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5 Immersive Art Spaces You Have to Experience to Believe

Don't just look at art. Become a part of it.

By Elisa Shoenberger on February 18, 2019

Austin TX
Austin / iStock/dlewis33

Have you ever wanted to play music on color-changing mammoth bones, crawl through a secret passageway in the back of a refrigerator or find yourself surrounded by infinite dots?

You probably didn’t realize you wanted to do these things until now, but trust us: you definitely do.

And luckily, these fantastical activities are possible when you visit one of the permanent immersive art spaces in the U.S.

An immersive art space is about creating a holistic experience for the audience. While traditional museums focus on visual arts, immersive art spaces often seek to activate other senses such as touch, hearing, smell and sometimes taste. These spaces can include anything from art installations to an entire building or street made by one or several artists. While the location may be permanent, the art may change periodically or regularly.

Want to experience one of these immersive art spaces for yourself? (Again: the answer is YES.) Here are five of our favorites:

Santa Fe NM
Santa Fe / Photo by Kate Russell/Courtesy of Meow Wolf

1. Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, NM

Known for its pueblo-style architecture, Santa Fe has a bustling arts scene with museums, galleries and many local artists filling the city with creative energy. It makes sense that Meow Wolf, an artistic collective started in 2008, would have made its first permanent home in a bowling alley in 2016 with funding from George R. R. Martin. The current Meow Wolf is a combination of a funhouse, scavenger hunt, art installation and concert hall. Visitors enter through a seemingly typical home with secret doors in appliances that lead them into fantastical landscapes. One landscape allows people to play color-changing Mammoth bones.

This Southwestern City Is Like One Big Art Gallery

Want to visit Meow Wolf but can’t make it to Santa Fe? Not to worry: additional locations are opening up throughout the US in the next three years in Denver, Las Vegas and Washington DC.

2. Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh is filled with public art projects, such as light installations, gardens and murals. One of the most beloved and unique art spots in the city? Mattress Factory, a museum dedicated to installation art with a main building and two annexes.

If you missed the extremely popular Yayoi Kusama Infinity Rooms exhibit traveling throughout North America, you can find two permanent rooms in the museum. One floor is dedicated to James Turrell light installations. They have many rotating exhibits including two annexes where artists can take over the entire building for an installation. As a bonus, down the street is Randyland, a colorful, quirky garden designed by Randy Gilson.

3. Wynwood Walls in Miami, FL

Miami is a vibrant city with a plethora of art museums such as the Pérez Art Museum Miami and the nearby Miami Beach: Art Basel. It only seems natural that the Wynwood Walls would live here.

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Started in 2009, the late Tony Goldman saw an opportunity to take large warehouse buildings and cover them with street art from around the world. It began at 25th and 26th street and now has grown to 80,000(!) square feet of walls with over 50 artists from 16 countries, such as street artists Gaia and Os Gemeos. The best part is that visitors can find new work on the walls each time they visit, so a trip here never feels stale or predictable.

Oklahoma City OK
Oklahoma City / Facebook/FactoryObscura

4. Factory Obscura in Oklahoma City, OK

Known as “The Big Friendly,†Oklahoma City may be known for its friendly inhabitants and cowboy and western culture, but in recent years the city has been seeing a cultural renaissance and is now known as a creative hotspot. Like Meow Wolf, Factory Obscura is an artistic collective that wants to “provoke wonder and curiosity.”

Oklahoma City’s Arts Scene Deserves a Chance to Surprise You

They’ve presented temporary exhibitions including the most recent BEYOND where visitors could choose one of four doors – Empress, Moon, Tower and Death. In late 2018, they recently announced their first permanent location “Mix-Tapeâ€, paying tribute to cassette tapes in the 1980s. The project is in partnership with Meow Wolf, Wayne Coyne and his band, the Flaming Lips.

Austin TX
Austin / iStock/dlewis33

5. Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin Chapel in Austin, TX

While known for its live music scene, specifically South By Southwest, Austin also presents quieter and more contemplative creative opportunities. Artist-designed chapels are the ultimate immersive art experience. Built on the grounds of the Blanton Museum of Art beginning in 2015, the late Ellsworth Kelly designed this chapel, inspired by Romanesque and Byzantine architecture, with his signature bright colors contrasting with white walls. Visitors can contemplate religion and spirituality in this beautiful light-filled chapel.

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