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Q&A with Sonia Kiourtzidis, Head of Retail at Dulwich

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Sonia Kiourtzidis is Head of Retail at Dulwich and looks after our much acclaimed gift shop. We decided to gain some insider knowledge of what her job entails. Her enthusiasm could leave you considering a career change…

When did you enter the world of retail?

I spent six years in the Retail department at Tate Modern and Tate Britain where I worked my way up the managerial ladder. When the job at Dulwich came up it seemed to strike the perfect balance - offering sole responsibility for all aspects of the Retail operations on site and online, with a focus on buying and product development.

Do you think the role of gallery shop has changed over the years?

Gallery shops are becoming destination gift shops with their own captive audiences; they can offer something unique, bucking the wider economic and high street trends. Gone are the days of just slapping an Old Master painting on a mug or key ring – there is a place for that, but we can and should be thinking differently about how we represent cultural heritage to an increasingly arts-savvy public.

What does a typical working week look like to you?

I plan the merchandise range for each exhibition 4 - 6 months in advance. I also develop and buy in core merchandise which reflects the Gallery and Permanent Collection. I’ll develop affordable souvenirs such as magnets or postcards and select the strongest images for use on bespoke products like homeware and accessories. For the main exhibitions I’ll buy in a complimentary range of products inspired by its themes. I recently put together the shop range for the celebrated British artist Eric Ravilious, whose prints and watercolours have become icons in British design.

What’s the coolest thing about your job?

Visiting trade fairs and open studios to find products for the shop is a form of catharsis! It’s also fun to come up with new and interesting ways to represent visual arts through bespoke merchandise. Recently I developed a room fragrance, ‘Impossible Bouquet’, inspired by an image in our permanent collection, Vase with Flowers, by 18th Century Dutch still life painter Jan van Huysum.

What advice would you give to someone looking to do what you do?

Make your strengths known to those who have the expertise to help you develop further. Ask if you can shadow the people who are doing what you want to be doing. Lots of arts and cultural organisations are proud to develop and promote their staff from within, so don’t be shy about showing what you’re passionate about and good at.

How important is the shop’s input to the Gallery as a whole?

The opportunities for Museum and Gallery retail lie where arts, culture and lifestyle interconnect. We live in a society where we are often defined by what we consume, and where experiencing art and heritage is increasingly accessible and popular. Cultural retailers tap into the visitor's desire for a physical memory of their experience, in the form of a souvenir or gift which then expresses something about that person's identity beyond their visit. The souvenir might end up adorning a coffee table, or a wrist, or even fill a room as scent. This sends a message to others about who that person is and where they have been. Hopefully, this message is strong enough to ensure we are remembered, and encourage others to want to visit us too.

You can explore the most recent products available at Dulwich at our online shop.