Can Immersive Art Remain Afloat When Money Is the Object?

Even as the pandemic takes its toll on tourism, immersive museums and experiential art centers are expanding to new cities and wooing investors willing to gamble on the future of the emerging industry.

Fotografiska wanted to introduce New Yorkers to a different type of museum when it opened in December 2019 in Manhattan, welcoming visitors to view photography exhibitions in a boozy clubhouse atmosphere complete with midnight D.J. sets and a restaurant run by a Michelin-rated chef. The coronavirus pandemic has brought an end to the party, but not to the Swedish company’s dreams of dotting the world with its for-profit museums. The franchise has announced plans for a fourth location, in Berlin.

Similar ambitions have fueled Meow Wolf, which over the last decade became a tourism juggernaut in Santa Fe, N.M. The immersive-art company welcomed a half-million visitors in 2019 into its psychedelic “House of Eternal Return,” with a giant marimba that resembles a mastodon’s rib cage. But an outbreak of Covid-19 cases among staff members forced the enterprise to close its facilities last year, resulting in layoffs for 200 employees. Despite losing half its work force, the company is barreling ahead with a $158 million investment, expanding its footprint with new locations in Phoenix, Washington, D.C., Denver and Las Vegas.

The public’s appetite for experiencing art in close quarters is already being tested. In Asia, teamLab said its 13 exhibition spaces remain open — for now — in Japan, China and South Korea, but they have seen a drop in audiences compared to pre-pandemic levels.

“We’re assessing our operations and plans with a long-term view,” said Marcy Davis, chief operating officer for Superblue, which plans to open in mid-March in a 50,000 square foot industrial warehouse featuring teamLab’s digital creations, among others. The company will initially operate the center at reduced capacity, Ms. Davis says, but she predicts continuing demand for immersive art.

“Because of the large population base in South Florida, including more than six million people in the Tri-County area, alone, Superblue Miami is not dependent upon fly-in tourism,” Ms. Davis added. “All signs indicate that there will be an increase in day trippers driving to Miami from throughout the region, as well.”

“Big picture, the public interest in these kinds of experiences and our artists is only growing, and will likely increase even more after this long period of lockdowns.”

But the sobering reality of a prolonged pandemic is starting to sink in for other proprietors in the experience economy. “It’s definitely not smooth sailing,” said Jim Ward, a chief executive officer for Meow Wolf. “I have no doubt that immersive experiences can survive the pandemic; they just might look a little different.”

“In a normal world — let alone a pandemic,” said Mr. Ward, “a social impact art project like ours that’s a nonprofit would not have a long shelf life,” arguing that business fuels artists’ creativity.

But members of the nonprofit museum world have doubts about the motivations of their for-profit counterparts, who are vying for the same audiences. “The return on investment for these spaces goes into the pockets of investors,” said Erika Sanger, executive director of the Museum Association of New York. “Nonprofits invest in the community.”

Sahred From Source link Arts

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