• Transform magazine
  • August 18, 2022

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Five minutes with Yizan He

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Yizan He, CEO and founder of art and cultural IP licensing company, ARTiSTORY, speaks to Transform magazine about the nexus between cultural IP and museum brands, and how the former can help the latter thrive.

What is cultural IP and how are global museum brands using it to aid their recovery post Covid?

The world’s museums hold millions of breathtaking and iconic artworks and artefacts – their cultural IP - that, until now, largely remained behind the museum’s walls. However, a new trend emerging in the cultural sector is museums licensing their cultural IP to retailers and brands for use in a whole range of products from fashion and cosmetics to technology, food and drink.

For example, the MET has collaborated with Estée Lauder on a make-up collection inspired by the museum’s artwork; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has a multi-year licensing program with global fashion retailer – Uniqlo; MoMA has collaborated with the sneaker brand VANS; and the Louvre has worked with cult fashion brand Off-White. These partnerships are not only generating revenues outside of the museum walls (revenues beyond its opening hours) but are presenting the institutions and their collections to entirely new generations of audience.

Globally, licensing is a $290bn (£212bn) business. Until now, the culture sector has been slow to join other sectors like sports and entertainment in leveraging its IP but it has now become the fastest growing sector in licensing. China is leading in this area, with Beijing’s Palace Museum, the British Museum, the National Museum of China spearheading the licensing industry in China.

What is the role of design, creativity and branding in how cultural IP is being made more attractive to brands and consumers?

We are all familiar with museum souvenirs that offer visitors products featuring an image of an artwork from the collection they have just seen. However, the trend we are seeing is that the application and execution of a museum’s cultural IP is becoming increasingly sophisticated in order to create sought-after and aspirational lifestyle products available in leading retailers worldwide, beyond just gift shop souvenirs.

For example, instead of copying and pasting an image of an artwork onto a tote bag or T-shirt, our creative teams work with museums to develop themes with design assets, such as illustrations and patterns inspired by the artefacts but that are much more elevated, considered and relevant to today’s consumers. These creative design assets are then licensed to retailers and brands for use on products.

What impact does cultural IP licensing have on the ongoing challenge of attracting younger consumers to museum brands?

Museum IP licensing programmes are changing the way that younger generations engage with art and culture because they are re-packaging the artwork and collections in a form that is attractive to them and reaching them on their channels – social media and retail outlets that wouldn’t usually be associated with the cultural sector.

These products are appealing because we know that younger demographics enjoy expressing themselves through the playful adoption and reconfiguration of art and culture. Increasingly, Gen-Z are engaging with brands that share their values and museums are able to tap into this by expressing narratives via the iconic imagery of cultural IP that feel relevant to younger audiences.