museums&MORE Spring 2011
Artistic Endeavor

The new Dali Museum is one-of-a-kind, like the artist himself

When Museums & More featured The Salvador Dali Museum Store in the summer of 2008, Dianne Birmingham, museum sales and merchandise director, shared that The Salvador Dali Museum itself boasts the world’s largest collection outside of Spain from this Spanish surrealist, and much like the art of its namesake, the store reflected his flair for the unusual.

“We study the artist and his prolific accomplishments,” Birmingham was quoted as saying. “One visit will tempt the intellect and beckon subsequent visits.”

She also added that they were planning on moving to a new facility with added gallery space, a move keeping with their mission to continue to further educate the public and protect the artwork of one of the most significant artists of the 20th century.

Upon hearing about the completion of the move in January, we had to agree that it tempted the intellect and beckoned for a subsequent visit.

After nearly three decades welcoming a statewide and global arts community, the new Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., remains a unique attraction. Its design of concrete geometry and flowing glass captures the classic and the fantastic. Designed by internationally acclaimed architect Yann Weymouth, the building has a unique signature of glass they call the Enigma. This iconic Enigma creates a study of solid vs. void and brings Florida light into the building.

“Salvador Dali was fascinated with the many discoveries in modern science and science is embodied in many of his works,” Birmingham said. “Visitors view firsthand the wonder of these theories and the resulting architectural shapes and are able to take home a memory of the experience with the items sold in the new Dali Museum Store.”

Protection of the Dali Collection was the primary impetus for the move, and Birmingham said that despite a high construction cost, they sought to construct a building that could withstand a category five hurricane.

“Our five-year construction project to envision and deliver the new building has been an invigorating journey,” Birmingham said. “We have made some modifications along the way, yet primarily held to the overall plan and achieved our initial quest. That desire being to deliver a protective housing for the art and increase the gallery space and amenities for our visitors.”

A very important amenity for the visitors is the museum store, and the new 5,500-square-foot museum store well exceeds the prior 3,800-square-foot retail space. The prior store yielded sales of more than $2 million with an average of 210,000 visitors annually, and Birmingham said they’ve enjoyed a slight increase in sales revenue this past year and anticipate a significant increase in both attendance and sales given the additional gallery space and amenities that invite an extended stay.

“The new store reflects Dali’s sense of freedom – it is boundless, without restraint,” she said. “It is literally a store without walls. There is an abundance of light and the space is fluid. We think this reflects Dali’s style and flair for the unusual.”

The configuration of the new store challenged staff to explore several non-conventional rules of retailing. The prior store walls provided the platform to easily merchandise. However, the new store without walls became a blank canvas to rethink the use of space and decide what they were aiming to achieve. Versatile modernist fixtures now grace the new store zones, chosen because they can accommodate virtually any type of product and the relevant displays.

After scrutinizing the floor plan, Birmingham said they decided to allocate ample real estate for their strongest merchandise products. They have an open space to work with and have grouped products by category using a lot of freestanding units with random placement.

“We amended these floor plans several times, produced virtual renderings from various camera views to study the space and traffic flow and then settled on a fixture plan,” she said. “However, we realize that in the retail world all products need to be focused upon to maximize their potential, so we’ve mixed some lesser-known items amid the top sellers.”

In addition to increasing their selections of fine giclee reproductions, they’ve also had success with several trendy apparel items. Top sellers include hundreds of unique gift items and fine reproductions, a wide book selection, art to wear, Dali fragrances, artful décor accessories for the home, Dali-designed carpets, tapas tableware, espresso sets and glasses for toasting, melting clocks and Dalinean inspired jewelry.

The iconic structure of the new facility has also fostered an environment for new designs. In addition to the merchandise inspired by Dali’s paintings, there are graphic designs inspired by the Dali Logo, as well as items reflecting the architecture of the new Dali Museum. Several new themes focused upon are reflective of the Enigma and Helix architectural elements.

“The themed Helix jewelry reflecting the Dali Museum’s iconic staircase echoes Dali’s fascination of nature’s precision, while our Enigma apparel and accessories reflect the brilliant architecture and remind us of Dali’s intrigue with the wonder of mathematical theories,” Birmingham said. “A reminder of Dali’s fascination with the insect world and the rhythms of nature are also evident in the wire sculptures we sell in the Museum Store.”

Approximately 85 percent of the products are created, developed and produced by the Dali museum. They take visitors’ ideas on board and listen to multiple demands for certain items to be produced.

“Dali’s passion for design allows us to have fun with product design and visitors will find inspiration in the store to echo the Gallery experience,” Birmingham said. “We change the product lines by featuring actual Dali imagery or inspired by renditions to appeal to a wide audience.”

Although Birmingham began her career as an art educator working for the Pennsylvania and Florida school systems, she has been with the Dali museum for more than 16 years and knows how to appeal to that wide audience by blending the worlds of art and retail. She attributes a great deal of their retail success to the store’s welcoming atmosphere and layout, and equally, to its non-competing sales team.

“A competitive atmosphere can result in a negative service experience for our visitors, so our sales teams are not commission-based,” Birmingham said. “We keep the atmosphere fun, informal and relaxed, as the visitor’s experience is our priority. They deserve the best service we can possibly provide.”

That experience is what makes the new Dali Museum store one-of-a-kind, much like the artist himself.

By Abby Heugel
Managing Editor

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