Shopping for Culture

Supporting our local cultural institutions while scoring super holiday gifts is easy.

By Kristin Belz December 4, 2012


The chock-full, color coordinated displays in the shop at the Portland Art Museum will spark your imagination. Here, Voysey address book, vase, beaded bag and friends all blend beautifully.

Instead of submitting to the culture of shopping, how about infusing your holiday shopping with culture? We’ve got options for a new way to shop that lets you check off everyone on your list and at the same time support our local cultural institutions. Well, it's not really a new way, since museum gift shops are not exactly new. But since the 1980s, gift shops have been more and more important to the financial health (and even basic existence) of the museum itself. 

This trend could be considered negative – are we diluting our cultural institutions, and the importance of art itself, by rendering the exhibits secondary to the retail shops? But it can also be seen positively, as the proverbial glass half full, not empty, when the museum is fully open because the retail shop helps keep the galleries open. And the expansion of gift shops might even bring more people into the museum itself, as some of the lines between shopping and museum-going blur.  

Here in Portland we have some fine choices of gift shops that help support the institution they are a part of, from science to history to contemporary craft and "fine art." The Portland Art Museum is the top of the heap for the latter, of course, and their gift shop shelves seem pleasantly stuffed even more than usual at this time of year. The right gift for that hard-to-shop-for-Aunt Mabel might just literally fall of the shelf at you. You'll be glad it did.  

Beyond the PAM, there is OMSI (their "Science Store" for the kids and scientists among us), the Oregon Historical Society for anyone interested in our state and city (they've even got DVDs of Portlandia, season 1), the Museum of Contemporary Craft (we visited their newly redesigned shop recently), and that stellar pair of Asian gardens, downtown's Lan Su Chinese Garden and the up-in-the-West-Hills Portland Japanese Garden.

Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Avenue 
Portland, OR 97205

The Portland Art Museum gift shop abounds with displays arranged by color and style, not necessarily time period or geographical origin; the result is a whirl of inviting vignettes.


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