around the Group’s multitude of Heritage brands: Science Museum London, national Science and Media Museum Bradford, Museum of Science and Industry Manchester, National Railway Museum York and Locomotion Shildon.

“There are many exciting projects scheduled for these museums to align them with the Science Museum for a brand and outlook point of view,” says Jack Stokes, senior account manager of brand licensing at the Science Museum Group. “With a recent re-brand of the Railway Museum, we are keen to see how we can move this highly desirable brand into new product areas, specifically engineering.”

It’s yet again indicative of a tangible movement from the Heritage space. Heritage is a growing sector.

‘The strength of our licensing programme is the variety and scope the palaces can offer,” adds Smyth. “We work as a partnership and support licensees from product development through to marketing and promotional support to provide new ideas and themes to keep collections fresh.

“This is why we have had licensees for a number of year,” she concludes. And it ain’t tat.

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of Licensing.biz and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both ToyNews and Licensing.biz, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing robert.hutchins@biz-media.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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