Experiential Retail and the Shared Economy at The Allies

Creating experiential pop ups are, more than anything, an exercise in the shared economy. The point of The Allies was to showcase and sell work by six artists, think about what they mean, understand how they’re linked and use their energy as fuel for a new type of gallery. What I realized in the process is that it is entirely impossible to group these artists with photographers, illustrators, painters and printmakers of the past. The Internet’s produced a new modernity, and artists who harness the Internet’s tools – Instagram, PayPal, Kickstarter, corporate clients’ global reach, the 24/7 promotion cycle – are new modern artists. Their style of work is a response to the new modern possibilities provided for them. And so it goes with pop ups too. Funding by We Are Pop Up and Martenero, a Kickstarter by Made in the Lower East Side, a rejection of the traditional gallery model by these six new modern artists (who can reject the gallery because they can sell and promote on their own) and a landlord willing to experiment with a pop up made The Allies possible.

For The Allies dinners, we shared our space, story and guestlist and received sustainable food, expert prep and service in return.

Curating vibrant new modern artists in a traditional gallery would be like mixing sparking water with flat. We made The Allies retail space effervescent by creating a lifecycle that mimicked the pace of our artists and the pace of New Yorkers. The Allies artists are constantly creating and changing, so the gallery was constantly creating different content. New Yorkers – and all people – have different needs at different times of day. They don’t visit galleries in the morning, but they do attend yoga classes. They don’t go back to galleries twice to see the same exhibit, but they do go to the same space twice for different types of events. The lifelike nature of The Allies allowed us to invite New Yorkers in more frequently, and for different reasons. We could reach out to press multiple times as pictures and anecdotes changed. We could curate different audiences – street artists and architects for one dinner and pop up-space owners for another – at different times to drive different conversations and relationships.

Experiential retail creates multiple lead characters who run the show at different times. We tapped The Rad Trads to play for press and collectors the night before the opening party.

Increasing “Surface Area” To Produce a Shared Economy
The experiential landscape meant just as much for businesses as it did for the audience. The Allies gallery was a story, an experience with an arc. Since it changed form throughout the day and the week, Imagination in Space could engage multiple partners in ways that fit them best. I think of it as surface area. By creating an experience, we could increase the surface area of the space. Think of, say, American Apparel. Great store, locations with high footfall, lots of in-store traffic. Not much surface area. When you walk in the store, you can only buy and leave. I already know I can’t discover anything new, so every store is just shut off to me. Imagine, though, if American Apparel curated pop ups a la Harrod’s. Each pop up would be able to utilize AA’s brand recognition, footfall and instore traffic to build awareness and sales for itself. AA could use curated pop ups to create new content, social media buzz, new types of visitors and another storyline inside its existing space. They’d increase the surface area despite keeping the real estate generally the same. All they’d be changing was the story.

A shared economy equation: Rug by Kea, chairs and table from Made in the Lower East Side, flowers and table clothes from artist Yazmany (vases are pint glasses), table settings from Imagination in Space, ingredients from Farmigo, menu by Ango, guests from New York City

At The Allies, we could have placed a bowl of Apples from Farmigo at the front entrance and written: “Check out the site.” That would increase the surface area a bit, and would create a shared economy of space. That’s a low, shallow touchpoint, and an odd fit in an art gallery. We’d be taking attention away from the art, reducing an online farms market to a set of apples, and we’d be responsible for supplying and tending to the apples each day. Curate a pair of dinners, though, and we’ve opened up an opportunity for guests to intimately discover and build relationships with Farmigo’s food, story and head of marketing Jay Lee. The rub, of course, is that instead of tending to apples, Imagination in Space now had to prepare dinner for a dozen guests back to back nights. Instead, we brought on Ango, a farm-to-table catering startup to select, manage and prepare Farmigo’s ingredients.

Increasing the surface area through an experiential story created an incredibly efficient shared economy. Imagination in Space had no food or cooking skills but we had a space, an interesting story and a guestlist. Farmigo had delicious, sustainable ingredients but no story, prep team, space and audience. Ango had the skills but no ingredients, space or audience. By bringing on Farmigo and Ango, we created a supply chain that went: farm-trucks-warehouse-chef-team-set up-prep-serving without spending a dime. All Imagination in Space paid for was the photographer to help tell the story. All Farmigo paid for was wholesale costs on food. All Ango paid for was prep supplies and staffing. We linked Farmigo and Ango (who’d never met) and did it all within the context of a pair of dinners where conversation revolved around mash ups of previously unconventional cultural models. While in a pop up that mashed up cultural models. With guests who are mashing up cultural models (Eric Tan from PinkCloud.dk, for example, is raising funding for a pop up hotel; Bevin Savage Yamazaki installed a boat outside the New Museum and a slide inside it).

Imagination in Space’s Model
The Imagination in Space model is to leverage the expertise of many partners to create a new cultural model. The same rule applied for dinners as it did for morning yoga. Each day, I’d come in early, sweep up the backyard and then hand the keys over to Angelica Olstad from Pop Up Yoga NYC. She’d lead her class of students, lock up and come back the next day. We shared the space to produce a dynamic shared story, shared revenue, shared photos and shared guest lists. With Martenero, we did the same. It’s a wonderful shared economy based as much on the story and situation (both, essentially free) as it is on hard resources like real estate. By opening up morning to an entirely different story – yoga vs. art – we were able to increase meaningful surface area. By creating another storyline, Imagination in Space created an opportunity for another lead character.