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How Refinery29's 29Rooms Evolved Based on Attendee Feedback

This year's edition of the massively popular exhibit featured more opportunities to connect with strangers, interact with art, and spark creativity. Here's a look inside the recent Los Angeles edition.

By Claire Hoffman December 11, 2018, 7:01 AM EST

Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Refinery29

The founders of Refinery29's massively popular 29Rooms are listening. Now in its fourth year, organizers note that the event's attendees have been craving more opportunities to connect, interact, and be creative—so they adjusted the whimsical, Instagram-friendly playground accordingly.

“Our theme this year is 'Expand Your Reality' because we really were thinking about, how can we push people to get outside of their day to day and expand their minds,” explained Piera Gelardi, Refinery29's executive creative director and co-founder (who was recently named to BizBash's 2018 class of Event Innovators) at a press preview last Tuesday. “So for us, that's everything from a conversation on race in America, to a nightclub where we're really encouraging people to let go and dance and move, to taking an art class.

“We've heard so many people say that they're not creative—and we want to challenge that,” she continued. “We all have that creativity inside of us.”

The Los Angeles edition of 29Rooms, the event's fourth stop this year, took place from December 5 to 9 at the Reef downtown. While many of the rooms carried over from earlier editions this year (including an activism-focused newsstand, a series of drop-in art classes, a surreal 1970s-inspired space from Nicole Richie, and the “Inner Beauty Ball” dance party), new rooms were created by Lena Waithe, Kesha, Glaad, Amazon Prime Video, and more.

“We've heard so many people say that they're not creative—and we want to challenge that. We all have that creativity inside of us.”

“When we're starting the creative process, we're thinking about the topics that are interesting to our audience right now and how we can create those in an experiential way,” said Gelardi. “So this year, we've brought a lot more performance, more one-on-one connections, more phone-free experiences. 

“It's definitely an emotional journey,” she continued. “We have spaces here that are more playful and joyful, which we think really opens people up to new experiences. And then we have spaces that are more reflective and introspective. And then we have spaces that are more political.”

She acknowledged, however, that some rooms are intended to just capture a great photo. “Our space is really designed with content in mind. What we see people doing with [photos and video here] is really unique. For the election, we saw people using images that they captured [at 29Rooms] to encourage their followers to vote. We saw people on National Coming Out Day telling their stories through images that they captured here.”

Other than new rooms and collaborations, the Los Angeles edition debuted 29Rooms' first augmented-reality experience. Guests could pose in front of colorful backdrops; when viewed through a phone app, graphics from artist Shawna-X created filters that could be shared on social media. 

Also new—and just in time for holiday shopping—was a partnership between MasterCard and Fred Segal. MasterCard, the official payment technology partner for all editions of 29Rooms, worked with the retailer to create an immersive e-commerce experience. Using apps and virtual-reality headsets, attendees felt like they were in a physical store, where they could browse gifts from an exclusive collection.

Click through the slideshow to see some standout displays from the Los Angeles edition, and check out our previous coverage for more inspiring design and activity ideas.

Launch Slide Show

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