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Inside the Museum of Ice Cream, Showering SF with Sprinkles This Weekend

I scream, you scream, people go insane for the Museum of Ice Cream

Katie Gibb

After sold-out runs in New York and Los Angeles, The Museum of Ice Cream opens Sunday in San Francisco, where it’s already extended its stay until 2018. The latest location for the pop-up exhibition, which is nominally dedicated to an artistic appreciation for the dairy treat, might be its most museum-worthy yet: 1 Grant Avenue, a San Francisco Landmark built as a bank in 1910, its ionic columns now bedecked with pink Museum of Ice Cream banners.

“The building provided a welcome design challenge,” says Museum of Ice Cream co-founder Maryellis Bunn, “So I embraced and preserved its historic elements.” (See, for example, an original bank vault now done up with touches of pink.) The museum looks stately to passersby on Market Street, but it’s the photogenic, fun house rooms and installations inside — a sprinkle pool, banana swings, giant ice pops, and cotton candy clouds — that patrons pay $38 to see.

It all started in New York last Summer, when the Museum of Ice Cream generated feverish fans and FOMO with ticket sales reaching Hamilton levels of scarcity. LA was next, with a run extended several times. But each museum exhibition is site specific, though the general bubble-gum pop aesthetic stays the same, and certain installations are replicated. “I go to each location prior to designing the experience, trying to understand the culture and the ethos — what I think I want to respond to,” Bunn explains.

Katie Gibbs

“Originally when I began the design process, my initial thought was to build it to be all technology installations.” But after after spending more time in San Francisco, she dispensed with the idea. Here, “[Technology] is driving the conversation... but I wanted to do something different, and analog, in response.”

Caleb Pershan
Caleb Pershan

The irony there, if it needs to be pointed out, is that The Museum of Ice Cream is clearly a function of technology. It’s shaped, like all art, by technical and economic conditions — and in this case, not subtly. Instagram and Facebook, if they aren’t the museum’s entire reason for being, operate at least to magnify its reach. Bunn, 25, previously worked as a creative strategist for clients including Instagram. Her co-creator, Manish Vora, is a 37-year-old former investment banker.

While the Louvre might forbid flash photography, The Museum of Ice Cream was built with it in mind. The lighting couldn’t be more photo-friendly, and with the “MOIC” label on everything from walls to beach balls, one hardly needs to use a hashtag. A museum sponsor for the New York museum was the dating app Tinder, which encouraged users to craft their dating profiles in a designated part of the exhibition.

A post shared by Manish Vora (@manishmas) on

While other artists contributed to the museum’s New York and Los Angeles installations, Bunn emphasizes that she created the San Francisco museum on her own. New installations include a Pop Rocks® Cave and a push-pop room, and tours will conclude at a new shop and lounge from interior design sponsor Design Within Reach.

The sprinkle pool, a hit in New York and LA , might be a crowd favorite once again in San Francisco. Bunn has credited her fantasy of the immersive pool as the impetus for the project. But in the end, no single room is her favorite. “The way in which I designed things is very holistic,” she explains, “how the spaces build climax and ebb and flow, although they look different.”

According to Bunn, “The Ice Cream Musem has many of the same principles as traditional museums.” In that category, her favorite is the Cooper Hewitt. “We celebrate passion, history, innovators — but we’re not just the curators, we’re also the creators.”

One aspect that’s been curated, so far, has been the ice cream. Along with a few other small treats, the museum serves one rotating scoop of the week to each visitor, provided by local ice cream partners. In San Francisco, those are Bi-Rite, Salt & Straw, CREAM, and It’s-It.

Katie Gibbs

To select the partners, “we do a team blind taste test, it’s the funnest part,” says Bunn. “Each new city we go undercover to all the shops. There’s some replication we’ve done — Salt & Straw we did in LA. But we’re looking to support the art of ice cream.”

But now, Bunn will go from ice cream curator to an ice cream artist in her own right. “It’s kind of under the radar, but we’re launching a Museum of Ice Cream ice cream line, and we’ll be offering it in SF,” she reveals. “Tasting ice cream [in many cities] has been an opportunity to refine my palate.” Sample flavors like one called “Sprinkle Pool,” are served.

Caleb Pershan

There’s at least one way in which Bunn’s museum differs significantly from the majority of traditional museums. It’s for profit — and maybe a lot of it. After issuing pre-sale tickets to American Express cardholders (the credit card company is a sponsor), The Museum of Ice Cream sold out tickets to the general public in less than an hour-and-a-half, its fastest sell-out yet. 50,000 would-be customers were at the ready in a digital queue when sales began, a spokesperson says.

Katie Gibb

The museum won’t disclose the total number of tickets sold, but Bunn suggests that those 50,000 eager customers would have sold out the run right away, had they all received tickets. If each were to have bought a ticket for $38, that would represent nearly $2 million in ticket sales. Meanwhile, the museum’s run has been preemptively extended to February, with Amex pre-sales going on now and general sales on Friday.

While the museum’s money goes to rent, high-production value buildout, and presumably future projects, some of it also goes to charity. The MOIC has selected a local charity partner at each location so far, and here, that’s Creative Growth, a non-profit serving artists with disabilities.

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