MM Musings

MM Musings, vol. 24: all the bells and whistles

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum. These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning. I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done!

Yoga at the Brooklyn MuseumI forget how I came across this Observer article, but it was a rather eye-opening piece on how museums are upping their game in terms of what they offer besides art.  And it got me thinking about what, if any, over-the-top amenities and programs the Makeup Museum would offer if it occupied a physical space.  Let's explore that, shall we?

The article discusses the rise of extra offerings for visitors that goes well beyond the scope of the museum's mission, including fitness and yoga classes (the latter is a huge trend, apparently), world-class restaurants and programs for specific populations.  The goal of all these amenities, obviously, is to attract more visitors overall and turn regular visitors into donors.  "All over the country, museums have been looking to change their image from boxy buildings that just store and exhibit cultural objects to community gathering spaces with activities for preschoolers, teens, single adults, families, the elderly and probably some other demographics...It is the hope on the part of museums that this effort to make their institutions gathering spots for their communities and to view the population as customers whose needs are to be met will turn casual visitors into members, some of whom may become donors and board members."  While I haven't found any official studies on whether these sorts of things actually increase the number of visitors and donations, they comprise an interesting marketing tactic worth looking into.  However, I must point out that some of the "extras" the article highlights, such as community outreach programs, shouldn't be viewed as additional amenities, they should just be part of regular programming and services.  I don't think electric carts for elderly visitors should be lumped in with, say, having a Michelin-starred restaurant. 

Anyway, I can envision the Makeup Museum adopting similar programs to the ones mentioned.  I had always planned on an excellent gift shop and cafe, not to mention that the museum building would be beautifully designed and have amazing signage/collateral (e.g. museum maps, exhibition labels, etc.).  But reading the Observer piece makes me think that perhaps the Museum could offer a fitness or yoga class - maybe have one of those so-called "athleisure" makeup brands sponsor it and offer free product samples to people taking the class.  Other programs might be a decorate your own compact night or an "apothecary" workshop on how to make natural pigments and serums (similar to this setup). For kids, we could have finger painting classes using old makeup - lord knows I have a ton of stuff I don't use anymore but would still be safe to use for artistic purposes.  I think any cosmetics museum-goers might want to have these sorts of things available to them in addition to the standard tours and exhibitions.  As the article notes, “Our expectations of going to museums increasingly are like our expectations when going into a Starbucks: We want things to be tailored to our individual likes and interests."

On the other hand, though, I do see these sorts of extra programs and services being problematic, particularly for a cosmetics museum.  As the article points out, one issue is the possibility of objects getting damaged or destroyed.  This little nugget was truly horrifying:  "Marcy Goodman, a museum-planning consultant in La Crescenta, Calif., who developed the plans for the Bruce Museum’s expansion, said parties should not take place in the actual galleries. 'Some years back, an art museum in Oregon hosted an all-you-can-drink event in a gallery where, among other things, some people ended up having sex on a Henry Moore sculpture,' she told the Observer."  Meanwhile, New York Magazine asks, "How long until someone breaks a priceless piece of art during the Met Museum workout?"  Museums already have to deal with careless people breaking things, why invite even more of it if it's not crucial to the mission? 

Secondly, these sorts of programs might distract from a museum's true purpose.   Do you want visitors to actually, you know, pay attention to the displays or visit simply for the frills?  It's a really tough call since museums are dependent on visitors - this is a key benchmark for receiving funding and sponsorships - but you don't want to turn a museum into something it's not.  Plus, as we learned with exhibition display, one has to be very careful in making sure a museum devoted to cosmetics doesn't morph into a store.  I don't think I'd sell makeup in any capacity at the Museum, not even in the gift shop.  It's a museum, not Sephora!  (One caveat:  I think the recently discussed Museum of Beni and its accompanying store is an exception to selling makeup in a museum setting.)  And sponsorship by makeup companies for special workshops and classes is problematic, since you want people to have learned something about makeup history, not be exposed to what amounts to glorified advertising.  Yes, people's expectations of museums are more on par with those they have for businesses like Starbucks, but frankly, museums aren't businesses.  Even if they partner with and receive funding from businesses, museums need to stay firmly on the nonprofit side.  That would be particularly difficult to do with a cosmetics museum - the kind of showiness and gimmicks you'd see in retail needs to be kept at bay lest you "sell out" and lose sight of the museum's true mission.

Finally, and I think this is the core issue for me, is that I would probably not engage in all the extras and simply put all funding into making the Makeup Museum as accessible as possible for as many people as possible.  While the some of the amenities mentioned in the article are nice, they're not necessarily critical to people's understanding of the art.  And let's face it, funding for museums is so scarce, there's no way I'd be able to afford most of the things I'd love to have, like fancy architecture and an internationally-renowned cafe.  Even if I did have this sort of money, I think I'd spend it on, say, making the museum's resources - everything from pamphlets to audio guides - available in just about every language.  Instead of yoga classes, the Museum would offer state-of-the-art touch-tour and 3D printing technology so that blind visitors can have a richer experience.  Funding that would pay the salary of a world-class chef for the cafe would instead go to ensuring the Museum remains free.  And I maintain that kids' programming is a necessity, but the Museum could go a little further and have programs just for special-needs kids (like this.)  This ties back into what I noted earlier:  some of the programs the article talks about should not be perceived as extra.  In addition to my other ideas, I'd be all over those community outreach programs!  The bottom line is that I'd definitely focus less on the frills and more on accessibility, inclusiveness and civic engagement.  Specifically what that would consist of will be explored in later installments of MM Musings. ;)

Thoughts?  Would you like to see crazy, over-the-top amenities at a makeup museum? 


MM Musings, vol. 23 : building a permanent collection

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum.  These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning.  I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done!

No planIt occurred to me that I spend so much time fantasizing about a Makeup Museum that I never really thought about what would actually go in it if it occupied a real space.  I mean, I have a vague idea, but no formal plan.  Truthfully, up to this point I had envisioned having endless funds to buy thousands of lovely objects and I'd just stick 'em in the display cases as I pleased.  However, it was brought to my attention that museums have something known as a collections plan, which outlines priorities for the current collection as well as planning for future collection growth.  Apparently you can't just set up a physical space and go plopping random objects down willy-nilly, you need to pin down what the most important things are for the collection for now and in the future.  This is especially important when, like nearly all museums, you're dealing with very limited resources, both financial and space-wise.  So with that in mind, I thought I'd put my totally unrealistic daydreams aside for a minute and try to narrow down what would be the most important things to have in the Makeup Museum if it occupied a real space.

Before I can do that though, what exactly is a collections plan?  I looked for examples and immediately got overwhelmed - many museums' collections plans are quite in-depth and are for museums that already exist.  But then I found this slideshow from the Peabody Museum at Harvard that provides a brief, point-by-point summary of a collections plan, so I will be using it as my guide in this post.  The most basic topics to address in a collections plan are as follows:

  • Defines what the museum should and should not collect
  • Set priorities for use of limited resources
  • Historic and contemporary collections composition
  • Strengths, weaknesses, gaps & goals
  • Short term (current) needs and long term (future) needs

With that, coming up with a minimal collections plan seemed a bit more manageable.  Hopefully I won't bore you, dear readers (all 2 of you), by doing it this way, but I'm going to go through one at a time.

1.  Define what the museum should and shouldn't collect. 

Well, this shouldn't be too hard.  Basically the Makeup Museum would be open to any cosmetic-related objects, including but not limited to color cosmetics, nail products, skincare, and related advertising and devices (love to get my hands on one of these Max Factor "beauty calibrators"!)  The only things I can't imagine it collecting would be perfumes and items that lean more towards health (i.e. toothbrushes, deodorants, etc.), as I see these as separate areas from color cosmetics and skincare.

2.  Set priorities for use of limited resources. 

Now here comes the hard part.  Obviously I had always thought the Makeup Museum would be comprehensive, and when I say "comprehensive" what I actually mean is having damn near every cosmetic object from the beginning of time housed under one roof over thousands of square feet - the museum would practically be its own city.  There would be entire wings devoted to just, say, artist collaborations or men's grooming.  *record scratch*  Back to reality, which demands that I trim down these rather grandiose plans.  After looking at the Museum's current mission statement, I think my priorities for a permanent collection would be:

- Forming a timeline of the history of cosmetics via collecting objects from different eras - everything from ancient to contemporary times would be represented, with an emphasis on the 20th century.  Ideally I'd like to have displays by decade starting with the late 1800s through today.  Priority would be given to those objects that show innovation in technology and design (e.g., the first mascara sold in a tube rather than cake form).  Priority would also be given to more recognizable brands as well as items that are the most representative of the particular time.  For example, since face powder was the most commonly worn beauty item in the early 1900s, I want to have a nice selection of those for the 1900-1920 decades.  And if there's an eye shadow from a little-known brand from the '60s that's available for sale versus, say, a Mary Quant eye shadow crayon set, obviously I'm going to pounce on the Mary Quant because it's a better-known name that will resonate with more people.

- Obtain objects that speak to traditionally underrepresented demographics in the cosmetics industry:  people of color, non-cis-women genders, people over the age of 40.  For this last group let's try to concentrate on things besides anti-aging treatments!

- Focus on contemporary makeup with artist and fashion collaborations.  I'd also like to address the latest trends and cutting-edge technology to show where the cosmetics industry is headed in the future.

3.  Historic and contemporary collections comparison

According to the current inventory (which badly needs to be updated again, sigh), I have much work to do in historic collections.  If I'm ever going to provide even a brief snapshot of makeup throughout the ages, I better have more than only 6% (!!!) of the collection that's from the 20th century.  By my count, out of 780 objects, I have only 32 that represent anything earlier than 1990, and only a smattering of things from the '90s and early '00s.  Oof.

4.  Strengths, weaknesses, gaps & goals

Obviously the strengths of the current collection would be contemporary makeup, especially artist and fashion collaborations, while the weaknesses/gaps would be the overall lack of objects from before the 21st century as well as a focus on American brands.  I do always intend on expanding to include non-U.S. based brands but they can be rather tricky to get a hold of.  The goal would ostensibly be to collect more items from the 20th century and prior.

5.  Short term (current) needs and long term (future) needs

The Makeup Museum's short-term needs are pretty basic - obtain items that would provide a broad history of makeup.  Specifically, it would be ideal to get at least 3 objects and two ads from each decade from the 1890s to now.  Future needs are more complicated, as the industry moves so quickly it's difficult to assess what the Museum would require down the line.  I'm assuming I'd need to plan for any sort of anniversaries (brands, a particular product, etc.) as well as special exhibitions on certain topics.  I think I'd also have my sights set on really big ticket, rare objects - besides very pricey ancient artifacts and items from the Renaissance through the 18th century, I think some luxury items, like the sort we saw in the Ultra Vanities exhibition, would greatly enhance the collection and make for a world-class museum.

So, does this sound like a good plan to start with?  If you were a visitor, what would you want to see in a makeup museum's permanent collection?


MM Musings, vol. 22: a different kind of beauty school

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum.  These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning.  I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done!

Some ecardToday's installment of MM Musings is not actually about museums. (I know, I know - I should stick to the general purpose of this series.  But this is a cool topic, I promise.)  Instead, I want to talk about where beauty history and culture belongs in academia. I came across this post at one of my favorite fashion blogs, Worn Through, and it got my brain percolating on a beauty-focused academic curriculum.  Obviously this is a challenge that fashion historians are still grappling with, so it will be equally tricky determining where beauty culture should go if courses in this area were offered.  And I really hope they are some day, with me as the fearless founder and pioneer in the field. 

First we need to accept the premise that beauty culture and history are valid areas of study.  Why?  Any form of self-adornment, from tribal body piercings to lip gloss, speaks volumes about a particular culture - it's a unique window into the artistic, commercial, and social values of any group of people. Furthermore, I've already argued that some cosmetic items and beauty practices are a form of art and therefore belong in a museum, so it follows that they should be accepted as legitimate fields of study. I realize that's a rather simplistic way of saying beauty culture is important enough to warrant serious academic attention, but that's not what I wanted to tackle today.  I want to focus on the admittedly more fun notion of actually being able to study and research all topics pertaining to beauty in a formal program.  Many individuals have done scholarly work on beauty topics, but there is no one dedicated academic curriculum for them.

So if we accept the argument that beauty culture and history should be taught, that brings us to the main question:  where does it belong?  There are several possibilities.  My first inclination is to assign topics pertaining to beauty and cosmetics to fashion history curricula.  This would be a natural fit given the close relationship between beauty and fashion.  However, since fashion studies itself is still struggling to figure out its proper place within academia, this may be problematic.  The short (or long) answer is that like fashion studies, beauty culture and history encompass many disciplines.  Therefore, just like fashion studies, they can find a home in a variety of fields.  

Case in point: think of all the people who write about beauty and organize beauty-related exhibitions.  They run the gamut from fashion curators and historians to feminist authors, from economists and business scholars to art historians and makeup artists.  There are also collectors and other folks with a general interest in cosmetics.  Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the study of beauty culture and history, it would fit in a variety of academic areas.  The most obvious ones in my eyes are art history, general history, gender and women's studies, cultural studies, material culture, and anthropology.  These would be ideal areas to host an individual program or track focused solely on beauty culture and history - sort of the way the Courtauld Institute in London has art history undergraduate and MA degrees with a specific "history of dress" track.  Additionally, students in other fields could take individual courses in beauty culture to help round out their studies.  For example, an art history major who wasn't signed up for the entire beauty culture track could take just one course in how ideal beauty is portrayed in art, from ancient Egyptian portraits of Nefertiti to Renaissance paintings to contemporary works. Design students could take a course in the history of cosmetics packaging design, and marketing majors could take a course examining the history of beauty advertising and where it's headed in the future.  All of these classes would fall under the general umbrella of the beauty culture and history program, so students could be enrolled for that or take selected courses pertinent to their major.

What do you think?  Would you attend a class or a whole program in beauty culture and history?  I would, but I'm more interested in teaching...I have so many ideas for courses and could easily develop a whole curriculum. ;)

(image from


MM Musings, vol. 21: Quantity vs. Quality

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum.  These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning.  I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done!

Someecard-quantityI was reading this post over at the Center for the Future of Museums, which discusses how museums, history ones in particular, are prone to perceiving the quantity of items in their collections as more important than the quality or significance of those items. "Museums too often equate size with quality...we need to stop treating artifacts the same – too many museums pretend that all their collections are equally valuable and they budget the same amount for care across the board instead of focusing their resources on the pieces that best support their mission."  The post also describes what's known as "lazy artifacts", i.e. objects that have been accumulated but are never used in research, exhibitions or other programming - they just sit in storage.

Obviously this got me thinking about the current Makeup Museum collection.  More specifically, I wondered whether the collection suffers from the same affliction as most history museums: having too many objects that serve no discernible purpose.  To put it another way, am I curating wrong??  I touched on this previously in my 2012 MM Musings post on acquisitions, in which I described how I decide what to purchase for the Museum.  I think that criteria still stands for the most part.  The only thing I'm uncertain about is the "filler" items I discussed.  Sometimes an object isn't so great on its own, but would prove to be useful in an exhibition on a particular theme.  But I still strongly feel as though not every item has to be a showstopper. 

So let's investigate why that is.  Does sheer quantity outweigh content?  Do I really need all or most of the items in a particular makeup collection or an object from every single artist collaboration or should I be paring down, spending the same amount I would for several easily available objects on a single rare object?  I feel as though I'm actually siding with history museums, misguided though that may be.  Right now, quality is important to me but not as much as quantity for several reasons.  First, makeup items are small.  If you display just a handful of makeup objects all grouped around the same theme, it's not going to look very impressive.  I know when putting my exhibitions together I always like to have two items per shelf or an item and an ad or some other visual to go with the object.  A compact, detailed though it may be, lacks the impact of a big item like a large painting, sculpture, piece of furniture, clothing, etc.  Thus, more is better from a visual standpoint.  Along those lines, if the Museum does eventually get a physical space, I'd want to have tons of objects on permanent display divided into different categories - lots of things released by couture houses, artist collaborations, etc. will be needed to adequately fill said space.  I can completely understand why history museums feel the urge to accumulate more objects, as seeing a big number is really gratifying to both collectors and visitors alike.  The Museum currently has over 700 objects and I can't wait to hit the 1,000 mark, which sounds insane as I'm typing it, but I think people would want to see thousands of objects.  Just imagine being in a space that boasts over 1,000 beauty items.

Second, the Makeup Museum seeks to cover a broad area.  I want the museum to encompass just about anything related to makeup and beauty (save for perfume) and from all time periods.  When I began this little adventure most of the focus was on contemporary objects that are deemed "too pretty to use" and artist collaborations, but over the years my goals have shifted slightly in that my ideal makeup museum now would also have a healthy vintage collection and nearly anything else makeup-themed, so acquiring more objects to ensure all areas are represented is definitely in keeping with the current mission.  Finally, while I only have a few truly rare and valuable pieces, I don't think less expensive objects are necessarily of less quality or interest.  I can justify everything on the Museum's inventory (which badly needs to be updated, I know).  I have to consider getting a good bang for my buck, as it were. Right now I can't justify spending $500 on a single item when I could buy many more collectibles that are of the same quality (or at least near it) with the same amount of money.

After this brief exploration of the Makeup Museum's current collection practices, I think I'm just going to stay the course.  Eventually I think I will reduce what I buy and hone in on more rare, expensive pieces, but for right now I'm still in the collection-building phase, especially for vintage items, so quantity is a priority. 

TL;DR: Size matters. 

What do you think?  


MM Musings, vol. 20: Makeup skills

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum.  These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning.  I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done!

Some e-cardA while back the excellent fashion blog Worn Through had a post questioning whether fashion curators needed to also be designers, or at the very least, know how to sew.  It got me thinking whether the same conundrum would face a beauty curator, i.e., does one need to be a professional makeup artist to oversee a beauty museum? 

My gut reaction, naturally, is no. The curators at most art museums are not artists themselves.  And as Jill points out in her Worn Through post, a background in art history and museum studies and/or cultural studies is more crucial for fashion historians and curators than being able to construct a garment.  Seeing as how I have degrees in art history and cultural studies, plus work experience at several museums, I think I'm very qualified to be a beauty curator.  Moreover, I'd argue that just because one is a professional makeup artist doesn't necessarily mean they're any more knowledgeable than I am about beauty history.

However, besides the fact that in recent years there's been a growing interest in the idea of the artist as curator, it is undeniable that a professional makeup artist would possess an abundance of knowledge that would prove useful in a museum or academic environment.  An artist working at a department store counter, for example, understands the cosmetic needs of the average woman, which would be a valuable topic to contribute towards a book or exhibition on contemporary culture.  Meanwhile, celebrity makeup artists and beauty directors for fashion houses offer a unique perspective on the relationship between fashion and makeup.  They themselves are setting the trends - in effect, helping to create beauty history.  Then there are the artists who do it all, from showing non-makeup pros how to easily achieve a certain look to providing their services for magazine photo shoots and runway shows.  Case in point:  Lisa Eldridge, a makeup artist whose enormously popular YouTube videos shot her to fame, is releasing a beauty history book this fall entitled Face Paint:  the Story of Makeup.  As Alex at I Heart Beauty says, "if anyone's qualified to tell the story of makeup it's Lisa Eldridge."

So where does that leave us?  While I believe professional makeup artists could also make good beauty historians or curators, I still don't think being a pro is an absolute necessity.  If you look the beauty history books that I've reviewed or recommended, many of them are not authored by pro makeup artists.  It's a mixed bunch of historians, independent authors and collectors.  I was also thinking of other fashion curatorial and history luminaries - do you think Valerie Steele or Tim Gunn could make a garment?  Highly doubtful.  While my application skills are nowhere near the level of a professional's (I still can't do winged eyeliner to save my life), I at least know which colors and looks are flattering on me, and I continue to experiment with the latest products and techniques.  And given my art history background, I can also both appreciate and analyze the work of pros that I see in magazines and runway shows and on blogs.  Combined with my passion for art, design, history and fashion in general, I think this is more than enough to run a beauty museum.

Having said all that, I do think it's necessary to have some knowledge of basic application and an interest in fashion.  Makeup doesn't exist in a vacuum, and I think it may be difficult to curate a beauty museum without having at least some sense of which product goes where on one's face, how makeup artists use these products to create various looks, and a cursory knowledge of high-end fashion brands.  How else would you come up with exhibition themes or know what's worth purchasing for the museum's collection?  Additionally, it wouldn't hurt to familiarize yourself with vintage cosmetics objects in order to gain a better understanding of product design and how it's evolved over the years, not to mention the cultural history these objects reflect.

What do you think?  Do you think would-be makeup museum curators need to go to beauty school or are the other skills and knowledge I've mentioned sufficient?

MM Musings, vol. 19: Crowdfunding

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum.  These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning.  I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done!

Kickstarter-someecardsThe idea of fundraising makes me very uncomfortable, so much so that I've always avoided the topic.  However, I came across this article over at Gawker about sad Kickstarter projects that received zero money and decided this would be a good time to address fundraising; specifically, a new way of raising money known as crowdfunding.   The article captures why I'm not doing anything of this sort at the moment, so I thought today I'd explore the idea of crowdfunding for museums and why I don't want to engage in it for the Makeup Museum.

Museums can certainly benefit by using crowdfunding, especially since, as this post over the Center for the Future of Museums blog points out, Kickstarter and the like reduce funders' risk (you only pay what you pledged if the full goal is reached) and also have the ability to go viral via social media, something that doesn't happen with the more traditional fundraising methods.  The social media aspect also helps target the all-important youth demographic.

Indeed, some campaigns are wildly successful, like the one for the Tesla Museum run by The Oatmeal artist Matt Inman.* Smaller projects exceed funding goals as well, like the Chicago Design Museum, the Hollywood Science Fiction Museum or the Museum of Food and Drink.  Like the Makeup Museum, these were the long-term projects of a few dedicated people that were finally able to have a permanent physical space thanks to Kickstarter.  On an even smaller scale money-wise, various exhibitions hosted by existing museums, on subjects ranging from burlesque costumes to the work of cartoonist Al Jaffee and costing just a few thousand dollars, regularly meet their fundraising goals. This isn't surprising, as the founders of Kickstarter publicly announced in 2013 that they are looking to help fund museum exhibitions and other projects.  The funds cannot be used for operational costs, but go towards "specific programming or ventures".  

So it would seem as long as you aim low and keep the total goal below $20,000 (unlike these unsuccessful campaigns - they went big and failed), your museum, or at least an exhibition, would have a good shot at getting funded.  However, there's really no predicting what will get the cash rolling in.  Even smaller projects that ask for $20,000 and under - and that also seem pretty cool to me - got next to nothing.  Why do people not want to fund toy museums?   Or an exhibition on queer fashion at the Fashion Institute of Technology?  The results are even more dismal at Indiegogo - my museum search there yielded literally hundreds of museums and exhibitions that didn't earn a single cent.  (Note: This is partially due to Kickstarter completely dominating its crowdsourcing platform competition.)  

Additionally, the overall rates are not great either.  In 2012 only 50% of crowdfunding campaigns got funded.  On the Kickstarter stats page, as of today the success rate for the categories of design and art were 36% and 45%, respectively, with fashion coming in at the second lowest of all categories (27%).  I'm guessing the Makeup Museum would fit somewhere in one of those three, and those are even less than the 2012 global average of 50%.  I'm a glass half-empty kind of person so I'm not willing to do the amount of work required to develop and launch a campaign - the odds of my museum getting funded would have to be drastically higher.  Moreover, the most successful campaigns are ones that are backed by a massive social media presence, something the Museum sorely lacks.  I hate Facebook, I only have a handful of followers on Twitter and Pinterest, and only just yesterday did I reach an average of 100 page views.  (Sometimes blogging is a lot like high school, i.e. a popularity contest, something I never win.)  And unlike most beauty bloggers, I have zero connections to the beauty industry.  If an influential beauty blogger who is regularly in touch with PR reps from a big cosmetics company decided to start a Kickstarter campaign for a makeup museum, they'd have no trouble at all - I could absolutely see L'Oreal or Estée Lauder doling out the cash pretty easily.  No one, especially a huge company, is going to want to back something that doesn't have a significant following on social media.

Then there's the matter of asking friends, family and strangers for money via social media, an idea that makes me very uneasy, especially when it comes to the first two categories of people (see the some e-card above).  I would never ask them to contribute to the museum face-to-face, so why would a crowdfunding campaign be acceptable?   I'd be fine applying for a grant from a foundation because dispensing funds is what a foundation does, but crowdfunding just seems like standing there with my virtual hand out begging for money.


Finally, the emotional risk is too great.  I wouldn't lose anything financially, but I would be so crushed at not reaching even a small goal.  The only thing I'd even consider using Kickstarter for would be my oft-mentioned coffee table book that I never get around to working on (or my '90s beauty book).  That seems like a worthwhile, tangible item that people may be willing to pay for and it's small enough that it could be feasible, but I'd be so sad if people didn't want to pay even for a book.  Anyway, the museum is a reflection of me and I absolutely would take it personally that the campaign failed. Unsuccessful blogging is one thing - I enjoy blogging for its own sake so a lack of readers and page views doesn't bother me that much - but a failed crowdfunding campaign would really sting. 

Speaking of which, there's the matter of the logistics of developing a good campaign that would make this seem like a legitimate museum and not just a pet project that some crazy lady with a lot of makeup dreamed up.  I know if I don't do a perfectly on-point campaign, there's no way people are going to give their hard-earned dollars for something they perceive as another vanity project.  With no background in fundraising and no real creative skills, I couldn't fathom designing an appealing campaign that people would see as worthwhile.  Also, not only would I be sad and embarrassed, I'd also be enraged people were willing to pay $55,000 for some guy to make potato salad while my idea went nowhere.**  A beauty museum may not be brilliant but it's better than potato salad!   Overall I'm already disappointed and frustrated about the direction my "career" took, so I simply cannot tolerate another failure involving something else I hold so close to me. 

There is another crowdfunding platform that deviates slightly from the Kickstarter/Indiegogo models, but I don't want to use that either.  Patreon is a way for people to pay on an per-project basis, i.e. you can "commission" an artist to create something, be it a song, a painting, or a movie.  But many bloggers use it as a way offset some of the costs that come with providing quality content, or to get paid for blogging in the hopes of transitioning into their projects full-time.  One Tumblr I follow, Medieval POC, uses Patreon to help pay for costs such as academic database membership fees as well as projects like a print shop and "theme weeks", i.e. posts on a specific topic. 

Plus, Patreon doesn't seem quite as obligatory as a typical crowdfunding campaign.  People can still access any content on your website for free, and you can just sneak up a donation link somewhere on your site - no fancy campaign and networking required (although I guess if you want more people to give you'd have to make some kind of announcement).  They only donate if they choose and to whatever project they want.  I imagine that if I implemented it for the Makeup Museum, I'd have an option for someone to donate every time I post an exhibition.  It would be sort of like online "suggested donation" box, something that I'm not totally averse to having if the museum occupied a physical space.  Or I could use it for membership fees like the $895 annual cost for access to Women's Wear Daily and its archives.  WWD is a tremendously valuable resource that I could use when writing cosmetics history posts.

However (you knew there was a "however" coming), as with Kickstarter, Patreon isn't something I feel comfortable doing.  I already put my exhibitions up completely for free, so why would I start asking for money now?  If I lost my job and wanted to keep the blog going maybe then I'd consider it, but given that my exhibitions are in my house at the moment it would probably come off as "buy expensive makeup for me so I can take pictures of it and put it on a shelf in my bedroom." 

Nope octopus

The TL;DR version:  I don't have the time, connections or social media presence to run a crowdfunding campaign right now and the success rate isn't high enough to be worth the crushing sadness I'll experience if my project isn't funded.  Thus I am not attempting it.

What do you think of crowdfunding?  What projects have you given to, if any?  And just out of curiosity, would you contribute to a Makeup Museum fund or towards a book on contemporary cosmetics?


*I'm still bitter that with a single Tweet and one phone call, Inman was handed a check for $1 million by Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk in addition to the $1.3 million his project had already earned through Indiegogo.  I  guarantee there's no way the CEO of Sephora or L'Oreal would throw that kind of cash at me for my museum.

**I know I've mentioned it before and that the project was originally conceived as a silly prank, but it really burns my toast nevertheless.

MM Musings, vol. 18: interview with an exhibition designer!

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum.  These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning.  I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done!

Ashley-B.Since my last MM Musings post on what a permanent collection display might look like in an actual beauty museum, I've been thinking about ideas for special exhibitions.  But I kept getting overwhelmed with the details of a specific exhibition's themes.  After a while I realized my usual musings style wasn't going to work for a post on special exhibitions, so I changed tactics to bring you something much more interesting and enlightening than my usual reflections:  an interview with Ashley Boycher, Associate Exhibition Designer at the Walters Art Museum here in Baltimore.  Yes, I got to chat (email) with a real-life exhibition designer at one of the top museums in the country!  Enjoy.

MM:  What is the basic process of exhibition design?  Does the curator tell you which pieces they want and you go from there?  Who else do you work with besides the curator?

AB: Although sometimes exhibition ideas come from the public, certain museum trends, conservators, and/or museum educators, the seed of an exhibition is almost always planted by the curator, and the curator is academically responsible for the exhibition throughout the process. Once the seed is planted, the curator writes an exhibition narrative and begins to make a list of objects that s/he believes will best illustrate that narrative. Then there are lost of talks with conservators about which of the objects are in good enough shape and/or can be made into good enough shape for the exhibition given the timeframe. Also, when applicable, there are talks with registrars, who are responsible for the handling and logistics of moving and storing objects, and other institutions' representatives about the feasibility of bringing objects to our institution for the exhibition from other places. This happens with almost all large scale exhibitions and the negotiations with the other institutions often includes logistics about traveling the exhibitions to those institutions as well. In fact, grant funding is often dependent on the ability to collaborate with other institutions and travel the show domestically and/or internationally. Once many of these things are worked out, the curator and I begin conversations.  This is usually about 18 months out from the exhibition opening. We do some preliminary ideation about object groupings and the look and feel of the show. During that time, the curator is also talking in a preliminary way with a museum educator about different didactic and interactive elements that might enhance the exhibition experience. At about a year out, the three of us come together and begin to really hash out the meat of the show. We also bring in representatives from the other museum divisions: IT, marketing, development, security, etc, when we need to collaborate on things like how we will advertise the show and what technology, if any, will benefit the exhibition message, both outwardly and inside the exhibition itself.  All of the details come together in about 8 months, and for the last 4 months of the development process we are in production mode - labels being edited, graphics being printed, cases being built, walls being painted, etc - along with any straggler details that we miss beforehand, which always happens.

MM: Do you do some kind of prototype before the exhibition opens?

AB: It depends. Sometimes we're not exactly sure how a paint color will look in the space, so we'll slap it up on the wall and look at it for  a few days and adjust where necessary. That is, if we have time. Often art is coming out of a space only a week before other art is supposed to go in, which means we don't always have the opportunity to do this. Other prototyping sometimes happens when we are trying out a weird or new display type. And we almost always prototype interactives, both low tech and high tech.

MM:  Do you have experience with designing decorative object-based exhibitions and if so, how does it differ from designing exhibitions for other types of art?

AB:  I've never designed a show that was purely dec arts objects, but they have been a part of shows i've designed. The new installation that opens here in October has lots of dec arts in it.  I would say that in my experience one of the main differences is that many dec arts objects are heartier than other art, in better shape, and often made of less than precious materials, which means that conservation does not always make us put them under a vitrine. In this way they can help to create the look and feel of a space rather than just being purely on display. I suppose that was their original function anyway. :)

MM:  What are some of the latest, cutting-edge developments in exhibition design?

AB:  Well, unfortunately the latest cutting-edge development design aren't really happening at many art museums. Science museums and natural history museums are the ones that are usually on the cutting edge when it comes to design and technology. This summer I visited the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, and one of their exhibitions had this amazing custom theatre system. It was made using custom craft carpentry, crazy projectors, and bit mapping. You can see a cool video about the making of it. 

MM:  What was your favorite exhibition you designed and why?

AB:  That's a really hard question! The reason I got into exhibition design was because I was interested in too many different things to pick one thing to continue studying (I'm also just not that much of an academic eve though I really loved school). Working on exhibitions awards me the opportunity to learn about another fascinating different thing with each new project. So I guess my favorite is always whatever the latest project is. I suppose I have shiny thing syndrome. 

MM:  If money wasn't a factor, what would your “dream” exhibition be?

AB:  When I was in graduate school, one of my big solo projects was an exhibition about the art, science, and history of tattooing throughout time and across the globe. I am fascinated by tattoos because they have so many different facets: cultural heritage, technology, biology, taboo, straight up beautiful artistry, the list goes on and on. I think a well planned and designed exhibition about tattooing could be interesting to just about everyone for one or more of these reasons. I'd love to be on a project like that.

MM:  Do you have any ideas or suggestions regarding exhibitions that would have lots of small objects, i.e. makeup?  I promise I'm not asking you to work for free - I'm just looking for any sort of general advice or tips off the top of your head!

AB:  The hard thing about showing a bunch of small things is that the displays always want to look like retail rather than museum quality. My biggest advice would be to make sure you single out your best pieces. Put them on their own pedestals, maybe give them a bigger brighter pop of color, or a few more inches in height. Just make sure they actually stand out in a way that tells your visitor, "hey, you want to make sure you look at me and only me for a sec." If you want to do a display of a bunch of things together for impact or to get a certain point across, especially if it's several examples of one type of thing, make sure you save your 2nd and 3rd tier objects for those displays.


Thank you so much, Ashley, both for the peek into the life of an exhibition designer and for the invaluable advice!!  (And I think we both have "shiny thing syndrome" - more literally for me). 

MM musings, vol. 17: permanent collection design

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum.  These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning.  I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done!

Today I'll be discussing what the permanent collection might look like if the Makeup Museum occupied a physical space (special exhibitions will be covered in the next installment of MM Musings.)   Exhibition design is, of course, a behemoth topic and I don't expect to thoroughly describe every aspect of it as it applies to a beauty museum, but I thought I'd at least scratch the surface. 

In looking at various museums and exhibitions online, it occurred to me that it's easier to start with what I don't want rather than what would be ideal.  The following pictures are examples of displays that I personally don't find appropriate for beauty objects.  I'm not slighting the hard work that went into these whatsoever, it's just that they will help me remember specifically what I hope to avoid in setting up a permanent display.

First up is labeling.  I have discovered I'm a little very picky when it comes to communicating the information about each object.  For the first example, while I love how neatly arranged all the objects are in rows in this 2008 robot exhibition, I can't see any labels.  I can only assume they're in at the feet of each robot, but what about the ones on the top shelf?  How is a visitor supposed to know what they're looking at?  Obviously robots but I would want to know the name, year, and any other interesting facts.


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Even worse would be tons of objects crammed into one case with no labels.  At least the above exhibition was arranged in an orderly fashion.

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I also don't belive that tiny numbers corresponding to the objects really count as labels.  I loathe having to hunt for information.  This labeling system doesn't engage visitors, it just frustrates them (or at least me).  I'm more likely to walk away from a display if I can't readily view the information about each object.  I know it doesn't require a lot of thought to match up the objects to the number.  But it is an extra step, and given that I'm anxious to see as much as possible when I go to a museum, I hate wasting even one precious second having to look up an object I want to know more about.

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Even if the numbers are a good size, like in this 2012 Louis Vuitton Marc Jacobs exhibition, I still don't like not having all the information right near the object.  It needs to be front and center.

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Second, I don't want a repetitive display.  Below is a special exhibition devoted to Marilyn Monroe at the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum in Italy (Monroe was quite a loyal Ferragamo customer).  This is a subject I'm definitely interested in, but I can already feel my eyes glazing over looking at that very long row of vitrines all set up exactly the same.

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Similarly, I like a good collection of (African?) masks as well as anyone, but I find this layout doesn't do them justice.  One after the other against clear glass atop a concrete base strips them of their individuality.

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Now that I've shown some examples of what I don't want, let's look at some that I could see working for a beauty museum.  I adore the design of Harrod's Perfume Diaries exhibition from 2010 and would love to have something similar as a permanent display.  Everything is arranged chronologically, and the well-lit cases have niches for each item as well as individual labels.  The white curved walls provide a modern, open airiness - something else I don't want is for the Makeup Museum is for visitors to feel like they're in some creepy old weirdo's cramped basement.

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Along those lines, I liked how the ads and objects were arranged in this perfume bottle exhibition.  As you know, I frequently include ads in my exhibitions and I think this is a great way to do it.  Again, I thought the crisp white backdrop worked really well - white would be a very effective surrounding for colorful makeup items.

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It's no surprise that the exhibition displays that appeal most to me are for perfumes, since, after all, makeup objects aren't all that far off either in theme or size. 

While this was a shallow dive into the vasts depths of collections display, I think it was very helpful for me to weed through and determine the basic aspects that I would want in permanent displays at the Makeup Museum, which are: 1. clear, easy-to-find labeling for every object; 2. differentiated areas or displays so that the objects' uniqueness can be emphasized; and 3. an open floor plan with lots of light.

Can you envision something similar to the perfume displays shown here for a physical Makeup Museum?  And more generally, do you have any museum display pet peeves? 

MM Musings, vol. 16: on curating

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum.  These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning.  I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done!

"I dare you, I double dare you motherf*cker! Say curation one more goddammed time!"

Today I want to talk about curating and whether a beauty museum could have a curator in the traditional sense of the word. 

The definition of curating has significantly shifted in recent years.  Curating in the digital age takes on a vastly different meaning than that of one whose job it is to look after objects and arrange exhibitions exclusively in art museums and galleries.  Nowadays it seems that everyone's a curator.  From boutique owners to DJs to bloggers, curating has become synonymous with selecting or aggregating.  There are even guides on how to curate web content.   As the volume of information available online grew exponentially, there came the rise are self-appointed "curators" of websites and blogs who edit and select content for their readers.  And as retailers struggle to compete, many of them turn to using "curated" to describe their selected merchandise. 

Is there a problem with this?  For some, particularly those who have been bona fide curators in the art world, yes.  The backlash against the use of "curation" outside of an art context has been steadily growing.  "You're not a curator, you're actually just a filthy blogger" is the title of an article by Awl editor Choire Sicha. According to Sicha, the use of the term is "a way for bloggers to distance themselves from the dirty blogging masses."  He adds:  "You are no different from some teen in Indiana with a LiveJournal about cutting. Sorry folks! You're in this nasty fray with the rest of're a low-grade collector, not a're nothing but a secondary market for someone else's work."  Indeed, Pete Martin, an author at the now-defunct arts journal New Curator rails, "You are, at best, a filter. You may make a name for yourself by excelling at some kind of selection process, but you are not a curator." And:  "You should not equate yourself to an art exhibition curator just because you have a Pinterest account," writes Alex Ahn, co-founder of NYC art gallery Temp.  As for the retail side, in an article for Macleans, vice-president of exhibitions and marketing at the Royal Ontario Museum Kelvin Browne stated: “The concept of ‘curating’ your life is just an excuse for high-end consumption...It’s pretending that buying stuff and putting it together is meaningful, but it’s not.”  Back to Martin, who goes so far as to claim that "anyone calling themselves a 'curator' when it is clear that they are dealing in merchandise should have their thumbs removed."  Yikes.

Given all of this, how wrong is it that I refer to myself as a "curator"?  To clarify, I have never once meant the term to be serious as it applies to me.  I mean it purely tongue-in-cheek, as a playful homage to real museum curators, who are what I aspire to be.  In the "About the Curator" section I give myself a fancy faux title that uses the name of the founder of one of my favorite makeup lines - I'm just making a joke about the notion of endowed curatorships.  Whenever I discuss curating an exhibition or myself as a curator, I hope it's clear that I'm kidding.  I don't think I could be considered a real curator for a number of reasons.  One is that I don't have formal training in the field.  There are no official scholarly programs in cosmetics history, and while I'm flirting with the idea of going back to school for a degree in curatorial studies (this program is particularly tempting), I'm merely another self-proclaimed expert on the subject of makeup.  Second, the fact that the Museum resides solely online and in blog form means that I am, indeed, just a "filthy blogger".  Finally, it'  The items are not necessarily original or valuable, which is quite different than the one-of-a-kind objects a curator normally takes care of.  (Of course, I still maintain that makeup belongs in a museum - see my very first MM Musings to read more about that topic.)

However, some believe that the two concepts of curating - the long-established, art museum meaning and the newer, social media-based approach - can peacefully co-exist, and that the democratization of the term is a good thing.  "Ultimately, I think it’s fantastic for museums that museum words are making their way into the vernacular–it has the potential to give more familiarity to art museums for people who aren’t walking through galleries every day, which is of course a great thing," writes Chelsea Emelie Kelly, Manager of Digital Learning at the Milwaukee Art Museum.  Online arts magazine Hyperallergic covered a panel at MoMA on the topic of curation and concludes, "It would be easy to argue that the significance and power of the museum curator has been undermined by the overuse of the word, but in reality it’s more true that the application of 'curating' to other disciplines has encouraged everyone to be more mindful of just what material they choose to pass on to their audiences, whatever the size or sector."

So...while I have officially disavowed myself of the notion that I'm a real curator, there are some signs that point to the contrary.  Since "curate" comes from the Latin "curare" meaning to "care for", I might, just might, be able to pass as a curator.  After all, I do lovingly care for all of the objects in the collection and oversee their preservation.    In an interview for NPR, George Shackelford, the deputy director of the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, says that curators "take responsibility for things...not just 'like' them."  Secondly, while I don't have a formal degree in either curatorial studies or cosmetics history (the latter doesn't even exist), I'm just about as qualified as anyone else to run a beauty museum.  I've worked for several major museums, have degrees in art history and cultural studies, and have been an avid user of makeup for over 20 years.   Third,
I manage all of the museum's activities, from writing the exhibition labels to overseeing communications to organizing the collection.  The ability to be involved in almost all aspects of museum administration is the hallmark of the modern curator.  "They don’t simply organize exhibitions, they also have a hand in fund-raising and public relations, catalog production and installation," notes a 2010 New York Times article.  This article also quotes a young curator from the Whitney Museum of American Art, who states, "The old-fashioned notion of a curator was that of a connoisseur who made discoveries and attributions...a lot of that work has already been done. The younger generation is trained to think differently, to think more about ideas.”

Finally, I arrange exhibitions.  Now they might just be in my home and limited design-wise because of the space, but I do try to create an experience of some kind, something more meaningful and eye-opening than the objects would be if they were presented individually.  This is also part and parcel of what modern curators do. According to Serpentine Gallery director Hans Ulrich Obrist, curating exhibitions today is much different.  "Before 1800, few people went to exhibitions.  Now hundreds of millions of people visit them every year.  It's a mass medium and a ritual. The curator sets it up so that it becomes an extraordinary experience and not just illustrations or spatialised books," he writes in an article for the Guardian.  He adds, "Exhibitions need not only take place in galleries, need not only involve displaying objects. Art can appear where we expect it least."  I find these last two sentences to be particularly inspiring.  If that's true, then perhaps I can consider myself a curator of sorts.

To conclude:  I'm still not sure whether I'm a curator.  My hunch is that most museum professionals would declare me an impostor, and I would be inclined to agree.  But with all the new ideas surrounding curation today, it's plausible that the term used to best describe what I do could be curating.

If you made it this far, what do you think?  Do you think managing this blog is, in fact, curating?  How about if the Museum was a designated nonprofit and occupied a public, brick-and-mortar space? 

MM Musings, Vol. 15: Location, location, location

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum.  These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning.  I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done!

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One of the issues that's foremost in my mind is finding a suitable location for the Makeup Museum, as I only have so much room at home.  While I'm still nowhere near establishing a physical space for it, I love brainstorming possible places.  There are plenty of galleries and other smaller venues where I might be able to do a temporary exhibition, but securing a permanent space is trickier.  Ideally I'd have it in my adopted hometown of Baltimore.  B'more is known for its quirkiness so I think a Makeup Museum would be a perfect fit.  I've narrowed it down to several possible areas:  Mt. Vernon (my hood, which would be very convenient for me and is also home of the Walters Art Museum), near the Inner Harbor (lots of tourist traffic), or somewhere in Station North.  But rather than starting from scratch and renting or buying a stand-alone space, tacking on the museum to an existing one may be another avenue to consider.  It may be easier to get funding for space for a new collection that will be attached to an already-established institution, plus since there are visitors I wouldn't necessarily have to lure them away to a whole different location - they're already in a museum they wanted to see, so why not stop by a little makeup-themed addition tucked away in the building?

In terms of these existing museums, I don't think it would jive well with the collections at either the Baltimore Museum of Art or the Walters (which is a shame as I live a block away from the latter.)  However, I do see it possibly fitting into the American Visionary Art Museum, an institution that features "outsider" art and non-traditional art genres - work by prison inmates, exhibitions devoted to themes like "What makes us smile?", etc.   A gallery devoted to cosmetics may be right at home there.

Finally, I was quite inspired by this post at Museum of the Future in which the author suggests alternative museum locations.  It got me thinking that the Makeup Museum doesn't necessarily need to be housed in a traditional stand-alone space or as an afterthought to an existing museum.  While it's already in a unconventional space (my home), it's obviously not available for the public to see in person, so it has to be accessible.  Some of the venues the author came up with include train stations and airports, but I was most taken with the idea of having the collection, or at least an exhibition, on view in a mall or store.  In fact, this notion has already happened in the form of Keiichi Tanaami's installation at Sephora.  Could you imagine walking into a store and seeing an exhibition, similar to the ones I "curate", and then also be able to buy some of the collectibles you saw on display?  Another possibility is also one that's been done with success - have an exhibition at a makeup expo, like the Makeup in New York show I visited back in September, or the Makeup Show LA's upcoming exhibition on Kevyn Aucoin.

I'm not sure how I would even begin to approach people at these various places, especially since it would be a most unusual conversation and I'm not particularly adept at networking (or at any human interaction, really).  Any suggestions are highly welcome.

Would you rather see the Makeup Museum in a space by itself, as part of another museum or in another venue altogether (like Sephora or a department store?)