Senatorial Sticker Shock

There’s nothing like a little bad publicity on national television to make government decision makers (well, at least one decision maker) sit up and take notice. Then to be uncomfortable enough about ”Made in China” labels on everything from Obama busts to plastic Washington monuments and little American flags sold in huge quantities at Smithsonian gift shops to take a stand and call for change.

I’m talking about the brouhaha kicked up by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont around the same time as the late February broadcast of a five-part “Made in America” series on Diane Sawyer’s ABC World News. She and her correspondents asked why the Smithsonian’s souvenirs all seemed to be made in China. Sanders, in a pointed letter to National Museum of American History director Brent D. Glass, asked the same thing, rapping the Smithsonian across the knuckles with an imaginary ruler while urging them to rethink how they purchase and sell their gift shop “Americana.”

Did it work? Yes, at least a little. And it’s an encouraging start. Sanders made welcome noise about how shocked (“shocked!”) he was to discover this affront to American-made producers taking place in his own government backyard. National media reported it all on television, in print and on dozens of websites. And Glass, who responded quickly to Sanders, pledged not only to seek out more American-made souvenirs over all but to devote one gift shop (part of its “Price of Freedom: Americans at War” exhibition at the National Museum of American History) exclusively to merchandise made in the United States.

As a company built on American craft, The Rosen Group applauds Sanders’ efforts, but as you will read in Rosen Group President and CEO Wendy Rosen’s “Taking a Stand” column in page 36 in this issue, we’d like to go one better: Let’s all get behind American-made in every way we can to promote, publicize and purchase work from American artists crafting unique American products that can proudly be tagged “Made in America.”

The Rosen Group has extended offers to Smithsonian museum store buyers to attend future Buyers Markets, to serve as intermediaries in identifying U.S. artists who craft gift objects at affordable price points, and to host workshops for museum store buyers and artists on how to start up and maintain effective museum shop/vendor partnerships.

We applaud museums including the New York Historical Society, the Henry Ford Museum and the National Museum of Women in the Arts that already regularly attend Buyers Market of American Craft shows to purchase American-made products for their shops. For a more complete list of participating museums, together with a slideshow of American-made craft work in all mediums priced wholesale at $50 or under, check out “Museum Stores DO Buy American,” an online exclusive in the Spring edition of NICHE.

The “American-made” bandwagon is rolling. Let’s all get onboard. Now!

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