Indie Oxford Interview: Modern Art Oxford
This week we catch up with Shona from the Modern Art Oxford Shop to find out how she curates the range and how the exhibitions influence the collection in the shop.
Tell us about yourself and the MAO shop.
I’m Shona, the Modern Art Oxford shop Retail Manager. I grew up in Oxfordshire and remember visiting Modern Art Oxford over the years; I’ve always loved the variety of exhibitions and events that the gallery puts on. The shop has had many guises in its time, but is currently run in-house as part of the overall visitor experience. Since being put in charge of the shop, I’ve shifted the focus back to books, alongside a mix of unique jewellery, eclectic gifts and works from independent and local designers and makers.
How long have you worked for MAO, and what does your role entail?
Altogether I’ve worked at MAO for over four years. I started off working in the galleries and on the information desk, answering visitor queries and helping visitors engage with the artworks in the galleries. I then moved to the shop where I took over the management about 18 months ago. My role covers a wide range of responsibilities, from scouring the internet and local design/makers for the most exciting range of products to put on display, to the day-to-day running of the shop such as serving customers and making sure the shop looks its best (aka cleaning!).
Have you faced any challenges in your work, and what lessons have you learned along the way?
There are always challenges running an independent business, but I think the most common problem is competing with the wide range of retail offers in Oxford – from the Westgate which is just across the road, to the huge amount of independent shops throughout the city. The shop has come on leaps and bounds in the last 18 months and I think this is because I have learned to make it a full part of the gallery experience by working closely with other departments to customise our offer depending on what is on in the galleries.
Where are the products in the shop made?
Wherever possible, I try to source ethical, local and independently produced stock for the shop. For example, we work with Love My Plane, Aiden China and Maud van den Broecke – all of whom are based locally. However, one of my favourite brands at the moment is Just Trade. They are a British company working to provide the skills to makers in developing countries to enable them to create ethical jewellery and accessories. They’re really hot on ensuring everyone is paid a fair wage and that there is no forced or child labour involved in the process.
Which are your favourite pieces at the moment?
At the moment I really love Charlie Russell’s House Goddesses (as do our customers)! I can’t remember how exactly I came across Charlie’s work, but I was instantly drawn to these beautiful ceramic pieces and their serene expressions. Her goddesses celebrate women and the spiritual power of the feminine. They are inspired by women’s relationships to each other and every single one is completely unique, so our customers are really taking their own artwork home when they buy one.
What is your buying process, and can local artists apply to have products stocked in the shop?
In terms of buying, I try to find stock which is well made and relevant to Modern Art Oxford; it can be difficult to separate what I like from what is right for the shop! I have work by a number of local designer/makers/publishers in the shop including ceramics, leather goods, greetings cards, books and jewellery and am always happy to consider work produced by local artisans. We also stock, when possible, merchandise that directly relates to the exhibition in the gallery, including a selection of books which allow visitors to read more about the themes explored in the exhibition and the artists on display.
How do you reflect the exhibitions in the shop?
We always try to have stock that is relevant to our current exhibition. Modern Art Oxford has a long history, so in addition to this we sell catalogues and editions from shows dating back decades! Our editions are works produced in a limited run by artists, often linked to an exhibition they held with us. Over the years, artists such as Barbara Kruger, Jenny Saville and Howard Hodgkin have produced exclusive limited editions for Modern Art Oxford, the sales of which go towards funding our exhibition programme. We even have a scheme making it affordable for anyone to buy their own piece of art! Own Art is a great scheme where you pay off the full price in small monthly installments with no interest.
What makes the shop unique, and who are your customers?
On the whole, our customers visit the shop after seeing the exhibition, but because we have a distinctive range of products, we often get customers popping by just to buy a card or two. I think the MAO shop is unique simply because of the range of items we stock – there are cards, magazines, books for all ages, as well as games, handmade crafts, MAO merchandise, and jewellery. Not to mention the excellent range of Christmas gifts we’ve got coming in over the next few weeks!
Lastly, which are your favourite independent businesses in Oxford?
This is a tough question because in Oxford there’s so much to choose from. Saying that, I’m a huge fan of Indigo on the Cowley Road because of their ethical offerings and amazing range. As a gallery we also work with a lot of independent businesses across the city, so I love the Handlebar café (as the team there also run our lovely café BRICK). We also work with Ultimate Picture Palace, Holywell Printers and Sarah Harper Flowers to name a few, so it’s always nice to be able to shout about them when given the chance.
We love checking out the shop at Modern Art Oxford and discovering which brilliant designers Shona has sourced for the collection. The current exhibition in the gallery is Shadowlight Artists: Rising, which showcases work from 6 artists with learning disabilities from across Oxfordshire in association with Film Oxford and Arts at the Old Fire Station.
Love, Rosie xxx