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Pairing Art and Design in Immersive Art Experiences

My recent experience as creative director of Hopscotch: Light & Sound popup has illuminated out some interesting nuances in the immersive art experience world regarding pairing art and design.

The immersive art experience venue is an exciting new business model that is taking the creative world by storm. In the US, there are a variety of immersive art experiences to visit. Highlights include Artechouse, Meow Wolf, and Wonderspaces. In central Texas, we’ve added our own unique spin on this genre, Hopscotch.

As the creative director of Hopscotch, I learned a ton creating our first 7-week pop-up show. I am dedicated to helping installation art, immersive art experiences, and artists thrive. So I hope my insights are helpful to other creative directors in this exciting new arena. In this post, we’ll be looking at how to manage creative talent in this new workspace; specifically in regards to creative control/input, art ownership, compensation, collaboration, and crediting work.

New Business Models Bring New Challenges

Immersive art experiences blend together “design” and “art”, which is an atypical situation. Usually, we find art in museums and private collections, and design in the commercial and retail world. But immersive art experiences bring art and design together to create a ticket-worthy experience for audiences. Why is this mixture optimal? Because it provides one-of-a-kind adventure for every type of customer—from the casual weekend visitor to the die-hard art fan.

The distinction between art and design is a tricky subject. I do not want to trivialize this topic. But for the purposes of my discussion, I’m going to simplify the distinctions to highlight some key challenges. The goal of this piece is to help others understand and set realistic expectations, prevent miscommunication, and avoid unintentionally insulting artists.


Audiences rarely know or care whether an installation is “art” or “design”


“Art” is created by an individual or group to express a viewpoint, or explore an idea. In contrast, “design” is created to solve a problem. Both art and design require creativity, inspiration and problem-solving. Many individuals are capable of creating both art and design. And, to add to the confusion, audiences rarely know or care whether an installation is “art” or “design”. But as a creative director, you need to understand crucial differences to successfully manage creatives in immersive art experiences. 

Creating In-House Designs Versus Commissioning Artwork

When an immersive art experience hires designers to create an installation, the in-house team defines the goals of the installation. As part of a business, internal teams for immersive art experiences have defined ideas of what audiences want. In this scenario, the business owns the installation—equipment, effects, rights to alter the work, copyright, etc. In the case of the Light & Sound popup, our in-house team at Hopscotch developed nearly 50% of the experiences.

Building installations internally has many important advantages. When an in-house team creates an immersive experience, they have quality control (since they control the fabrication), and can updated the installation as needed. Additionally, in-house experiences can be branded and sponsored. Most importantly, in-house built experience can maximize photogenic appeal and on customer enjoyment.


Being Original Is Not Always Being Strategic

When ideating for in-house experiences, you can recreate some ideas and not others. For example, large-scale volumetric light displays regularly appear at concerts, light festivals, and brand activations. Therefore, we felt confident that we were not infringing on others’ work when we created our Matrix. What the audience values in this type of Instagrammable installation is not its originality, but its well-executed fabrication.

In contrast, when Hopscotch commissioned artwork, we were looking for a one-of-a-kind installations. Commissioned artists fully determined the final form and style of their installation. For the Light & Sound show, we sent our a call for proposals and then choose the art installations we felt were the best fit for the business and our audience. The commissioned artwork we chose had a great sense of originality and singularity of vision.

Durability does not need to suffer for creativity. Drawing from my experience in public art, I helped select artworks that were beautiful and unique and could withstand weeks of public interaction. 


Creative Input

Put simply, a designer’s task is to help the client achieve their goal. Designers bring a unique level of expertise and aesthetics to the table, so they have points of view that they will defend. But ultimately, the client has final say.


Immersive art experiences need to be beautiful, unique, and withstand weeks of public interaction


The artist’s motivation for creating an artwork is personal and idiosyncratic. In this relationship, the gallery can give advice about fabrication, construction, and installation of the piece. But the gallery should keep a hands-off approach to the things that are squarely in the artist’s domain—aesthetics and meaning. This separation of concerns is common practice in public art commissions. 


Attributing Installations

Designers rarely get public attribution, and few demand or expect it. However, designers do require the right to show and discuss their work to their future clients.

For artists, credit is hugely important. Artists are focused on building a body of work, and they will add your exhibit to their CVs. Great documentation is also a great bonus for artists, because it’s what they will showcase in their portfolios. Artists may also need to divulge the commission amount in order to win new commissions. 

Successfully Navigating This New Environment

The main piece of advice I have is to foster high levels of communication between everyone involved. For instance, review contracts line by line with your artists and designers. In this way, you can make sure that they’re 100% happy and able to create the perfect piece for your exhibit.


Immersive art venues are, like I’ve said, a one-of-a-kind experiences. Whether you’re attending one for the first time, creating work for one or running a team in charge of one, I guarantee they’ll change your creative views for life in the best way possible.