Photo courtesy of Lynne Tanzer

Gift Shop Plus Summer 2023
Atlanta Contemporary Gift Shop: A ‘love letter’ to the artists By Carly McFadden

One shop curator takes care to honor contemporary artists through her displays

When Lynne Tanzer, shop curator at Atlanta Contemporary’s gift shop, stepped into her role, shop sales increased 876%.

Atlanta Contemporary Photo courtesy of Lynne Tanzer
All photos courtesy of Lynne Tanzer

Atlanta Contemporary is a nonprofit institution that aims to engage visitors through the creation, presentation and advancement of contemporary art. It’s entirely free to the public and celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Its tagline, “changing the way we all see art,” drives both the museum and its gift shop, which offers stationery, pottery, jewelry and apparel at a variety of price points.

Contemporary art tends to address controversial topics head on and can sometimes lead to uncomfortable — yet important — conversations. Atlanta Contemporary aims to facilitate these discussions in a healthy way, and its gift shop is an extension of that.

“Art is a way that you can have a conversation about something that is a little bit more stressful,” Tanzer said. “It gives you a gateway into these kinds of thought processes.”

Atlanta Contemporary Photo courtesy of Lynne TanzerWhen assembling the Atlanta Contemporary shop’s merchandising and displays, Tanzer’s top priority is to make sure visitors feel welcome. To do this, she takes a close look at the museum’s demographics. According to Tanzer, Atlanta Contemporary’s visitors are 56% BIPOC. 76% identify as female, and an increasing number of people identifying as nonbinary are coming through the doors.

“I spend a lot of time looking at our demographics to figure out how we can make these people take something away that’s going to help them live a little bit more artfully and make them feel seen,” Tanzer said. “I really want everybody to feel like they are welcome and can ask questions. They should know that they belong here, that art really is for everybody. So the gift shop is this nice way to let them know that we’re really happy that they’re here.”

When Tanzer is making buying and merchandising decisions, she takes care to ensure there is representation of BIPOC on the greeting cards, for example. Her ultimate goal is to genuinely welcome visitors through the doors and let them know they are safe and seen with her displays.

“It was Gay Pride [Month] one year, and I thought it’d be really nice to have a greeting card that said something like ‘You’re out and I’m proud of you,’” Tanzer said.

While it’s important to be inclusive, the Atlanta Contemporary gift shop also aims to pay homage to the artists with beautiful displays, which she changes out quarterly. To make her displays one of a kind, Tanzer said she scours thrift shops for items that inspire her.

“We had a celestial vibe [for one display], and I found these really cool, crackled glass vases that I anchored to the table so that you couldn’t break them, and then I draped jewelry over them,” she elaborated. “It wasn’t like you were looking at the display more than the item, but it complemented the item and drew your eye to it.”

When assembling a display, Tanzer recommends keeping creativity at the forefront and allowing room to adjust an original vision as needed to really bring the setup to life.

Atlanta Contemporary Photo courtesy of Lynne Tanzer“My favorite part of the whole process is that day when everything comes down, I take everything off the tables, I wipe everything down, and I start putting the next display together,” Tanzer said. “It’s curated; it’s like putting a favorite outfit together — I want it to be visually appealing from every angle. I have boxes of just random fabric, so if a table isn’t really doing it for me, I’ll maybe put down a velvet texture. Instead of putting something in just a plain glass, let’s put it in a glass that has an iridescent film on it. I think it’s just about taking that extra step to make it feel more artful.”

Ultimately, Tanzer believes her role at the Atlanta Contemporary gift shop is to applaud and pay homage to the artists showcased at the museum while artfully rounding out the visitor experience.

“If we’re going to display this, we’re going to do it in the best way,” Tanzer said. “I want it to always go back to the artist. I guess that’s my contribution. It’s just a love letter to the artists.”

Carly McFadden

Carly McFadden is the managing editor for Gift Shop Plus, Stationery Trends and a variety of special issue publications, including: The Guide, Holiday Shop, Celebrations & Occasions and Waterfront Living.

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