I think it's time we talk about Pop-up Museums

The New York Times published an article recently, that made me feel a lot of feelings, but mostly kind of felt like a punch in the gut (You can and should read it here). It felt a little like a personal attack and my initial response was to get defensive, which was an odd reaction since it had nothing to do with me. Then I paused, and read it again, and again. I wanted to understand why I was so offended by it.

I have admittedly been obsessed with the “big fun” art trend and the immersive experiences that have been taking over my instagram feed for the past year. They seem to have uncracked a code and accomplish a goal I have spent the better part of a decade trying to figure out. To me these installations, events, pop-ups or whatever you want to call them were brining a lot of good into the world. A world where digital is king and the necessity for real human interaction is becoming slimmer and slimmer.

I think, as a critique I think it’s worth looking at and thinking about critically, after all, it is just one persons opinion. And after awhile, I started seeing ways to improve the design of pop-up experiences instead of attacks on the industry as a whole.

After I tried to put myself in the writer's shoes, I realized I would probably hate the whole experience too. Having my own share of projects I committed to whole heartedly for the sheer fun of it, only to realize halfway through the fun got incredibly monotonous, stressful and obligatory. That’ll put a bad taste in anyone’s mouth and probably wash away any “magic” that one might feel towards a “unique” experience.

The only single pop-up I have attended, that she mentions here is The Color Factory and I could not have had more of a different experience than is laid out in the essay. I felt like it was the closest thing I was ever going to get to a real life Willy Wonka. I took my fair share of selfies, but when I look back at them, they really do remind me of the fun I had with my friends. And to me, I kind of thought that was the goal.

What pains me about this outlook is how it pins more on the planner and less on society as a whole. The whole pic or it didn’t happen mentality. The thing I think this essay gets wrong is that attitude is pervasive, it’s on the user to enjoy the experience in the moment, not the designer. Every concert I have been to in the past several years has overwhelmed by people holding up phones snapchatting the concert rather than watching it. Same goes for any street performer I have seen in a while. Should we be blaming the performer here too? Should we just give up on those things? With the logic laid out here, social media should just kill everything that used to entertain us at some point.

I see her point about some of these experiences missing the mark. Low quality and poor execution will kill any good idea that’s been hyped up to the user. But again isn’t that every industry? Knock-offs aren’t anything new. I hate too much hype. I think it ruins a lot of experiences for us because our expectations are just too high and the experience just doesn’t deliver. But I guess it begs the questions, what if it did? What if we looked at the current model of the pop-up museums and events as a trend and saw what was wrong and tried to improve what is already right?

I agree that as experience makers, we need to do better. We need to think about the why behind the what. But shouldn’t we be celebrating something that is getting people out, interacting with real things and expressing themselves in public? I see this trend as one way that digital world and the “real” world are interacting. You can look at in a impersonal way as content creation  someone’s personal brand or you look at it in a personal way, as memory making.

I choose the latter.