6 Immersive Exhibitions that Became Attractions

Skift Take

Blame it on virtual reality or the fact that video games are more “realistic” than real life nowadays, but crowds crave the escape into other worlds. They no longer want to just visit an exhibition. They want to be engulfed by it. Here are a few exhibitions that are doing just that.

Experiential events are quite the draw these days as attendees look for something unexpected in those they choose to partake in. The combination of limited travel budgets and increased expectations from the Internet (hey, watch this cool video of this cool event or read this cool article about this really cool place) have caused audiences to gravitate towards events that are producing amazing experiences. Ho-hum is out.

But events and conferences are temporary fixes for our seeming ever-growing desire for entertainment. We long to have more of what we enjoy, to be immersed in it, to escape our worlds and become a part of something different. That’s partly why movie-based exhibitions and immersive events have become popular attractions. 3D mapping projects and other technology have made these undertakings more possible and extraordinarily real.

Creating a World Could Become Really Big in Events

James Cameron’s movie “Avatar” created a world people were drawn to. Was it the dreamy colors used (after all, blue is the most popular color); the humanesque, yet foreign, look of the alien characters; or the spectacular eye candy of the world of Pandora? No matter, people talked about it for weeks and many people reported feeling depressed after viewing the movie because they could not visit the Utopian alien planet.   

Not anymore.

An Avatar exhibition, AVATAR: Discover Pandora, has now opened in Taiwan where Pandora becomes a “real” place and visitors can interact in a hands-on way to learn more about science and the wonder of Cameron’s 2009 movie world.

This is not the first exhibition inspired by a movie. You may remember another of Cameron’s blockbusters – Titanic – has also inspired several exhibitions and permanent exhibits across the world. But this AVATAR is not a museum-like experience dedicated to memorabilia of the movie. This exhibition is an experiential event, with actors playing roles, that immerses attendees into another world.

The exhibition sets up a story in its marketing copy which reads, “The artifacts and specimens presented here, curated by scientists from the RDA’s Avatar program, left Pandora more than six years ago to make the long journey to Earth. Now you can experience these unique discoveries for yourself and gain thought-provoking insights into the many ways in which Pandora reflects our own planet.”

The exhibit plans to roll out in other cities as well before the 2018 release of the first of four Avatar sequels. But this isn’t a one-off exhibition brought to you by extreme fans. There seems to be a growing desire for the ability to enter a world. We may see this taper off as virtual reality grows in popularity and availability but for now “world-hopping” seems to be extremely popular. Let’s take a look at a few more examples of it:

Shrek’s Adventure! London, UK

DreamWorks Tours Shrek’s Adventure! London allows visitors to become part of the action among costumed characters, captivating storytelling, DreamWorks animation, and eye-catching special effects. Guests can interact with their favorite characters as part of their tour.

The adventure begins with catching a 4D tour bus. Guests can be a part of 10 live fairy-tale themed shows, visit Shrek’s swamp, learn their fortune in a crystal ball, and much more. Each experience is different and primed to make your inner-child laugh with glee.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Florida, USA

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando in Florida not only boasts amazing settings and a train experience that is almost as cool as the movie, it hired most of its team members from the UK and quizzed them on their knowledge of the books and film. Universal wanted guests to have an “authentic” experience.

There are also interactive sites hidden throughout Diagon Alley where attendees can do magic with their hands. Visitors must buy a wand, which comes with a map that can only be read under the black light at Knockturn Alley. There they can see the locations and the words that need to be read. There are a lot of other surprises that lay in store for guests, as one would expect with a magical world.

Wonder Exhibition, Renwick Gallery: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC

Okay, so this exhibit doesn’t transport visitors to another world but it will leave many mouths agape. The Wonder Exhibit offers a little of the same magic of Harry Potter but it does it through art installations.

The exhibit transformed the entire art museum into an immersive artwork. Nine contemporary artists created installations inspired by Renwick that aimed at evoking joy, awe, and delight. There’s a magical quality to the works, especially the one with thousands of notecards piled up into several paper mountains.

Prison Escape: Dana Prison, Shrewsbury, UK

Immersive Events hosts an escape challenge from a real prison. Attendees/prisoners are dressed in prison clothing and locked in cells. It is then up to them to get out, navigate the guards, and other prisoners who may report the attempted escape. The first person who who makes it to freedom is declared the winner. Challengers can even decide to spend the night at the prison if they desire to.

SXSW: Bates Motel A&E, Austin, Texas

This temporary exhibition erected in a parking lot in 2015, allowed a limited number of visitors to SXSW to stay in the illustrious Bates Motel. A&E created a replica of the show motel just for the event. Elizabeth Luciano, Vice President of Marketing at A&E echoed a familiar sentiment when she said, “”We want our fans to feel like they are stepping inside Norma and Norman Bates’ world in a truly unique and innovative way.” (The show is a prequel to the movie Psycho so I’m not exactly sure why someone would want to immerse themselves in that experience but…).

In Conclusion

These exhibitions are not about walking through an exhibit. They transform attendees into participants in the story much the same way dinner theater events played to the audience. However, this isn’t your parents’ dinner theater show with a couple of “choose your own adventure” type endings.

These interactive exhibits transport guests to these worlds and they’re incredibly effective because they create a memorable experience and they prompt word-of-mouth marketing. In today’s Instagram world these exhibitions dare attendees to snap and post. While you may not be ready to create an experience to the proportion of these, adding an immersive quality to your events will prime the social media pumps to do your bidding and build excitement much the same way the crowds were drawn to the Quidditch World Cup.