Experiential Space Overview and Examples
By their very nature, experiential art spaces and museums are sui generis - each is unique, and caters to its own particular audience in its own particular way. However, by looking at a range of such spaces which have been successful in the past, we can discern several core principles of well-designed immersive art spaces, despite their differences. By looking at the history of these spaces, we can also see how they launched and became successful. Some experiential art spaces that we have looked at for this project are the Museum of Ice Cream and Color Factory, as per your request, but also Tidal, the Cheetos Museum, the Museum of Feelings, FX Legion, Refinery 29, and Kiehls X Zoolander.
In examining these spaces, we noticed that most of them had a roughly similar series of steps involved in their creation and growth.
1. Define the target audience and the desired takeaway from the experience. Other art spaces frequently create a space and then see what audience it attracts - contemporary, experiential art spaces tend to do the opposite, because in an experiential art space the audience participates in the creation of the experience.
2. Weave the story based on the desired audience. Successful experiential art spaces considered what people would be coming to it for and designed the narrative of the space with that aim in mind.
3. Bring a team together, including potential sponsors, which will be able to create and actualize this story.
4. Create a space which exhibits that story and allows the target audience to participate in it in a way that is intuitive and natural to them based on what you have already identified as their plan or purpose for coming to the space.
One further point that Mimi Banks, the co-director of London's Home Live Art, makes in her article for The Guardian is that because experiential art spaces are based on audience actions, their creators cannot simply lay down a way the art is intended to be appreciated and expect the audience to fall into line. Rather, they must be extremely flexible with the way that the audience will participate because each person will approach the art differently. The timing of the space must allow for people to go at different paces, and participate to different degrees. To be successful, she stresses, experiential art must give the audience the ability to create an experience for themselves if and how they want to, rather than laying down what sort of experience the curator wants them to have.
With all that in mind, let's look at four case studies of particularly successful experiential art spaces: The Cheetos Museum, Tidal, the Museum of Feelings, and 29 Rooms, examining how each of them got started, and what steps they took to become successful.
the cheetos museum
The Cheetos Museum began not with a plan for a museum or art space, but by noticing a social trend. John Cetera, the Senior Director of Marketing Communications at Frito-Lay North America (Frito-Lay being the parent company of Cheetos) explains that, "We noticed that on Instagram and other social platforms, people were posting images of Cheetos that looked like other things". From there, the Cheetos marketing team realized that there was a significant audience for a space showcasing strangely-shaped Cheetos.
They began with a digital concept, creating a microsite for "The Cheetos Museum", which was promoted through the company's social media accounts. This microsite hosted various pictures and videos of strangely shaped Cheetos submitted by the public in exchange for the opportunity to win cash and other prizes. This micro site became incredibly popular, and was featured on both the 'Jimmy Kimmel Live!' show and NBC's 'Today' show.
Following the tremendous success of the virtual concept, Cheetos decided to open an actual, physical museum as a pop-up in New York City, and has now partnered with 'Ripley's Believe it or Not!' to display Cheetos art in their physical space, also in New York. The concept was enormously successful - the Cheetos website received 1.47 million views in the month after the campaign launched, a 525% increase from their previous monthly average. They also achieved 4,831 media placements including the two TV appearances noted earlier.
In 2017, the city of Sydney, Australia asked a group called Hatch to, "Create an inspirational story that communicates the transformational redevelopment of Sydney’s Quay Quarter." for the 'Vivid Sydney' exhibition. Though the experiential space they created is very different from the Cheetos Museum, they actually began in the same way: by looking to a potential audience and what was important to them. Hatch realized that they needed to capture the things that people loved about Sydney and bring that into their exhibition to show how the redevelopment project was connected to those things. They reflected on Syndey's relationship with water (instrumentally connected with the Quay Quarter as a shipping center) and the weather. They realized that both of these things, which they describe as, "part of Sydney's DNA" also represented continual change and renewal.
Following this reflection, Hatch made a plan to take 100 years worth of tidal, sun, moon, and water temperature data from Sydney Harbor, and used that as the basis of an immersive data visualization. They hoped to create a 3D audio soundscape capturing the sounds of key places in Sydney - the Harbour, the Woolhouses, the Harbour Bridge, and of course the famous Sydney Opera House, as well as a visual representation of the data.
In order to do that, Hatch brought together a range of technologists involved in projection, data design, and audio composition to make the concept a reality. They found that a GhostMESH screen would be the best option for their project, and so created the largest outdoor one ever, despite the fact that this technology had never been used before in Australia. It was then tested in a large warehouse to ensure that everything would work as it should before being installed in the actual space.
In the end, Hatch created an exhibition they called "Tidal", which used both visual projection on the largest outdoor GhostMESH screen ever created and a 'binaural' soundscape to tell the story of the Quay redevelopment in such a way that it would provoke an emotional response. A series of narrators alternated with real historical audio recordings from key moments in the history of the Quay Quarter as participants moved through the physical space, all against the backdrop of the sounds of the water in Sydney, and a visual representation of the past century's worth of regional data. The project was so successful it was recreated four times after Vivid Sydney ended, across both Sydney and Melbourne.
We can see that in the creation of Tidal, Hatch first identified what parts of the story their desired audience could identify with emotionally, then considered how to draw those elements out, brought together a team capable of achieving that vision, tested their design off-site, and only then brought it in for participants to experience. This relates in some sense to the Cheetos campaign, which began with examining the potential audience, then testing, then full-blown digital and physical roll out.
The Museum of feelings
This project was another corporate outreach effort, this time on the part of Glade. It began with the realization that their target demographic - millennials - were so bombarded by messages and images, both from their friends and from advertisers, that they were all being devalued, a serious problem for an advertiser. Moreover, while other companies had aimed to engage millennials by creating experiences they could share online, "taking the same photo as 10,000 others is only so interesting". In response to these problems, they set out to create an engaging experience that would be unique to each user, but still possible to share on social media.
To this end, Glade secretly curated a Museum of Feelings, promoting the museum as a pop-up in New York and as an app, but not revealing who was behind it. Both the pop-up and the app made it possible for users to take "emotional selfies", which showed not just their image but also their mood, which had been detected by scanners, represented through colored rings. At the physical pop-up, there were a range of scent-related exhibits, with which visitors could not only experience different scents, but also see directly and immediately how their mood changed as a result of the scents. This showed how scent could provoke emotion, literally creating an emotional reaction to the story Glade wanted to tell. Only at the end of the experience was the sponsor revealed.
This was an enormously successful project - the physical space had 58,858 visitors, who spent an average of 37 minutes in the museum. They also garnered approximately 31,003 media placements, along with tremendous coverage on social media, all of which led to earned media impressions reaching over 892 million people - a remarkable success. Once again, we can see that the design of the space began by considering a target audience and what that audience was looking for, designing a concept that could actualize it, and allowing users to participate in that concept both in person and via social media.
Refinery 29 has created an immersive and fun museum called "29 Rooms", which features a creative approach to art and fashion, and received funding by including products from sponsors including Ulta and Clarins. Though 29 Rooms began in Brooklyn, NY it has since moved to LA. Unlike the other spaces we have looked at, 29 Rooms began with Refinery 29's 10th anniversary, and a look at the way that such a project could showcase the brand's achievements over that time, rather than directly starting with a need among a potential audience. Nonetheless, this project puts the audience right in the middle of the action, in a way which has proved immensely popular with both visitors and sponsors.
The museum is literally 29 rooms which participants can move through and explore. Piera Gelardi, the co-founder of Refinery 29, explains that, "29Rooms combines the interactivity of a funhouse and the cultural relevance of a museum but it’s also a museum where you can touch the art, punch the art, ride on the art, you can be the art. We really try to make a space where the guests that come through are center stage." So visitors are prioritized throughout the experience, and each is able to make his or her own decision about how to enjoy the experience. From an advertising standpoint this is perfect. As the general manager of Clarins, one of the main sponsors, notes, "his is the perfect opportunity to [reach out to millennial women], to talk to her, with her, and not at her. It’s also the perfect way for them to explore the brand and discover the brand."
The theme of the LA pop-up is "Turn It Into Art", which allows visitors to take a variety of objects (including the products of the sponsors, naturally) and use them to create their own art in and on each of the 29 rooms. This project has garnered over 500 million interactions on social media, a remarkable figure. The project has been so popular that Refinery29 began to sell tickets in 2017 because they had to cut down on wait times.
Though it may not have begun specifically with identifying an audience need, like Tidal, 29 Rooms has been successful because it interpreted the needs of its organizers and sponsors in a way that maximized its appeal to the target market, in this case millennials. It also shows how experiential art provides a fantastic opportunity for attracting sponsors as a way of providing funding, because the audience can engage directly with a sponsor's product in a way that simply is not possible in traditional art exhibitions.
These examples all highlight the centrality of audience participation in experiential art. In most cases, successful experiential art spaces begin with understanding the emotional needs and desires of the target audience and build everything else around that. It involves first designing a project which can appeal to that need, bringing in the team that can make it happen, testing the project either privately or through a limited initial roll out, and then finally unveiling it. From the standpoint of funding, these projects have been immensely popular, and garnered massive attention on both traditional and social media, making them perfect for potential sponsors. Further, as 29 Rooms shows, making a museum or art exhibition experience more approachable dramatically increases appeal and popularity, making ticket sales possible without suppressing turnout.