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Small Business Profile: Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego
Profiles, Retailer Profile

Small Business Profile: Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego

This Saturday is “Small Business Saturday” in the U.S., and we’re proud that the majority of our local retail partners are small, local businesses. This year, we’re profiling three unique small businesses that support and nurture their local photography community, like the inseparable-from-its-institution shop at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego. See also our stories on treehouse in Honolulu and Looking Glass Photo in Berkeley, California.

Located in San Diego, California, the Museum of Photographic Arts serves a large body of photographers of all types, and boasts a museum store that furthers this mission. We spoke to Assistant Store Manager Heather Thomas about MOPA's unique place in San Diego and the museum landscape. Photography by friend-of-MOPA and San Diego editorial & lifestyle photographer Stacy Keck.

Tell us about your roots.

The Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) is a vibrant center for visual learning, dedicated to sharing and exploring the universal language of photography. With the mission to inspire, educate, and engage the broadest possible audience through the presentation, collection, and preservation of photography, film, and video, MOPA serves over 100,000 visitors annually.

Kristie Taylor, Visitor Relations Manager, and Heather Thomas.

Born of a group of local photographers and art patrons, plans for an actual organization began in 1972 with the creation of the Center for Photographic Arts. This entity essentially operated as a museum without walls for nine years, until the City of San Diego donated a space for a permanent location in the historic Balboa Park Cultural Complex. Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, MOPA officially opened to the public in May 1983 and through the decades has gained an impressive international reputation for high-quality exhibitions and programs.

What makes MOPA - and the museum store—so special?

MOPA is one of only three museums in the nation dedicated solely to lens-based medium. Located in historic Balboa Park in the heart of San Diego, we offer an annual calendar of relevant, thought-provoking and engaging exhibitions, film festivals, and lifespan-learning opportunities. MOPA strives to extend its programs beyond the museum's space, both physically and digitally, in order to reach the broadest possible audience.

The MOPA Shop is an extension of the museum, containing a uniquely curated selection of inspiring and educational merchandise. We think of the MOPA shop as a destination all its own, offering the photography community a chance to browse the latest and greatest in photo trends.

Describe your local photography community.

MOPA hosts several social and professional photo meet-up groups. We also partner with a range of universities, colleges, and schools throughout San Diego. The Open Show series is a recent partnership that we are very proud of. It is an opportunity for a selection of five local visual storytellers to share their work and get feedback from the community. We are also thrilled to present MOPA's 12th Annual Juried Youth Exhibition November 4, 2017 - February 27, 2018. This open-call for entries to youth, grades K - 12 showcases the work of students in the San Diego and Tijauna area.

Are there any staff who have been with you since day one?

We still have some amazing volunteers and educators that have been an integral part of the museum since day one. The longest running current staff member is our Executive Director and Chief Curator, Deborah Klochko, who has been with MOPA for 11 years.

What’s one challenge you’ve faced in recent years and how have you dealt with it?

In the Fall of 2014, the Shop and Admissions areas of the museum underwent a major remodel. This was a thrilling change to be a part of, but also came with its challenges. As we transitioned into a smaller space and were without a storeroom for five months, we designed a temporary pop-up shop that included a limited selection of best-sellers. This allowed us to stay open through our busy holiday season and maintain a presence in the museum. Presently, in our new location, we have had to be very selective about bringing in new inventory because of space limitations. It has been a fun challenge to pare down to the best of the best and re-examine customer needs in our new space.

What’s your favorite part of the museum / store?

MOPA's team of creative staff and inspiring exhibitions are by far the best part of the museum. Aside from that, of course I am partial to our beautiful shop! The array of products that we provide our visitors in store and online is incredibly unique. Since the museum focuses only on photography and film, we are limited to a very niche theme. As buyers for the shop, Kristie and I put a lot of effort into finding items that relate to our mission. We still sell film and film cameras! We are die-hard champions of all things analog.

Five years ago, I never would have thought... we would have grown as much as we have. I am so grateful for the shop's success and all the positive feedback we receive from our visitors.

What have you learned in your time with MOPA?

I have personally seen projects brought to fruition that I never thought possible. MOPA has given me so many opportunities to grow creatively. Being able to take chances on projects has taught me a lot about the merits of collaboration and creative partnerships.

What are some goals/dreams you have for MOPA in the coming years?

MOPA is like a second home to me and I am always learning new things, from the amazing community that surrounds the museum to the constant influx of inspirational work. My biggest dream for the organization is that it will continue to thrive and grow, inspiring ever-growing audiences and empowering individuals and communities to think informatively about the overwhelming scope of visual information that saturate our lives.

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