29ROOMS: A WAY TO EXPLORE, CONNECT & UPLEVEL YOUR LIFE

 

One space, one event, but endless opportunities. Refinery29’s avant-garde 29Rooms defies classification, but the mind-bending, thought-provoking funhouse offers a plethora of self-discovery through art-driven workshops, performances, and installations.

This year’s theme, “Expand Your Reality” drives the message “think bigger” for ourselves and our communities.  My interview with Olivia Fagon, Refinery29’s Creative Director of Experiential and ringmaster for this celebration of thought, walks us through that and all the delights this year’s event holds for Washington D.C. attendees.  29Rooms is also being held in Toronto, Los Angeles, and New York.

If taking action interests you to uplevel your life, or if you need a bit of a nudge to do so, come see how 29Rooms and its smorgasbord of fun and creative collaborations with artists, brands, and nonprofits just may be the catalyst you need!

THM: 29Rooms is in its fourth year! Going back, what was the impetus to 29Rooms? What were its original goals and have they changed?

OF: We launched 29Rooms in 2015 as a bit of an experiment to celebrate Refinery29’s 10-year anniversary. Our hope then was to create an event that didn’t make our audience just spectators but actually invited them to feel, see and touch the Refinery brand and all of the topics we bring to life online in a space that was art-driven.

A lot of the approach and DNA of that first year is still true to 29Rooms today, but now that we have this captivated global audience, we think of the possibilities of what 29Rooms can do as an event in a much bigger way.

We can make a measurable impact for causes we believe in like registering our attendees to vote with The New York Mayor’s Office last year or sending out thousands of postcards from our guests to their local representatives in our room with The Women’s March. When we started to tour 29Rooms last year and bring it to new cities, one goal we had was to make space for the creative communities in those markets. For example, we’re working with Trap Bob and Jamea Richmond-Edwards for the Washington DC stop of the Expand Your Reality tour. And of course, because 29Rooms was built to put our audience at its center, we continue to hear from them on what they would love to see, whether it’s more opportunities for introspection, more performance or more group activities.

THM: Highlighting local artists certainly personalizes each stop. Besides providing an interactive experience and deeper community connection, what are other takeaways a 29Rooms attendee could walk away with?

OF: We always want to use our 29 experiences to unlock a little more possibility in people so that they leave 29Rooms feeling more open and informed, hungry for what’s next in their life, and inspired to take some action whether that’s physically, creatively, socially or politically.

When is the last time you picked up a paintbrush, repeated an affirmation out loud, really thought about your teenage bedroom or actually connected with a stranger? Those are all experiences guests can have here.

There are rooms local to DC that will give guests a chance to see their city, culture and community celebrated and reimagined into some of our spaces. Come see the work of Jamea Richards and Trap Bob, two young women artists of color from DC and dance with performers and music curated to the DC area. For guests who follow and love Refinery29 online, it may be their first time to see and feel our brand in real life with rooms that are dedicated to R29 initiatives like Unbothered, our platform for black millennial women, and Shatterbox, Refinery29’s ongoing film initiative to support female directors in Hollywood.

THM: 29Rooms has both elements of whimsical fun and games and giving space to some serious messages. What kinds of experiences, conversations or awareness is 29Rooms hoping to spark this year with the "Expand Your Reality" theme?

OF: Last year we saw an incredible appetite in our audience for opportunities to connect with each other, so that’s a major focus of Expand Your Reality.

For the tour, we’ve pushed a lot of experiences to be exclusively interactive and hands-on so that guests have to engage with themselves and strangers in real-time.

You’ll be challenged to open up in rooms like 29Questions, a led question and answer experience between two strangers or Blind Date With Destiny, an anonymous palm reading room experience. And then there are rooms that invite more introspection, like “Love Letter to Your Inner Child” where guests write a note to their childhood selves or Kali Uchis’ “Dream Doorways” which lets guests step into Kali’s own surreal dreamscapes.

Knowing that people come to 29Rooms wanting to create and capture content and we’re now inviting them to get hands-on with each other or reflect on themselves, Expand Your Reality is also about expanding our audiences and even our own expectations of what 29Rooms is and could be.

THM: Expanding and expressing our own creativity and exploring new ideas is an important part of living a healthy and full life, and experiencing 29Rooms could entice many to incorporate it more. But, many find ourselves so stretched. How does one make more time for creativity when you work a standard job or have so much going on already?

OF: First, and this is something we work to dispel at 29Rooms, is the idea that creativity is something that’s not accessible or inherent to everybody.

But finding time to really feed your creativity when you have no time is something I can definitely empathize with. One of my favorite truths I’ve heard recently was, “Your diet is more than what you eat, it’s what you watch, listen to, read….” from the poet Saul Williams.

There are so many un-inspired decisions we have to tackle in a day and so much routine so rather than trying to carve out time that I might not have, I try to think about how I can be a little more ambitious in the choices, plans, responsibilities I already have in front of me. There are probably cuisines you’ve never tried two blocks from your office. Your standing dinner and a movie with friends could be dinner and a play instead. Those are low-stakes! But I sometimes need to remind myself that creative choices or the decision to do things differently are within reach for me every day and they are for anybody.

THM: Saul Williams is right. Our surroundings play a pivotal role in our growth. I am happy to see Washington D.C. as a stop this year. Since you are a former resident, did that have an impact on choosing it? How are locations chosen? Any plans to extend to more international locations?

OF: It was just a happy coincidence! I grew up on Capitol Hill in Southeast and my family is still there so I love that we’re coming not just to my hometown but also to the neighborhood I grew up in.

We went through a lot of possible cities for the tour but a big factor in deciding is demand and where the R29 digital audience is, knowing that 29Rooms is a chance for our fans in these cities to connect with our brand in person.

THM: I love that you are shining a light on some less represented voices and emerging artists. How has it impacted the careers of previous artists in 29Rooms and what are they doing now?

OF: It’s an amazing opportunity for us as well! So many artists we might think of as emerging or less established are having some of the most original conversations in culture right now so collaborating with them is essential to keeping 29Rooms exciting and meaningful.

And we’ve had an amazing roster of talent including artists like Petra Collins, Signe Pierce, Lizzo, and Shantell Martin who we worked with earlier on in their careers and are now these global talents.

29Rooms is definitely a broadcast moment for younger artists to a live audience AND a massive social audience which is the added magic of 29Rooms. Aside from exposure and press, 29Rooms can open up the possibility of future brand collaborations and other experiential projects for artists.

Uzumaki Cepeda, who we built a reimagined teenage bedroom with for Expand Your Reality, for example, recently collaborated with Facebook and Instagram on installations of her work. And for artists who haven’t brought their work to life three-dimensionally or in a physical space before 29Rooms adds a whole other level of possibility to their medium. We’ve created a womb-like sanctuary with poet Cleo Wade and a guided-meditation experience with poet Rupi Kuar, using their poetry as the audio and guide to a physical built room experience.

THM: Does a specific story come to mind of any actions that have resulted from 29 Rooms? How has it created change in us as individuals and as a community?

OF: We see so many anecdotes and messages from our audience who share how inspired or moved or informed they feel after attending on a personal level but when I think impact I immediately think of our collaborations with non-profits.

We’ve worked with some amazing organizations, from Planned Parenthood, GLAAD, and the ACLU, and we think about their rooms as a chance to not just share their mission but actually ignite action around it.

A great example of that is our 2018 room with The Women’s March called “Hear Our Voice” that I mentioned earlier. The room itself was inspired by a collaboration we’d done with them and 30 emerging artists earlier in the year to create posters women could march with. We used that art as the hero design element of their room and then wanted to think about ways we could mobilize our guests on-site. We printed 20,000 postcards and provided information for local representatives across the country so people could live write a card to their rep in the room and leave it for us to mail. We mailed thousands and thousands of cards out at the end of last year’s tour. I love that the room gave us impact we could track in numbers and then shined a little light for our guests on one way to make contact and be heard politically.

THM: That is impactful - providing a direct passage for attendees to being heard! Where can we find you on the web or social channels and how do we purchase tickets to 29Rooms in D.C. and other cities?

 

OF: Tickets to D.C. and other markets are up and available on 29Rooms.com. I am surprisingly not someone who really uses my own social media!

 

 

THM: Lastly, a question I love to ask! Please tell us how you stay health-minded, besides incorporating creativity and meeting fascinating artists on the reg. What are some interesting ways you incorporate healthy practices into your life that our readers may want to consider?

OF: I make a lot of my health-minded choices in partnership with other people in my life so that there’s usually someone I care about or have fun with attached to a habit or activity that I know keeps me happy, sane, physically fit, etc.

I do yoga at the same studio twice a week with one friend without fail and I have another friend who we commit to seeing one play a month together, as examples. It adds some accountability because I’m showing up for someone else while always keeping those activities, whether its exercise or seeing art, fun for me.


THM: And there you have it – a bit of a backstage pass to 29Rooms from the thought-leader herself, Olivia Fagon.

Be sure to check out the links below providing information on ticket sales, the 29Rooms website and Instagram account. I have also rounded up some popular and well-rated books on creativity for you as well below.

We thank you, Olivia, for your generosity of time and fascinating insight into 29Rooms! And, I especially loved hearing your smart advice on incorporating creativity and healthy habits into our everyday.  From one health-minded individual to another, I wish you the very best in 29Rooms here in DC and elsewhere and with all your healthy living pursuits.

ALL PHOTO CREDITS COURTESY OF REFINERY29

 

SHOP CREATIVE TOOLS

Check out these top-rated books and other fun tools to spark more creativity in your life:

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Create, explore, and connect with others at 29Rooms, an event offering an array of art-driven workshops, performances and installations. In Washington D.C., New York, LA, and Toronto. Read the interview here with Refinery29's thought-leader in this one-of-a-kind event to uplift your life today! #29rooms #Refinery29 #artevents #events #personalgrowth Photo courtesy of Refinery29

 

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