Written by Adrienne Gibbs for Forbes. Check out the original article here
As I walked into 29 Rooms – Refinery 29’s supercharged Insta-ready interactive art pop-up installation – I expected the experience to include dreamy landscapes , beautiful backdrops and poignant poetry. But I did not expect the rooms to include a be-crystalled astrology meditation chamber sponsored by popular astrologer the Hoodwitch, a mirrored room where you could write positive post it notes to your 80s inner child or an ACLU-sponsored room encouraging all who walk in to take part and be the solution instead of the problem.
The Chicago leg of the install, on the selling floor of the storied Chicago Board of Trade, featured 29 rooms of art and impact that made for pretty pictures but also made for insightful introspection. Marketed to the readers of the Refinery 29 website, this unique fan experience started out a one-off idea five years ago but has since turned into an annual affair that travels to several cities a year. After Chicago, Toronto, Dallas, Atlanta and Washington DC are next.
Many of the rooms touched on some part of personal development, social action or personal uplift. The rooms included the following:
- Dance Break, which included an actual pep squad doing real dances that matter right now.
- A Blind Date With Destiny, which included a mystical tipsheet on how to palm-read a person’s hand.
- A LONG LINE OF QUEENDOM In Collaboration with Unbothered: This installation features affirmations for black women and imagery of black women wearing golden robes and crowns.
- Make Your Mark, an exhibit that channels the spirit of Chance the Rapper’s SocialWorks philanthropy, wherein this space, you paint and color like you are a child again.
- A CONVERSATION WITH YOUR INNER CHILD In Collaboration with Carlota Guerrero: That before-mentioned post-it note art exhibit anchored by humanistic sculpture.
Refinery’s Piera Gelardi walked around some rooms with me and talked me through this year’s strategy. Here is what else she had to say.
ASG: What’s different this year?
PG: We really lean more into interactive experiences that connect people in this space. That was (from) a piece of feedback that we heard last year from our audience that they love the experience but they’re looking around, they’re seeing a lot of other interesting, creative-looking people around them and they told us that they wanted more opportunities to meet people than to interact with people.
ASG: You have at least two rooms about mysticism or magic, plus a lot of social action. Astrology is a growing market for publications, and so are black women.
PG: It’s something that’s really popular in our content — everything about astrology , the moon, crystals. That’s something that’s really risen in the audience. So we try and bring that to you. Our other platform, that is by and for black woman, is something new that’s really resonating with our audience so we knew we wanted to create space for that within the show.
ASG: I liked the art component. I painted for nearly 20 minutes.
PG: Creativity is really are our right and it’s something that’s part of our humanity. So we want to create this space kind of gives you permission to explore creative expression. And also democratize what that means like the types of artists that we work with.
ASG: You have a nice intersection of branded, socially conscious content here – in the form of a pop up. How did you do that without it being considered cheesy or uncool?
PG: Our philosophy around branded content on Refinery is the same as it is here: Create branded content that is connected to what our audience is looking for, that is connected to our values, that is connected to the way that we express ourselves. (When creating this pop up) I always think of it as a Venn diagram of what do they stand for. What do they want to promote and then what do we stand for?
ASG: You even found a way to make financial wellness an interactive, “cool” exhibit that is fully Instagrammable.
PG: You know we do a ton of financial wellness content content. One of our most popular series is where people are documenting their spending very candidly. We see a lot of success with salary stories and things about negotiation, saving etc. So we have a room with Prudential that basically a game learning about money. So it’s almost it’s a group experience… It’s like cracking the code to financial wellness as people are going into the room. They have a team and they have to like crack this code by finding these secrets in their room and the faster they do it, the faster they get to retire.
ASG: What do you learn from your readers as they interact with 29Rooms?
PG: It’s like an incubation lab too because each time —I mean we’ve done over 100 rooms at this point— each time in each one of those is a little experiment to see what resonates. And then we can take that and build that out in the digital world. We were creating other events and we’ll sort of use those insights to inform what it is that we’re creating next time.