Experiential/ Immersive Space Overview

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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.

29 Rooms

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.

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Experiential/ Immersive Space Opportunities

The age of the art patron is shifting. Instead of strolling through a museum to glance at ancient portraits or contemporary art, museum-goers can now participate and customize their art experience. Immersive or experiential museums have become wildly popular, especially among the millennial (ages 18-34) generation for their breathtaking displays.


The millennial generation is driving the way that art is consumed. This generation makes up $1.3 trillion of consumer spending, and most of that money is going toward experiences rather than material goods. This generation is pushing away from material goods and moving toward making memories.

Seventy eight percent of millennials say they would choose experiences over material things. However, millennials are not just saying this is what they would choose, they are actually choosing it. 82% of millennials have participated in live experiences and 72% said they would actually like to increase the amount of money they put toward those experiences. Millennial are also driving sales for events, because 60% of them share their experiences on social media, which presents the experience to a wider audience and causes others to want to participate.

Socioeconomic status

There are no hard statistics on what the socioeconomic status of the people participating in these experiences is. However, since the experiences are hugely influenced by social media, the socioeconomic status can be triangulated through those statistics.

For Instagram, 38% of those who make under $30,000 and 37% of those who make over $75,000 use Instagram. Twitter demographics show that 30% of people who make over $75,000 and 28% who make between $50,000 and $74,999 use Twitter.

From these statistics, it can be assumed that the target audience for immersive experiences are the middle to upper-middle classes. Another reason for this assumption is that the ticket prices for these experiences are not cheap. The Tate Modern charges $15.82 to $24.50 each for their tickets. The Museum of Ice Cream charged $29 for their installation in New York and $38 for their installation in San Francisco.


Gender is also a difficult demographic to pin down for these experiences, but social media demographics are also helpful for determining who these experiences may be catered to. Almost every social media platform is favored by women, since this is the case it can safely be assumed that women are the main, if not target, audience for these experiences. 83% of the users on Facebook are women and 38% of online women use Instagram versus 28% of men. The only platform where the users are almost equal men and women is Twitter.

Wonder, festival of lights & 29rooms

One such immersive art exhibit is Wonder at the renovated Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. "After opening, the Renwick Gallery quickly exceeded its previous annual visitation average, and saw more than 500,000 visitors and nearly 180 million social media impressions in its first six months. The reopening has engaged new audiences, especially millennials and young professionals, as reflected in increased social media activity." According to Amy Fox, Social Media Content Manager for the American Art Museum (SAAM) and Renwick Gallery, "the SAAM user tends to be curious, have a sense of humor, or be an expert who wants to know more".

"A study by Kelton Global goes as far as saying the definition of culture is changing and broadening so rapidly it might hold little significance in the future. For today's audiences, the definition of culture has democratized, nearly to the point of extinction. It's no longer about high versus low or culture versus entertainment; it's about relevance or irrelevance." This has led to a surge in Instagram artists and a phenomenon where the onlooker has a desire to be culturally relevant. At Yayoi Kusama's exhibition, "Festival of Life", Lucas Zwirner, the gallery's editorial director states, "There's an underlying sensitivity, authenticity and depth that I think lots of young people are attracted to," describing the persona of today's art-goer.

"According to an Eventbrite survey, 78 percent of Refinery29's mostly millennial woman audience prefer experiences above material things. More than half of 29Room's ticket buyers were millennials between ages 18 to 35, and 65 percent were women."


The new wave of art that allows people to experience art rather than just see it is driven by and for the millennial generation. Millennial spending drives the market and their propensity to share everything on social media promotes sales. Since social media is a huge part of these experiences, it can be assumed (through social media demographics) that the consumers of these events are middle to upper middle class women.
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Experiential/Immersive Art Space Financial Data

Extensive search of the public domain indicates that there is no granular data available regarding the cost of setting up a pop-up immersive art space. However, pop-ups are subject to the same building codes, regulations and permitting requirements as long-term leases. For this reason, all the standard costs of leasing a space must be considered, as must installation and constructions costs to design the space as required for the art installations. Information on ticket sales for Museum of Ice Cream (MOIC), 29Rooms and Color Factory was not comprehensive, but by combining available information and reasonable assumptions, we estimate the potential gross revenue for such spaces to be between $8M (MOIC) annually and $700,000 (29Rooms) per 3-day event.


Our research for costs associated specifically with experimental or immersive art pop-up spaces encompasses sources in the art industry, the construction industry, and mainstream media. We searched both for costs associated with specific pop-ups (the Rain Room installation, Museum of Ice Cream, 29 Rooms and Color Factory) as well as costs generally associated with such spaces, but neither of these research strategies generated granular data. However, we did find two up-to-date sources which analyze cost considerations for pop-up exhibit spaces and immersive art spaces, which we detail below.

Please note that, due to the financial information requested, we have focused our research on the most well-covered immersive pop-up spaces, as these tend to have the most granular information available (i.e., number of ticket sales or overall revenue data). It was not within the scope of this request to perform separate research for less-recognized, (specifically to fashion-related) immersive pop-up spaces; but we will be happy to dive more deeply into that particular segment as a separate request if you wish.


To estimate the average profit that an immersive space might generate, we have calculated the total cost of ticket sales for Museum of Ice Cream, Color Factory, and 29Rooms, when preexisting estimates of revenue were not available. We have used these particular examples because they represent the most well-known examples of 'Instagram' or 'selfie' immersive art pop-ups, as demonstrated by the frequency of their media coverage. Rain Room was excluded in this analysis because, though topically similar and frequently mentioned with the others, the exhibit is most often show in traditional museums, and its ticket sales are not independent of museum ticket sales.

Our research did find media mentions of brand sponsorship (ex: here and here), but it did not generate any data indicating how much those sponsorships have contributed to profit. For this reason, sponsorship was not included in our profit estimation.

Estimated revenue: $8M from mid-2016 to September 2017
MOIC doesn't disclose the number of ticket sales, but third-party sources indicate that it had generated more than $6M revenue from ticket sales as of May 2017. In addition, if it did sell 50,000 tickets to the San Francisco installation in August 2017 (the number of people waiting to buy tickets just prior to their release), the San Francisco showing was estimated to generate $2M potential revenue. Not including sponsorships, or other sources of income like private party fees, this puts its estimated gross profit at around $8M. Prior to the Miami installation in December 2017, more than 500K visitors had visited the installation. Ticket prices varied between $18 at the initial run in NYC and $38 in San Francisco later that year.

Estimated revenue: $719K per 3-day run
2017 was the first year that Refinery29 charged for admission to its 3-day immersive pop-up; general admission was $18, and after dark tickets were $85. Although there is no data available about the breakout between daytime and nighttime tickets, if we assume that the majority — we'll say two-thirds — of the 18,000 tickets sold in NY run were daytime tickets, we can estimate that the revenue for the NY run was at least $700,000. No information was similarly available about the number of tickets for the recent December 2017 LA run.
CALCULATION: (11,880 x 18) + (5,940 x 85) = 213,840 + 504,900 = $718,740 for the NY run

Triangulated revenue: $553K and $922K for a month's run
The August 2017 Color Factory run in San Francisco was $32 per ticket and sold out almost immediately. There was no information in the public domain about how many tickets it sold; however, third-party information indicates that it sells tickets by the half-hour, and is open 10am-10pm. If we assume that 30-50 people are allowed in a single group at a time, that would equal between $553K and $922K for a month's run. (Please note that the numbers 30-50 were an informed guess only, based on the data available for 29Rooms and MOIC).
1. [30 x 24 (available time slots)] x 6 (days a week) x 4 weeks = 17, 280 people
2. 17,000 people x $32 per ticket = $552,960 for a month's run, low end
3. [50 x 24 (available time slots)] x 6 (days a week) x 4 weeks = 28,880 people
4. 29,000 x $32 per ticket = $921,600, high end


As previously noted, hard data on the cost of setting up immersive art spaces was not available at a granular level. Our research discovered analyses of cost considerations from both the construction and art industries, which indicate that pop-ups are subject to the same construction permits and building code regulations as longer-term tenants.It should be noted that permits and licenses are variable at the state, city and county levels, both in terms of cost and requirements; this makes estimating the permitting cost unfeasible for the scope of this request.

Costs for the space can include: "rent, security deposit, internet, installation and de-installation, utilities (upgrades in heat and air conditioning may be required if the current setup is not adequate for art), furniture for the space, temporary smoke and alarm systems, and any prep work necessary to get the space ready...[other costs include]
staffing, insurance, cleaning, and signage."

Rent costs can vary considerably, all the way from full-service pop-up hosting sites like Parasol Projects in NYC ($2,500-6,000 per week) to a minimal amount negotiated for 'activating' an unused space. Lighting installations and all other modifications must adhere to construction regulations, which may necessitate the services of an architect and contractor. Unused or empty spaces might require considerably more upgrades. Refinery 29 noted that it 'kept costs down' by using its in-house crew when possible; but the creation and installation of the space still involved over 200 people.

Each of these pop-up examples benefited from viral social media and media coverage, so promotion costs at this level of consumer awareness are minimal. Color Factory went viral before its opening date, and MOIC sent out a single press release prior to its sold-out NYC opening. It was not within scope to research more than 3-4 installations for the level of detail requested, but we can reasonably assume that without viral status, the promotional costs might include press and media releases and their associated costs. Given the social media factor at the forefront of this type of art installation, it also seems reasonable to assume social media engagement would be a primary strategy for promotion; the costs therein would be largely associated with the breakout of paid versus native advertising.


To wrap it up: potential revenue for an immersive art space can range from $700K for a 3-day run to $8M or more for a year-long series of installations. Direct data on costs of installation, construction, leasing and promotion was not available, but existing analyses indicate that these cost can vary considerably.