Research Outline

Pop Up Museums


To identify several pop-up museum/experience case studies, including attendance, visitor profile (age, gender), and motivations/expectations for the pop-up museum experience. Further, to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the pop-up museum experience, including how the physical environment may have changed as a result of the pandemic (e.g., sanitation, mask requirements). This information will be used to support a pitch deck for a pop-up museum in New York City.

Early Findings

Pop-Up Museums

  • A pop-up museum is a temporary exhibit or experience focused on novelty and innovation, designed to encourage patrons to engage with the experience and topic
  • The pop-up museum is defined by several attributes, often offering a temporary (or time-sensitive) experience, located in an easy to reach, highly trafficked, and unique location, and providing a novel experience that is often intended to be "Instagrammable" for the "selfie generation".
  • Pop-up museums may move from location-to-location, but may also be an exhibition hosted outside of a traditional museum, or even a short limited-time show.
  • Newer pop-up museums, such as the Museum of Ice Cream, Museum of Pizza, or Museum of Selfies, are often "multiple, room-scale installations to create distinct experiences for their guests."

Museum of Ice Cream

  • The Museum of Ice Cream is a frequently-studied case study demonstrating the success of pop-up museums.
  • Launched in 2016, the museum's mission is to "transform concepts and dreams into spaces that provoke imagination and creativity."
  • In its first three years of operation, the museum hosted over 1.5 million visitors in its New York location, including prominent celebrities, such as Katy Perry and Beyonce. The company sold 30,000 tickets during its first week of operation.
  • The museum also emphasizes its focus on inclusivity: "MOIC is designed to be a culturally inclusive environment and community, inspiring human connection through the universal power of ice cream."
  • At a ticket price of $39 (New York) and $38 (San Francisco), the museum offers various sensory experiences. The New York location highlights the sweets in the "Oh Yeah" room, soaking in the colors of the "Rainbow Tunnel" and experiencing the "3-story slide" and "sprinkle pool.". The San Francisco location offers the opportunity to "taste exclusive scoops at our new Perfectly Pink Ice Cream Parlor", "reflect in the Infinity Mirror Pool" and also experience the "Sprinkle Pool."
  • The MOIC is designed for social media sharing, with the physical environment designed for picture-taking and sharing on Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook.
  • In 2016, the museum founders noted the target was "all ages", with psychographic consumer profiles in focus. Fred Schoenberg, a MOIC partner (Tinder), noted in 2016 that "the museum is for people who are passionate about ice cream, art, and interesting experiences."
  • Brand strategy expert, Lisa Cork, says the museum target audience is clear: "Young, social media savvy, there to be seen and capture the experience as shareable moments on their Instagram feeds."
  • Referred to as the "Millennial Walt Disney", founder Maryellis Bunn focused on younger generations (particularly under 25) in developing the concept. Bunn commented on the visitor demographic in January 2020: "While the museum is certainly family-friendly, its biggest demographic is women ranging in age from their teens to early 30s
  • The museum has also maximized merchandising opportunities through several brand partnerships, including ice cream and clothing sold through Target, and makeup through Sephora.
  • MOIC currently has 427,000 Instagram followers (2,368 posts) and 84,141 Facebook followers. They have received positive reviews from respectable publications such as Business Insider ("Museum of Ice Cream is a Willy Wonka factory come to life that you won't want to leave") and consumers ("This place is so cute, tasty, and filled with positive vibes").
  • The MOIC closed during the COVID-19 pandemic (offering activities such as virtual ice cream making classes), but is now open with increased precautions. They note that "the safety and health of our guests is our top priority and we will work with you to ensure that your time at MOIC is comfortable, stress-free and FUN."
  • Key safety precautions include social distancing (6 feet of space between groups), handwashing, mandatory facemasks and gloves, groups of 10 or fewer, and temperature-taking. They also plan to deep clean the premises, including disinfection in accordance with CDC and EPA regulations.

Color Factory

  • The Color Factory opened in 2017 in San Francisco (with an additional New York location).
  • An experiential museum positioned as "an interactive exhibit that celebrates the discovery, serendipity and generosity of color", the museum has been described as a "playland, funhouse, museum, night club, and photo studio all in one."
  • The pop-up museum in San Francisco was intended to run for one month, though was ultimately extended to 8 months (over which time 170,000 visitors attended the exhibit). The museum is currently in New York City and Houston. Admission is $38.
  • Some of its features included an oversized "Lite-Brite", 10,000 multi-colored ribbons hanging from the ceiling, a room filled with confetti, and a swimming pool filled with balls (the most "Instagrammed" room in the museum).
  • The museum notes they collaborate with "artists, illustrators, designers and makers, local food vendors and non-profits."
  • While no direct demographic profile was uncovered, the company highlights the "Instagrammable" focus of the museum, and its profile picture on Facebook highlights a younger, diverse audience. One review of the New York location notes the museum is good for all ages.
  • Having also closed during the pandemic, the museum notes their "world-class" facilities team and safety procedures as they begin to reopen. Numerous specific procedures are emphasized on their website relating to sanitation, exhibit changes (such as Plexiglas and one-directional exhibit experiences), guest capacity and flow, and employee standards. Their Facebook site notes the "state-of-the-art air purifiers" being installed in their Houston location.
  • The museum currently has 282,000 Instagram followers and 1,395 posts.


  • Zerospace, an "immersive art experience" in New York City, is positioned as "the largest augmented reality sandbox in the world."
  • The museum has a daytime focus toward families with children of all ages, while the nighttime experience is positioned toward adults 18+.
  • The museum is an interactive, "immersive art playground showcasing a collection of large-scale installations from the world's leading new-media artists", including laser rooms, and a "Geodesic Dome Show."
  • The nighttime experience is a "full-on immersive theatre show with 15 actors." Zerospace positions this experience to guests (adults) as "You, the guest, are propelled into a new reality through an interdimensional portal being investigated by a covert government agency. Once you're on the other side, you're free to explore a world designed to help you take a deep breath, and lose yourself in the immersive power of art."
  • Zerospace closed due to COVID-19 and has yet to reopen. They have not posted anything on Facebook since March and their Instagram account notes they are "temporarily closed."
  • Ticket prices for the technology-driven experiential museum range from $25 to $50.
  • A relatively recent (2019) entrant into the pop-up museum segment, we did not uncover any attendance information. However, reviews were generally positive, including "This was a pleasant surprise. I had no idea what this was all about. We just bought tickets and went blind... We absolute loved it. Super chill environment, great for older kids or a date... and there’s a bar!" and "So much fun! The kids had a blast! Loved the dome show!"


  • Founded in 2015, Artechouse strives to "Connect audiences of all ages to the arts and stimulate interest in the limitless possibilities of technology, science and creativity."
  • Their mission is to "INSPIRE, EDUCATE and EMPOWER the creation of new, experiential, and exploratory art forms."
  • They highlight a broad target audience: "Our exhibition programming is designed to appeal to all ages."
  • They have reopened with COVID-19 precautions, including sanitation measures, mandatory masks, physical distancing, pre-screening, and physical signage throughout the museum.
  • One post-re-opening reviewer notes, "social distancing in effect, friendly staff, amazing exhibits."

Consumer Drivers and Motivations

  • This article notes that pop-up museums have catered to a consumer desire for "novelty, a temporary sense of ‘blink and you will miss it’" as well as "something enticing, visually speaking, ideally with that selfie-friendly moment that so many Instagrammers long for."
  • An increased demand for experiences, especially among consumers in larger metro areas, has fueled the boom in pop up museums, which may include features such as "lavish artistic decor, interactive installations, and a whimsical theme (think candy, rose, or pizza)."
  • A key element of the experience of pop-up museums involves picture-taking and posting to social media. Color Factory founder, Jordan Ferney was highly aware of this key motivating factor among these consumers: "Recognizing her consumer’s needs to take pictures, Color Factory installed custom cameras on the walls and ceilings of the New York exhibit to help people take photos at opportune moments, hoping to untether people from their iPhones."

COVID-19 Impact

  • The museums we have profiled have all implemented numerous COVID-19 standards following re-opening, including signage, masks, gloves, sanitation measures, and one-way traffic flow.
  • However, it is clear that immersive museum experiences may find it more difficult to provide a similar experience given concerns around multiple people interacting with exhibits.
  • This article from the American Allegiance of Museums (AAM) notes the importance of the interactive elements associated with this type of exhibit: "Interactive objects can have a significant impact on visitor experience and understanding, changing how visitors relate to works and perceive museum spaces."
  • The AAM notes that innovation will be required to provide a similar experience, possibly including " incorporating modified educational programming, new safety protocols, and object-specific digital tools long-term." Some exhibits may need to be demonstrated by museum staff, while others may need to be roped-off, at least until the pandemic concludes.
  • Both the Color Factory and the MOIC laid off employees as the pandemic hit. Bunn, the founder of MOIC, notes that re-opening requires a reconceptualization of the museum during the pandemic and considers how to "design, build, finance, and create experiences" during COVID-19.
  • A European survey to uncover consumer sentiment toward visitation of attractions (including museums, though not exclusively pop-up museums) once they re-opened found that 17% of museum visitors said they would visit a museum "as soon as they can", while another 65% said they would "wait and see."
  • Younger consumers are more willing to embrace a museum experience, with 25% of those 26-35 reporting they would return to a museum "as soon as they can."
  • The ability to provide physical distancing is considered most important in terms of returning to any attraction, and 23% felt that museums would have difficulty with this safety aspect.

Summary of Early Findings

  • We found numerous examples of pop-up museums and experiences, as well as some information on attendance for several of the museums and intended target audiences.
  • While many of these "Instagram museums" are designed for younger participants, it appears that many of the museums are looking to expand their audiences more broadly, with families, younger and older children, millennials and adults in general noted as key target audiences for these museums.
  • Most of these pop-up museums were found in larger metropolitan areas.
  • Consumer drivers include the desire for unique, immersive experiences, that have the opportunity for "photo-ops" which can then be shared on social media.
  • COVID-19 has had an impact on museums in general. However, many of those profiled appear to be re-opening with strict safety protocols. It may be somewhat more challenging for these more immersive and interactive museums to operate normally during COVID-19, but consumers appear to be willing to participate if the proper protocols are in place.
  • Recommendations are based on findings in early research.