The Museum of Ice Cream, the NYC-born sensation that’s more of a brightly colored Instagram thirst trap than an actual museum, has spawned a zillion hashtags and selfies — and seemingly also some headaches for the cities where it’s opened.
The pop-up exhibition, which first launched in Manhattan in summer 2016 and has since opened locations in LA (now closed), SF, and Miami, made headlines earlier this year when the city of Miami declared it an “environmental hazard.” At the center of the controversy is the exhibit’s sprinkle pool, which is exactly what it sounds like: a room full of sprinkles where visitors are encouraged to dive in, loll around Scrooge McDuck-style, and snap selfies. Some of the sprinkles, which are not the edible type used to top ice cream sundaes but are instead made of plastic coated with an anti-microbial agent, inevitably attach themselves to visitors’ clothing and wind up littering city streets.
And Miami isn’t the only city where the Museum has run aground of locals: The pop-up and its (in)famous sprinkle pool has faced criticism from environmental groups and briefly came under investigation from city officials in California, MarketWatch reports, where the SF Department of Public Works previously expressed concern over the environmental impact that the tiny pieces of plastic were having on local wildlife.
Though the Miami outpost has been fined by the city on multiple occasions, the fines were reversed after the museum took steps to curtail its wandering sprinkles issue by installing storm drain covers and stepping up its efforts to brush sprinkles off visitors before exiting. The SF location also previously received citations from the city over its sprinkle pool, but the museum says it’s in the process of finding an alternative to the pesky plastic bits, including possibly switching to a biodegradable version. Despite the sprinkles, the city of SF has overall embraced the temporary museum for bringing both visitors and jobs.
The Museum of Ice Cream has brought in as much as $20 million in ticket sales alone since its 2016 debut, according to MarketWatch’s estimate. (The Museum of Ice Cream does not release official sales numbers.) Admission to the museum, which is $38, sells out near instantly, and tickets can resell for up to three or four times face value. Comparatively, a ticket to NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of art, which houses masterpieces from artists such as Monet, Rembrandt, and Matisse, costs $25.
A representative from the Museum of Ice Cream provided the following statement outlining the steps it’s taken to mitigate its sprinkle problem:
At Museum of Ice Cream (MOIC), we take our role very seriously as a brand who greatly understands our social responsibility and cultural presence. We appreciate the feedback we have received from visitors and the Bay Area community and have made swift action to improve our sustainable efforts. We have re-trained our team, added dividers, and hired additional staff members to ensure that the sprinkles from our installation are contained within MOIC’s vicinity. MOIC’s cleaners are currently utilizing specially made backpack vacuums to capture sprinkles in the crevices of the sidewalks. As always, our ambassadors encourage a fun sprinkle shake dance after each dip in the pool to keep the majority of sprinkles in a specified area. Lastly, we have begun the process of creating a marine degradable sprinkle for our Sprinkle Pool, that will be implemented in the near future. Our team is greatly invested in putting our best foot forward by continuing our sustainable efforts and providing a socially inclusive and accessible experience for all to enjoy. Our goal is to give back to each city that we reside by leaving behind a positive and lasting impression.
Updated 6/4, 2:11 p.m.: This story has been updated to reflect that the Museum of Ice Cream’s LA outpost shuttered in 2017 and was not investigated by LA city officials, and that the Museum does not release official sales numbers.
• Museum of Ice Cream Generates Massive Revenue — Along With Environmental Complaints and a Slew of Imitators [MarketWatch]
• What Happens to Those Sprinkles at LA’s Museum of Ice Cream? [Eater LA]
• The Museum of Ice Cream Gets Its Ice Cream for Free [Eater SF]