Connected \\ September 1, 2023

Creativity Meets Sustainability in the PEM Shop

Think outside the box: We have heard this cliche hundreds of times. But our new Bat Box pop-up shop is making us think about the box itself.

The “three R’s” of reduce, reuse and recycle are often at the top of my mind, including emphasizing recycling as a tangible action we can all take to reduce waste. However, a new R has emerged: rethink.

Rethinking encourages us to examine our consumption patterns and make more sustainable choices. This includes reflecting on our daily habits, such as using reusable bags or water bottles, as well as more significant decisions, like choosing environmentally-friendly transportation or supporting companies that prioritize sustainability. By embracing the concept of “rethink,” we can substantially impact the health of our planet and future generations.

Here at the PEM Shop, we understand the importance of being mindful when it comes to our purchasing decisions. We've been actively exploring ways to reduce our carbon footprint by eliminating single-use and plastic items and collaborating with vendors to promote eco-friendly materials and packaging. Our commitment to stocking products made by local artists and small-batch makers helps reduce transportation pollution and ensures transparency in our supply chain. Small changes can make a significant impact, and we're dedicated to doing our part in creating a more sustainable future for all.

We are striving to increase sustainable practices. For instance, we are transitioning to compostable jewelry boxes this year to replace our laminated ones, which take longer to decompose. However, we still have much work to do in balancing consumer goods and sustainable practices. But there's so much more that we can and should do, and that is where rethinking comes into play.

A fantastic illustration of rethinking occurred to me while I was working with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The city of Boston implemented a new bag ordinance, which included eliminating small plastic bags that end up tangled in trees or drifting in the tides when they’re accidentally released into the environment. The city also enacted a five-cent bag fee for customers – which I was initially skeptical of, since that price seems insignificant. However, I soon realized that this fee actually encouraged the concept of rethinking. It transformed our store's behavior by making us ask customers if they needed a bag instead of automatically providing one. This made customers stop and consider whether or not they truly needed a bag, and many times they declined, saying they already had a bag they could use. Witnessing rethinking in action was truly remarkable, and it exemplifies how even a simple moment of consideration can have a significant impact.

View of the Bat Box pop-up shop

Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

So what is the Bat Box? Other than a human-built box designed for bats to roost in, it’s a pop-up shop we recently opened in honor of our upcoming Bats! exhibition. The shop also highlights items related to our upcoming Witch Trials show and historic homes like the Ropes Mansion. It features works from local artists such as Nick Demakes, whose work is featured in Bats!.

In order to create a more innovative exhibition store, I decided to rethink the traditional museum store setup. One major source of inspiration came from our exhibition team and their recent success in reducing the need to build and tear down new walls for temporary exhibitions. Their reusable wall system not only saves resources and eliminates entire dumpsters of waste, but also embodies the spirit of rethinking. I’m able to learn what our exhibitions team is up to mainly thanks to PEM’s internal Climate + Environment Ideators team, a staff working group that shares information on how to make the museum more environmentally friendly. We inspire each other every month to rethink and make better choices.

Another point of inspiration came from my days at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and talking with street artist Caledonia Curry, also known as Swoon, while she installed a temporary exhibit at that museum. She responded to the devastating earthquakes in Haiti by helping people build shelters using materials found around them, which turned into the Konbit shelter program. This is an example of creativity meeting crisis and sustainability through rethinking and reusing.

Photo by Liam Bostick/PEM.

Photo by Liam Bostick/PEM.

So instead of buying new furniture and fixtures for the Bat Box, we decided to reuse what we had on hand and create furniture from simple cardboard boxes. We decorated them with paper collage work, reinforced the tops and added paper skids to the bottom to give them additional height and make them look like standard furniture. The store team enjoyed the creative process, and the results were remarkable.

Joshua Viana adds decoupage to a piece of furniture. Photo by Liam Bostick/PEM

Joshua Viana adds decoupage to a piece of furniture. Photo by Liam Bostick/PEM.

For this Pop-Up shop, we bought new boxes that arrived flat. They take up less space than furniture, and we can reuse them in future exhibitions. You may even receive packages from PEM Shop Online with curious decoupaged bats after our pop-up shop closes in November.

Photo by Victor Oliveira/PEM

Photo by Victor Oliveira/PEM.

In addition, we found items in second-hand stores and spruced them up with a little paint. One piece was an old cash stand we acquired from a used retail fixture company. It was so badly scratched up in the front that it was headed for the scrap heap, but a little modge podge and bat prints made it more interesting than new! Another example was a mirror frame that lost its mirror and had some damage. A little wood putty and paint made it shine again. In the end, we did not have to purchase any new furniture, instead using only the paper boxes and furniture we already had in storage and could borrow from around the PEM campus.

View of the Bat Box Pop-up Shop next to PEM

Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

In the end, building this shop was a joy for the retail team at PEM. We utilized our creativity and skills to repurpose existing materials into new, unique pieces. We will seek to keep improving this process in th efuture. With enough time, we may be able to gather boxes that our merchandise arrives in, so we would have to purchase fewer new boxes. We would like to brag that we used nothing new in the installation of this shop.

Make sure to swing by the Bat Box…so you don’t miss what's hiding underneath the merchandise. Who knows? Maybe it will spark some inspiration for your next design challenge. Sometimes all it takes is a fresh perspective and a bit of creativity to see the potential in reusing what's already around you.

Resa Blatman, Small Bat Portrait 1, 2008. Oil on panel. Courtesy of the artist.

Resa Blatman, Small Bat Portrait 1, 2008. Oil on panel. Courtesy of the artist.

Shop the Bat Box 11 am–6 pm, Wednesday–Monday (closed Tuesday)s. Visit live Egyptian fruit bats in PEM’s exhibition Bats!, opening on September 9.

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