Emily Chu’s Take on Contemporary Museums


Courtesy of Abbey Pan

Writer Emily Chu poses in front of an exhibit at Wndr Museum.

Emily Chu, Op-Ed Editor

As an artist and a product of Gen Z, I’d like to consider it in my genes to find those “artsy” and “Instagrammable” places to visit every time I travel. In the past year, I’ve come across the perfect activity (installation? tourist attraction?) that merges both my creative side and my basic teenager side: Interactive Museums. Hopefully, at the end of this article, you’ll not only have a better understanding of what that means, but also a new item on your bucket list. Here is a list of the best (albeit only) Interactive Museums I’ve visited:


1. Color Factory

Courtesy of Abbey Pan

Where?  251 Spring St, New York, NY 10013

Cost: $38 for GA, $28 for kids 3-12, Free for children age 2 and under 

Tickets must be purchased online, under 18 must be accompanied by at least one adult

Walking into the color factory, my cousin and I were greeted with a wall of Pantone descriptions with one of the installations already peeking out as we waited in line—a rainbow of four-foot-long paper slips hanging from the ceiling, welcoming us into a new reality. While we were waiting, a woman prompted us to choose from an array of ice cream mochi to munch on. The total wait time was short, and once we were let in, the majority of the exhibit was a blur of hues and photo ops ending at the most coveted baby blue ball pit. There, we were once again greeted with a free scoop of cotton candy ice cream matching in both color and shape to the balls floating in the neighboring sea of blue. Ending our experience, we were left to choose a souvenir to leave with, and I’m proud to say my lemon-shaped stress ball is still hanging on my keychain to this day for those “when life gives you lemons” times. 

Total Time: About 1 1/2-2 1/2 hr depending on how long you spend taking pictures or playing in the ball pit.

Interactiveness: Fairly picture-oriented, however, there were activities such as a quick color study and sketch to describe your partner from across a glass divider or the ball pit at the end that was worth noting.

“Instagrammability”: Very, there were so many different color palettes within each part of the exhibit, and the ball pit was by far the best place for pictures in terms of most recognizable and best lighting.

Food? Yes, it added to the experience for certain activities and was a nice bonus, but not the main focus.

Photocard? Yes, photocards provided at the beginning allowed my cousin and I to take photos with each other without having to ask someone else to take them. Plus, they were free to download to our phone after!

Souvenir? Yes, free multicolored button pins in the beginning and a choice between three options at the end for a free souvenir.

Overall rate: 8/10 



2. Museum of Ice Cream

Courtesy of Lucy Sha

Where? 1 Grant Ave. San Francisco, CA 94108 (additional New York location)

Cost: $38 GA, $29 for groups of 10+, Free for children age 2 and under

*cost for NYC location is $39 and no offer for groups larger than 10

Tickets must be purchased online only

While I was in California for college visits, I discovered this spot for my family and me to explore. When we first arrived everything, and I mean everything, was pink. We entered into the world of ice cream via a small (did I mention pink?) slide and were promptly directed to have an ice pop while we waited to be let into the actual exhibit. Once inside, we passed through each of the ten exhibition spaces ranging from a 70s themed diner (again, very pink) all the way to the finale at the giant rainbow sprinkle pool with, you guessed it, another bubblegum pink slide. Throughout the tour we were served macarons, handfuls of strawberry candy, and even dessert fries at the diner consisting of angel food cake “fries” and red velvet icing “ketchup”. I left the exhibit stuffed with sweets and plenty of failed Boomerangs from the sprinkle pool to be posted later for the ‘gram.

Total Time: 1-2 hr depending on the wait time in the beginning and how long you spend at the giant sprinkle pool.

Interactiveness: If you count eating under this category then very. Aside from that the sprinkle pool at the end was by far the most memorable and worthwhile activity within the exhibit.

“Instagrammability”: Because most of the museum was based on the theme of ice cream, the photo ops were slightly hindered by the overpowering pink everywhere causing a lack in “fresh” lighting.

Food? Yes! Come ready with a sweet tooth.

Photocard? Similar to the color factory, the Museum of Ice Cream had photo cards available for free as well.

Souvenir? Aside from the free food and photos? None.

Overall rate: 6.5/10


3. Wndr Museum

Courtesy of Abbey Pan

Where? 1130 W. Monroe St. Chicago, IL 60607

Cost: $32 GA, Free for children age 2 and under

Tickets bought both online and at the door

While visiting my cousins in Chicago, the Wndr Museum had popped up on my to-do list. Having admired Yayoi Kusama’s work since sophomore year, when I found out that one of her renowned infinity rooms were showing at the museum, I knew I had to go check it out. The exhibits themselves were similar to the other museums I’ve been to, but this museum differed in the unique activities such as a personal poem written for you on the subject of your choice, a video recording booth to show off your secret talent, and a waterlight graffiti room. Out of all of the museums, this was one of the more well-rounded ones with outstanding art installations, a wide variety of photo spots, and a connected feeling to the museum and those around you. 

Total Time: 1-2 hr with little wait time in the beginning since tickets are available at the door

Interactiveness: Pretty interactive. A good mix of picture places and activities.

“Instagrammability”: High. It had all types of photo ops in the lobby for starters as well as illusion rooms, a black and white room, and a room with a veil of cascading string lights hanging from the ceiling. It’s important to note that while the infinity room looks cool in photos, we were only allowed in the room for one minute, we had to wear shoe covers, and because it is 6 people at a time, other people were reflected in the mirrors in my pictures.

Food? None

Photocard? None

Souvenir? Personalized poem

Overall rate: 8.5/10


4. 29 Rooms

Courtesy of Aaron Chu

Where? Skylight at the Chicago Board of Trade Building, 141 W Jackson Blvd Suite 400A, Chicago, IL 60604 (only available for 10 days in the summer) (other upcoming locations at  LA and NYC)

Cost: $30 GA, $10 for children age 3-10

Tickets bought online only

I was lucky enough to be in Chicago during the time of the 29 Rooms pop-up exhibit by Refinery29. As a traveling exhibit, my cousin and I entered the Board of Trade building into a large warehouse space with 29 smaller exhibits or “rooms” set up. Each room was uniquely different than the next and by far the most interactive of the museums. There was an escape room, a palm reading room, social justice art installations, and even a 29 questions room where we got to interview strangers. There was art dedicated to women empowerment and a DIY art corner where my cousin and I spent almost half an hour competing to make a still-life of flowers and fruit out of Washi tape. As much as there was to do, the only complaint we had was that we didn’t have enough time to fully visit and experience everything.

Interactiveness: Extremely. Definitely the most interactive with things to do besides just taking pictures.

“Instagrammability”: Pretty Instagram worthy. Even though there were a lot of activities to do, each room was still a beautiful work of art and design that made for some great photos.

Food? They had a cocktail and concession area where people could purchase food and drinks, but everyone was too busy exploring the rooms to notice.

Photocard? No, but they did have staff members offering to take photos and a backdrop at the entrance with staff taking free pictures for you.

Souvenir? Only for purchase and they were quite pricey

Overall rate: 9/10



5. Museum of Illusions

Courtesy of Emily Chu

Where? 77th 8th Ave New York, NY 10014

Cost: $20 GA, $18 for Students/Seniors/Military with ID, $15 for children age 6-13, Free for children under 6

Tickets bought both online and at the door

My most recent trip to New York led to a last minute decision to visit the Museum of Illusions after lunch at the nearby Chelsea Market. On the advice of a friend who had previously gone, I took five of my friends to the museum expecting to be wowed by the illusions and left with some optical illusions photos for the ‘gram. We bought tickets at the door and once inside, like the other museums, it was a self-guided tour. Each art installation was much smaller with less focus on the art and more focus on the concepts of illusion that it was trying to showcase. The museum is two floors, and while there were some interesting illusions—a head floating in a box, a room where one person looked like a giant when standing on one side, and a mirrored area where it looked like you were playing poker with five other versions of yourself—the museum overall didn’t really have the same “wow factor” as the other museums. Nonetheless, we enjoyed our time there playing around with each illusion and were left with a couple of mind-bending photos.

Interactiveness: Very. Since it was all about the illusions, every art installation required you to change your perspective and think about the piece.

“Instagrammability”: Honestly, it was only alright. The pictures turned out cool, but only because some were illusions.

Food? None.

Photocard? None, but there was staff there who helped explain the best way to take the photos to get the illusion.

Souvenir? None, but there were some brain teasers for purchase out front.

Overall rate: 5/10


*Bonus!* My dad in the sprinkle pool at the Museum of Ice Cream:

Courtesy of Emily Chu