Museum founder who painted protest signage accused of mistreating Black employees

The CEO and founder of the Museum of Ice Cream has come under fire for allegedly engaging in a cheap act of performative activism amid protests against police brutality and systemic racism toward the Black community. 

On June 8, Maryellis Bunn took to Instagram to share a photo of a protest signage she had painted on the museum’s facade in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood. The message begins with “I SCREAM FOR …” and lists the names of several Black Americans whose deaths sparked uproar, including George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Breonna Taylor. The list also includes Ahmaud Arbery, whose name was incorrectly spelled out as “Ahmed Arbery.” 

“Today we stood outside MOIC NYC and asked our community what they are screaming for, then I started to paint,” Bunn captioned the post. 

Yet, many users — and former employees at the museum — took issue with the post, accusing her of taking part in a stunt to gain attention and alleging that Bunn had mistreated many of her Black workers. 

“You couldn’t have taken a few seconds to spell check the names?” one commenter asked. “Some serious virtue signaling happening, and in very poor taste. Yikes.” 

“Next time you want to use the brutal murders of [Black] people + poc: don’t!” another cautioned. 

One former employee, Madison Utendahl, was more blunt in her criticism of Bunn, asserting that the CEO had made disparaging remarks during Utendahl’s time at the museum. 

In her response to Bunn’s post, Utendahl alleged that the museum founder repeatedly referred to an “imaginary ‘poor performing’ assistant” as “Shaniqua” and that there was only one Black person — Utendahl herself — on the team. 

“We have not spoken since the day I resigned from [the] Museum of Ice Cream, and I have remained respectful (and quiet) in that year and a half,” Utendahl wrote. “In that time, I’ve watched Museum of Ice Cream succeed, and I feel proud of that success, as I know I played a part in its origin story. However, I find this post alarming, as it does not call attention to — nor make any acknowledgement of — the many alienating behaviors and microaggressions that I, a [Black] woman, experienced under your leadership.” 

Another former employee who worked at the museum’s San Francisco location — identified only as Imani on Instagram — similarly voiced concerns over Bunn’s behavior. 

“Employees of color were constantly overlooked in this location,” Imani wrote. “There was a bias and many people here felt it. It’s also a reason many of us left. It took WAY too long for a person of color to be scoop of the month when there were many deserving of the title.”

Other commenters were quick to call out Bunn for deleting comments that seemed to paint her in a negative light, challenging her to instead address the backlash head-on. 

“The community is screaming for you to stop posting performative crap like this when you treat your [Black] employees like they don’t matter,” one person wrote. “And then deleting comments from [Black] people who are critiquing you? That further proves that you aren’t willing to do the work that it takes to be anti-racist.”

Bunn has yet to directly respond to the widespread denunciation, but one thing did change. The following weekend, the signage was painted black with the names of the victims, spelled correctly this time. 

The museum founder is one of many who have been accused lately of trying to capitalize off of the Black Lives Matter movement. YouTube personality Jake Paul, for instance, was recently accused of trying to take credit for an NAACP fundraiser. Several micro-influencers have also been called out for staging photo shoots in front of looted buildings. 

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