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Museum of Ice Cream : the Art of making museum-lovers out of kids

Dear readers,

Ten months in this journey of appreciating art (and life) through exhibitions my eyes got attracted to, I hope to contribute to you visiting some of the art I have talked about week after week. One big question though: have you included your kids?

Next generation of museum-goers outside Museum of Ice Cream

See, being an advocate for adults visiting museums more often, there is nothing I love more than fostering this into kids as well. Let’s face it, if kids don’t appreciate museums today, these institutions will struggle to refresh their customer base: a kid little exposed to art when young has less chance to turn into a museum-loving adult.

I like my actions to speak louder than my words. I have therefore unashamedly turned my kids into museum-goer Guinea pigs…and when they actually recognise a Barbara Hepworth sculpture and name it, it makes it all worth it.

Yet, like all things, it takes mixing it up a little.

Recently, we took a little road trip to Los Angeles. We visited some serious museums and artworks with the promise (bribe?) to visit the Museum of Ice Cream.

It is a temporary installation which has so far travelled to New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco and is bound to come near you at some point.

Tickets get sold in no time. It’s that popular, in spite of not being cheap. Yet you have to give it to them, it works.

Kids are delighted! To me, if this helps break the boring stigma associated with museum visits, I am all for it.

Visually, it’s mostly pink with brightly colored sprinkles on top.

I was not going for the art per se and I only found one installation clearly bearing the artist’s name.

The rest is really fun graphic designs transporting you into a version of Katy Perry’s California Gurls world.

But it works: kids are happy and love their “museum” experience. That, to me, is an art in itself.

Since my kids had already really enjoyed another pop-up art installation called Wonderspaces in the summer (see blog post here), let me pursue my quest to find common denominators.

Engage and Make it Participative

Back at Wonderspaces, my kids had mentioned the participative nature as main factor. They really got a kick at “making” the art or leaving their mark with Ada by Karina Smigla-Bobinski or The Last Word by Illegal Art. They also liked the small scale and unpretentious feel of the place, compared to how some museum spaces and staff can feel intimidating to children.

These cues were definitely used at the Museum of Ice Cream.

Staff members were goofy while still clearly stating circulation and behaviour rules inside the museum and engaging while making the kids repeat after them. I felt like I was on a field trip: kids all related to this with a giggle.

Worried that the experience would feel like being on a conveyor belt, it actually pretty much never felt that way once in. So well done, Museum of Ice Cream!

Where I see an opportunity for traditional museums is in expanding their sticker giving routine to establishing a friendly dialogue with tomorrow’s customers.

If you know me personally, you know I am onto something here…

Now, to be fair, museums will find it hard to compete with kids being told they could touch EVERYTHING (apart from two installations, the art by Abel Benton and the suspended bananas). Imagine the glee!!

Museums obviously can’t allow this. Yet giving a sense of how old some of the artworks in museums can be, how much sacrifice was necessary to obtain painting supplies for impoverished artists, how many artworks had to be hidden to avoid destruction when judged degenerate during WWII, all these are engaging stories for kids can to develop a deeper respect and appreciation. Who needs hands when you can make your eyes work double? You don’t have to physically play when you can use your imagination…

In my view, noticing a child or somebody going too close to appreciate the texture of brushwork or color touches should be an opportunity for dialogue instead of remonstrance. Parents taking their kids to museums have done a giant first step but museums need to take the relay once in, working hand in hand to educate kids to enjoy art today and appreciate it even more tomorrow.

The art of giving

What the kids really remember though is that they were given free stuff to eat, in pretty much every one of the small worlds / rooms we entered.

Ice Cream number…5!

From sprinkled ice cream and chocolate, from liquorice to gummy bears and chocolate mint moshis, you name it, it was treats galore…What surprised me was the total absence of branding: I have no idea who the suppliers of all these treats were. In an art world where there are too many instances of people never crediting the artists they take a picture of, I am not sure this is leading by example…

Last but not least was being able to take things back, meaning the chocolate and candies but also, some of the plastic sprinkles from the sprinkle pool.

Me going into a swimming pool…a rare sight!


Yes, those got everywhere, especially in our hair and in-between our toes. They became little souvenirs that made us smile outside of the museum, in the parking lot where they looked like all the confetti found after weddings.

Invariably, some made their way home with us which reminded me of a more serious artwork based upon a similar principle: Felix Gonzalez-Torres and his Untitled (Double Portrait) at the Tate, where you are encouraged to take away a large printed double ring, making the sculptural pack fluctuate in height as pieces are taken away and replenished. Obviously the kids liked the sprinkles better!

Probably because this was entirely linked with the experience within the museum, it was tantamount to being even better than getting a souvenir at the gift shop. It was free! Welcome to the art of La La Land, my darlings…and let’s go back to the museum soon.

If you want to visit the Museum of Ice Cream with your kids, check their website for full details on the next ticket sale.

Note: I subsequently found this article from artnet which you might found interesting in the context of my own article.


© 2017 Ingrid Westlake

All pictures by Ingrid Westlake, unless otherwise stated.

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