Get your cameras ready — Refinery29’s 29Rooms is back during New York Fashion Week to spark your imagination.
The highly Instagrammable experience, which leads guests through 29 rooms of art installations — thought-provoking and larger than life — this year is aiming to make people disconnect from technology and reconnect with their friends and themselves. Some installations, including a dance club room, will have you put away your phone so you can truly enjoy the experience.
We spoke with Piera Gelardi, the co-founder and executive creative director of Refinery29, about this year’s 29Rooms and what you can expect from the Brooklyn spectacle.
What inspired this theme, “Expand Your Reality”?
We were inspired to do [this] theme because we’re living in a really fast-paced, chaotic environment right now and people often can get stuck in their own routines, patterns and bubbles. With this experience, our goal is to expose people to new ideas and artists, and give them a space for exploration. We are giving people permission to play, open their minds and discover whole new worlds.
We hear from people coming away from the experience that they feel really inspired and that it’s time for them to start dreaming bigger. We wanted to lean into that.
What are some highlights people should look forward to during this year’s 29Rooms?
We have a phone-free experience that aims to center or tap people into their senses. We want to connect people with each other and make them present in the moment.
We’re also having an artists in residence space, where New York City-based artists will do drop-in classes for people, including body paint, gestural, photography — different forms of art. It’s an experiment for us.
We have a little dance club we’re doing with House of Yes. When you’re in line to go into a club, a lot of times it feels exclusive. This dance club is all about self-expression, connecting people and making people feel really free to let loose. People will be able to get glitter makeup while in line and there will be a bunch of different performers from the House of Yes, including drag queens, encouraging everyone who goes in to just dance and not use their phone until the end of the experience.
A portion of the tickets are going to the ACLU, but we also have a room that is fun and unexpected. It’s inspired by 1970s game shows, but it’s recontextualized as a tool to learn about your rights. It’s called, (speaking in a game show voice) ‘KNOW YOUR RIGHTS!’ There’s a spinning wheel, too. Where it lands, you’ll learn about your rights in different scenarios.
There is a room with Hoodwitch (a website for the “modern mystic”). It looks like a New York City psychic storefront and when you enter, there is a crystal cave with crystal altars focused on setting intentions. And during the nighttime sessions, there will be a tarot reader circulating the event.
And what about these nighttime sessions? This is new.
In L.A. we experimented with this. It’s called the “Starlight Session,” where in New York City you’ll have half the number of attendees for a more intimate experience. There’s a Smirnoff bar, catering of light bites, DJs and performers throughout the space. It’s meant to be more of a party and theatrical experience. 29Rooms is always morphing and evolving.
It seems like a huge undertaking.
It’s a beast of a project. We started planning in November. We have a dedicated team that works on it year-round, and we get into the warehouse a month before and start building. We took the New York City exhibit last year to L.A. and Chicago, so not only have we been working on this all year but we’ve been putting on other events. It’s such a wild event to work on; it’s so multifaced and has so many collaborations and many ideas within it.
Speaking of collaborations, why is it important to use local artists in 29Rooms?
We’re very audience focused, so we want to expose people to new things and we want to do it only with locals because . . . every city has its own creative life force and hometown pride. Being able to discover an artist you can continue to check out in your city is a powerful thing.
What is it about being immersed in 29Rooms?
A big part of our experience does draw people back to a childlike state. They have permission to play and they’re encouraged to open their minds, let down their armor and be in this free space of discovery. I think so many of us have been wounded in our creativity so we’ve blocked ourselves off from that as we become adults. What we hear from people as they walk away is that they’re feeling transformed, inspired and feel awoken.
But it’s not just about play, you have some serious topics within the rooms, too.
Every year 29Rooms is centered around topics that our audience is really interested in, like women and finance — how to be more in control of your finances. We always start with looking at topics readers are resonating with. Hoodwitch is involved because our readership really has become more interested in crystals, wellness and astrology. Another room is about voting. We thought about the midterm elections. Everything is coming out of our content.
Open for only eight days, 29Rooms will take in guests in three-hour time slots on Sept. 6-9 and Sept. 13-16. It’s open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. at 588 Baltic St., Brooklyn, with the 7 to 10 p.m. slots reserved for “Starlight Sessions” on Fridays and Saturdays.
Tickets are $40-$130 at eventbrite.com.