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"The majority of the pieces held in our museums are one of a kind because they were made for ceremony, celebration or daily use.

Because so much of our material is culturally based, we ask our licensees not to 'reproduce' any given material, but instead to find inspiration in it and adapt it in such a way that the elements of the original piece are evident, but a new work of art or form is created," she says.

When you visit a museum exhibit, you might be so taken by an item -- a striking textile, say, or a cool artwork -- that you'd love to actually own it. Many have robust licensing programs with design firms and manufacturers to reproduce patterns or use artifacts as inspiration for new designs.

Cultural institutions see these partnerships as a way to broaden their exposure and raise money for ongoing work.

Gilbert Baker's 1978 "Rainbow Flag," which has become a symbol of the gay pride movement, recently became not only part of Mo MA's permanent collection, but part of its gift shop collection.