Today’s Museums in the News Post comes to you from Dominique Marcial, current Museum Education Master’s student here at Tufts.
In his article detailing the Museum of Ice Cream, which ran from July 29, 2016 – August 31, 2016, George Etheredge examined the thrills of the museum of Ice Cream for a millennial target audience, yet also pointed out more managerial and logistical aspects of the museum that open the conversation of this “museum” up to an array of concerns. Mary Ellis Bunn, founder of the museum, states the Museum of Ice Cream is a “temporary museum.” Therefore, one must examine the definition of museum to ascertain whether or not the Museum of Ice Cream is actually fit to be coined a museum, or whether it more closely relates to a temporary exhibit.
The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) defines a museum as an institution that is “organized for educational and aesthetic purposes… and it owns and uses tangible objects and exhibits these objects on a regular basis through facilities it owns and operates.” AAM recognizes both for-profit and nonprofit institutions as museums. The Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) adds that museums can house either “animate or inanimate” objects. The International Council of Museums (ICOM) narrowly defines a museum as a “non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study, and enjoyment.” Within this definition, the Museum of Ice Cream would not be considered a museum because it is a for-profit institution, and by ICOM standards, a museum must be a non-profit. However, in terms of its for-profit status, the Museum of Ice Cream could be considered a museum within the AAM and IMLS definitions because they do not define museums as needing to be nonprofits.
Additionally, according to Catlin-Legutko, a museum that attains 501(c)(3) status “is recognized as a charitable institution.” The term charitable includes the “advancement of education or science and the erection or maintenance of public buildings or monuments.” The failure of the Museum of Ice Cream to attain 501(c)(3) status shows that the museum is likely not charitable, meaning that it does not contribute to education or science.Within the Museum of Ice Cream, there is also no solid labeling of facts to educate the public, thus deterring the institution from achieving non-profit status. Being that the Museum of Ice Cream does not maintain a public building for its existence, this aspect would also contribute to the failure of the institution to achieve 501(c)(3) status. In addition, a lack of 501(c)(3) status also makes the Museum of Ice Cream ineligible for tax-deductible contributions. This raises questions as to why corporations such as Fox and Dove chose to contribute to this organization. If these corporations wish to donate specific pieces to the museum, the Museum of Ice Cream can consider the influences of larger corporations without having to worry about the ethics of educating and serving the public through the influences of large donors as much as a nonprofit might have to.
Another major aspect to consider in the definition of a museum is that of the collections. According to Anderson, “museums are responsible for the acquisition, conservation, management, and deaccession of collections.” All three of the definitions of museum presented in this post from AAM, IMLS, and ICOM, mention the purpose of a collection in a museum, whether that be a collection of inanimate or animate objects. So although the Museum of Ice Cream does have a collection consisting of plastic life-sized sprinkles, and a wall of plastic cones, it does not display these objects in a permanent space, as AAM requires.
The IMLS definition of museums gets even more specific with the amount of time a collection must be on display to be considered a museum. According to the IMLS definition of a museum, a collection must be on display 120 days of the year. Being that the Museum of Ice Cream was only open for 33 days in 2016, this 120-day requirement officially pushes the Museum of Ice Cream out of all three of the major definitions of a museum that this article explored from AAM to the IMLS and ICOM.
That leaves us with the question of what exactly the Museum of Ice Cream is, if not a museum. Perhaps a pop-up exhibit or show would better fit the purposes and display of the Museum of Ice Cream. The fact that the Museum of Ice Cream retains the word “museum” in its title gives a false premise to the public about the contents of the exhibit. The fact that the Museum of Ice Cream consists of almost no labels or information takes away the educational importance and the authenticity of objects usually found in a museum. In a New York Daily News article, about the Museum of Ice Cream, one customer claimed it was her “first time going to a pop-up show,” which in itself may say it all.