Absolut Vodka Transforms Abandoned T.T.C. Subway Station Into Art Exhibit, Party Space

Absolut Vodka commissioned Canadian artist Justin Broadbent to transform the T.T.C.'s abandoned Lower Bay subway stop into a pop-up art exhibit that doubled as a party space for 350 guests.

Oversize flowers filled the "Love" subway car.

Photo: Gary Beechey for BizBash

As part of the company's ongoing advertising campaign—centred on the phrase “In an Absolut World: Opportunities Always Pop Up”—Absolut Vodka commissioned artist Justin Broadbent to create an art installation in the Toronto Transit Commission's abandoned Lower Bay station Thursday. The end result was art exhibit by day and a party space by night. ”The brand has a history of working with artists all around the world, so we wanted to start engaging the Canadian artist community,” said Kelly Kertz, senior brand manager with Absolut Canada. ”[Justin Broadbent]’s got this energy and we just loved it, so we asked him how he would build a venue in this space around opportunity popping up.”

Kertz collaborated with a number of agencies to plan and execute the event: VisionCo. handled the event management, Harbinger Communications took on the media and public relations aspects, and B-Street marketed the campaign. “The whole campaign is about the unexpected and really thinking outside the box. It's about everyone looking at the opportunities that are in front of them and also within,” Kertz said. “I don’t think anyone would ever expect that we would be able to do this in a subway station, to have an alcohol venue, but the T.T.C. has been fantastic to deal with.”

The T.T.C.'s Lower Bay station, accessed through a doorway on the platform of the Bay-Bloor station, is often used for film shoots but hasn't been operational since the late 1960s.

Broadbent—who had six subway cars and the platform at his disposal—came up with the slogan “Follow Your Heart, Opportunities Pop Up” as the basis for his installation. Each of the six subway cars represented a word in the phrase. Broadbent filled the “Follow” car with green lighting and 150 trees but chose to leave the “Your” car essentially blank. “I liked the idea of thinking of 'Your' as giving the power to that person,” he said. Two bars, staffed by the Martini Club, flanked either end of the platform, and groupings of white lounge furniture from Furnishings By Corey provided seating for guests.

“The thing that no one really realizes is that once you’re down here there are no elevators, there are no escalators. So we've had about 65 staff over the last two days literally hand-bombing everything down seven flights of stairs,” said VisionCo.'s Jared Florence. The team spent Tuesday and Wednesday loading decor and equipment onto the platform but had to wait until 6 a.m. on Thursday morning for the subway cars to arrive, which made for a tight production schedule.

The space opened to the media for a one-hour preview at 11 a.m., and members of the public had access from noon until 4 p.m. The party took place from 8:30 p.m. until 1 a.m., and the trains had to be emptied shortly afterward. “We have an hour to get everything out of the trains and then we pack everything up and clear the entire station by 2 p.m. Friday,” Florence said.

Entertainment included the Toronto group Keys N Krates and music spun by DJ Steve Aoki. Kertz and her team opted not to cater the event. “This is a wet menu only,” Florence said. “On hand we have a total of 200 bottles, and then just to be safe we have a backup of 10 cases, which is another 120 bottles.” A cash bar was on hand, and Absolut offered drink samples to party guests. “When people first arrive they are greeted by the brand ambassadors and handed a very cool Absolut shot glass that has a sample of one of the recipes in it. They only get one of those, but it gives them a taste of where we’re coming from,” Florence said.

Due to the nature of the venue—accessed through an operational subway station—the event team had to develop a sound security plan, Florence said. Party guests had to provide photo identification at the door and a wristband policy was in effect. “We cannot have any bottleneck or any crowds anywhere within the T.T.C. station. It’s a liability. We have a very strict entrance protocol and a security plan,” he said. 

Members of the public had the opportunity to sign up for the guest list through Facebook.

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