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Meet Vincent van Gogh Experience

Retailtainment, museum pop-ups & more: LBE evolves

Location-based entertainment must move with the times and break down interdisciplinary barriers, says a leading industry expert

arnold van der water attractionsTECH

For over two decades, Arnold van de Water has been working as a promoter and producer in live entertainment and touring exhibitions. His experience ranges from venue development to large-scale festival organization and he frequently speaks at international conferences on the topic of entertainment, leisure, and real estate. Since 2005, he has been a partner at Factorr, a Netherlands-based company that produces, designs, and distributes experiences.

Blooloop caught up with Van de Water to discuss the rise of retailtainment, trends in immersive experiences, and his thoughts on where the location-based entertainment sector is heading. He also spoke about some of the projects he is most passionate about.

MuseumON & retailtainment

Factorr has worked on a range of impactful projects, such as Body Worlds Amsterdam and the Van Gogh Museum’s touring exhibition Meet Vincent van Gogh Experience. Last year, the company launched a project that is particularly close to Van de Water’s heart: MuseumON.

Meet Vincent Van Gogh retailtainment
Meet Vincent van Gogh Experience

“MuseumON is a service that engages visitors or passers-by, free of charge, in unexpected locations, with arts, culture, and science,” he explains. “It is a non-ticketed engagement that complements other leisure activities. Because of the rotating content, it gives incentives for recurring visits.”

We want to make art, culture, and science accessible. We see the need to make museums and collections more accessible, to reach all generations and make them enthusiastic about art.

By unexpected locations, he means high traffic locations like airports, train stations, shopping malls and other public spaces:

“It is all about bringing collections out of their traditional locations. There were two motivations for us to launch this project: first, we want to make art, culture, and science accessible. We see the need to make museums and collections more accessible, to reach all generations and make them enthusiastic about art.

“At the same time, there is a need to enrich places and locations: for example, shopping malls and city centres. Making places memorable requires activities and uses that stand out. You cannot be ‘the place to be’ just by locating the usual suspects in terms of usage, like catering, or shops.”

A new model

MuseumON allows Factorr to take some of the conversations around the topic of retailtainment and inclusivity, and put them to the test:

“Everybody is talking about change and MuseumON is a way to do this. We invite real estate developers and mall owners to go on a journey, to experiment, take leadership and be a trailblazer, to work on new business models that have a differentiating value.”

Two women stand in front of lit sign for MuseumON retailtainment

“The vision behind MuseumON was to do what everyone in the industry is talking about. I thought it’s time for action. For us, it’s not a commercial vehicle. It’s an opportunity to experiment, and to do so with institutional partners and real estate partners.

“It allows us to say ‘Let’s forget about everything, let’s forget about the status quo. And let’s try to bring something real, that you can use to connect with an audience that doesn’t come to a museum, or to reengage a crowd that is coming less and less to a mall or another unexpected public place. It’s a cultural activation where you make art and science accessible for maybe 20 minutes, a surprising encounter in an unexpected place.”

Successful retailtainment requires new ways of working

Van de Water says that he expects the trend for retailtainment to grow around the world, but that it requires some out-of-the-box, collaborative thinking:

“If retail spaces want to survive, they must embrace retailtainment. I see it as mandatory. We are living in eclectic times that make the boundaries between industries disappear. Everything has become much more fluid and retailtainment follows this trend. The best way to progress is to break from existing silos, learn from each other and look for synergies.”

If retail spaces want to survive, they must embrace retailtainment. I see it as mandatory.

“In retailtainment, we often find challenges that relate to having to find a common ground. People from real estate are not used to working with people from the leisure industry and vice versa. And they speak different languages. Square meters vs tickets. Spending volume vs storytelling. When you look closer at both industries, you see that they are talking about the same thing. Yet they have a different understanding of the world.

“For instance, both museums and shopping malls want to stay relevant for society. They want to be inclusive, they want to attract new generations. However, when you put those people together in the same room, they feel completely disconnected. They speak a different language, although they are facing the same issues.”

A holistic view brings new opportunities

Once these hurdles are overcome, Van de Water says that retailtainment offers a playing field on which everyone can take part.

“We are growing together. We are collaborating to find new forms of collaboration and identifying common ground to take advantage of the opportunities that these eclectic times offer. It is essential to build internal capabilities within real estate developers and mall owners to curate a leisure mix that goes beyond the usual suspects such as catering.”

Shopping mall retailtainment

“What you see sometimes is that malls have a fragmented budget, roles (leasing, marketing, events, mall management) and ownership. It is so important to have a holistic view and business model. We need to rethink the roles and responsibilities in real estate, where malls can also take the role of operator.”

The boom of the “experience”

The MuseumON project is reflective of Van de Water’s view that art should be more accessible, and museums should be more inclusive. One growing trend that seems to embody this mission is artainment. Speaking on this topic, he says:

experience economy book cover retailtainment

“I am positive about artainment. However, artainment and “experiences” seem to always be connected and I think it is important to be critical about what is labelled as an experience. I think the word experience has been devalued over the years because nowadays everything is labelled as an “experience”. The term has been used too much and, to me, it has lost its power.

“You need to take careful consideration to deliver a meaningful and memorable experience. You need to dive deeper and understand what an experience means. We, as an industry, have that responsibility.

“I like the work of Pine and Gilmore because they elaborate on how delivering a transformations experience requires applying a set of riles. I’d say that experience is a theoretical concept with many layers and aspects that need to be carefully considered.”

Technology and authenticity

Artainment uses a fusion of art and technology to create immersive experiences. However, Van de Water says that it is important that the technology does not become the focus of the attraction:

“Many times, the term is experience is used where is technology involved. I am a big proponent of technology; however, it will never replace a good story. I see technology as a means to an end but certainly not as an end in itself.

“I have my doubts about organizing so-called ‘experiences’ that revolve around winning the race of having the highest number of projectors or technologies. And this seems a growing trend in the industry. If you only focus on technology or overuse one element, it’s a race to the bottom. You can buy the most technology. But really it is about who has the most creativity and who creates the best story.”

klimt atelier des lumieres culturespaces artainment retailtainment
Artainment at Atelier des Lumières by Culturespaces

“Authenticity doesn’t originate from copying or overusing technologies.

“Sometimes, and this might sound like a bold statement, I find it striking to see that, in an industry that claims to be creative, we are so lazy. There are a few successful initiatives and then you see copies or similar projects everywhere. And, to me, that is the biggest threat in the industry. We all have peers and competitors, and I think that losing to a good competitor that has a differentiating concept is extremely positive. It means that we are growing as an industry in terms of what we are offering to the audience.”

A time of change

COVID-19 has had far-reaching implications and impacts, felt across the attractions industry and beyond.

“The pandemic has forced us to rethink our position in the world. And it has accelerated change, which is not a bad thing in the long term,” says Van de Water. “Digital programs that raised during the pandemic are here to stay. Now we have moved towards a hybrid world, where experiences happen in real life and digitally simultaneously.”

National Gallery Directors Choice
Screenshot from the National Gallery Director’s Choice virtual tour

“This can result in an extended visitor journey that creates opportunities to interact for a longer time with your audience. An example of how the pandemic has accelerated these hybrid initiatives is the case of the National Gallery Director’s Choice tour, creating a digital viewing space on the platform created by Moyosa Media, to engage with people that cannot visit their collections offline.

“In a different context, if you look at Belgium-based festival Tomorrowland, they started creating mixed-reality streaming. Because of COVID, they were forced to do streaming only events. But this ended up being a permanent revenue stream, even when physical get-togethers have returned.”

Hybrid attractions and cross-sector collaboration

Audiences are more used to digital interactions than ever. But at the same time, post-COVID, people are also demanding memorable, real-life experiences after being in lockdown for long periods.

“People are hungry for these experiences,” says Van de Water. “They need interaction. They want to share a moment with others, be out there in the world, learn something new, explore.”

Retailtainment is here to stay and to make it happen, we need to adapt and upgrade our ways of working. If you want to become a true destination, you need to think about mixed-use.

We’re now likely to see more ‘phygital’ experiences, a hybrid of physical and digital: 

“When museums were closed, operators realised they needed to be digitally fit, in order to connect with their audience. And this digital fitness then becomes interesting because you can create something like an extended visitor journey. You can connect the digital experience to the physical experience, and it can become something more.

Going forward, post-pandemic, Van de Water says a lot of these changes will be here to stay.

“You need to be adaptive and willing to be brave, something that we have seen during COVID-19. What I see and hope is that we continue cross-sector collaborations. Retailtainment is here to stay and to make it happen, we need to adapt and upgrade our ways of working. If you want to become a true destination, you need to think about mixed-use. You need to think about combining activities like arts, culture, science, or retail.”

The rise of interaction

On the topic of interaction and personalisation, Van de Water says this trend is a reflection of changes in the wider world.

“When we think about interaction, this is caused by the changing media landscape. All kinds of media forms are increasingly giving agency to the user. Linear TV is dying but streaming is growing. Gaming creates endless possibilities to be a character in your own world and we see more and more ‘choose your own adventure’ type of games.”

Playstation controller gaming

“The gaming industry is creating these worlds where users have endless possibilities and storylines. The interaction is then almost a co-creation with the user. Now, when you talk about physical experiences or tourist attractions, those visitors are also demanding this kind of technology or this kind of thinking, instead of just being served with a text panel.

“People want to know more, and they also want to have influence and control what they’re going to see and experience.”

Retailtainment enriches locations through arts and culture

Factorr has been producing, designing, and distributing experiences since 2005. During this time, the company has worked on executing business strategies in arts, culture, and entertainment. It has experience in projects ranging from venue development to large-scale festival organization.

“Our passion is to enrich locations such as retail environments, real estate developments or cities through arts, culture, and entertainment,” says Van de Water.

The company’s services focus on three main pillars. These are, firstly, the creation of experiences: producing, designing, and managing attractions, entertainment, and activations. Secondly, it also provides placemaking services. This adds value to retail environments, retail estate developments and regions through arts, culture, and entertainment.

Lastly, Factorr also distributes IP, providing and distributing a catalogue of turn-key experiences that connect producers, content owners.

Hybrid Meeting Floor retailtainment
Hybrid Meeting Floor

Speaking about some of its recent projects, which includes work on Body Worlds Amsterdam and the Thea Award-winning touring Meet Vincent van Gogh Experience, Van de Water says:

“We have recently worked on the Hybrid Meeting Floor project at Deloitte. This transformed a 1000-square-metre office/meeting environment into a futuristic lab setting. This enticed employees to engage with 10 high-tech experiments to explore ways to adopt hybrid working. At the moment, we are working on very exciting projects with various large real estate developers and landowners.”

The power of storytelling in placemaking

One such project is Koelhuis in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Here, Factorr is collaborating with the real estate developer Bakkers Hommen to revitalize a large former cold store.

“Funnily enough, Koelhuis also means “Cool House” in Dutch,” says Van de Water. “This project is a springboard for international and local talent to present an eclectic mix of exhibitions, experiences, nightlife events, all in the same place. We plan to create a place, in this highly commercial environment, where urbanism, entertainment, and art flow through the building and interact with each other, 24/7.”

“At Factorr, we truly believe in the power of immersive storytelling to transform audiences, to deliver business value and, very importantly, to make a positive social impact. Our motto is ‘magic starts with cross-overs’ and that is the way we make it happen.

“We are a diverse team of people with different cultural, educational, and professional backgrounds. In our work, we love learning from each other and from the projects we work on. As part of our vision, we also believe in the value of mixing disciplines and industries. So, we are constantly working in that area.”

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charlotte coates

Charlotte Coates

Charlotte Coates is blooloop's editor. She is from Brighton, UK and previously worked as a librarian. She has a strong interest in arts, culture and information and graduated from the University of Sussex with a degree in English Literature. Charlotte can usually be found either with her head in a book or planning her next travel adventure.

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