Apr 8, 2024 - News

Scoop: VR, immersive art hub to replace Charlotte Pipe warehouse in Uptown

two people hold hands while wearing vr headsets

Step into outer space with virtual reality goggles. Photo: Melissa Taylor/The Infinite, courtesy of Blumenthal Arts

An industrial warehouse on the edge of Uptown will transform into a hub for immersive experiences called Blume Studios this fall, starting with a trip to outer space.

Why it matters: Charlotte and Blumenthal Arts are poised to become a national leader in immersive arts, building on the success of Immersive Van Gogh in 2021.

"Space Explorers: The Infinite," a virtual reality experience set at the International Space Station, will kick off Blume Studios' programming in the former Charlotte Pipe and Foundry warehouse this September 20 to November 10.

  • Tickets are on sale now for $45 for adults and $30 for children.

"We're a far cooler city than people will admit," Blumenthal CEO Tom Gabbard says of Charlotte. "I'm not saying that as a civic booster. I'm saying that because it's true."

man stands in front of industrial warehouse with boxes and crates of materials behind him
Tom Gabbard inside of the Charlotte Pipe warehouse, which will soon become Blume Studios. Photo: Emma Way/Axios

The big picture: Blume Studios is an anchor of what will become Charlotte's Iron District, a 55.5-acre site bordering Uptown and South End that's currently home to Charlotte Pipe and Foundry.

  • Blumenthal is leasing the warehouse from Charlotte Pipe, as the land is still for sale.
  • Once a land sale is final and Charlotte Pipe finishes relocating to Stanly County, a new mixed-use district will emerge. There are dreams of restaurants, artist studios and shops, but nothing concrete yet.
  • "There's a lot more to come," says Charlotte Pipe spokesperson Brad Muller.
exterior of an industrial warehouse with a foggy sky behind it
The future home of Blume Studios. Photo: McKenzie Rankin/Axios

What to expect: Upon entering the 40,000-square-foot warehouse, visitors will grab a VR headset off a conveyor belt before "blasting off" to the International Space Station.

  • The experience compiles over 200 hours of NASA footage to make you feel like you're really there.
  • Produced by Felix & Paul Studios, the show allows guests to move about the ISS, listen to astronauts, learn about space, and even take a step outside the ISS and into the night sky.
  • There will also be large-scale art installations around the immersive experience, like "Gaia," the 23-foot globe by Luke Jarram you may have seen hanging from the ceiling of Founders Hall in years past.
  • Expect surprises from local artists over the show's run.

Related Axios guide: What to expect at Charlotte SHOUT! 2024

earth as seen from the international space station
See what Earth looks like from the International Space Station. Photo courtesy Felix & Paul Studios and Blumenthal Arts
rendering of a floor plan of a new immersive experience
Rendering of "The Infinite" floor plan. Courtesy of Blumenthal Arts

How it happened: The large-scale project has taken years of conversations among some of Charlotte's most powerful people.

  • "The Harris' fingerprints are all over this," Gabbard says of Deborah and Johnny Harris, the legendary local real estate developer and president of Quail Hollow Club.
  • The couple arranged a dinner at Quail Hollow in 2021 for Gabbard and his wife, Vicki, and Charlotte Pipe CEO Hooper Hardison and his wife, Lucy.
  • It wasn't expressly a business dinner, but when Gabbard began talking about the success with Immersive Van Gogh and his hopes to grow into a permanent space, it planted a seed.
  • "Hooper, what about that warehouse?" Johnny said during the dinner, Gabbard recalls.

Zoom out: "The Infinite" is just the beginning for the Charlotte Pipe warehouse. Gabbard and Bree Stallings, Blumenthal's director of artistic experiences, have years of immersive ideas to keep Charlotte locals coming back.

  • It's not just about the pretty visuals folks saw with Van Gogh, Gabbard says. The new experiences will be fully interactive. "They don't want to just sit back and watch.
  • "They want to be in it."
avators walk through a virtual space
Find the people in your party with color-coded avators inside the VR space. Screenshot courtesy Felix & Paul Studios and Blumenthal Arts

The arts industry has a history of overspending, Gabbard says. Just look at the $2.3 billion Sphere arena in Las Vegas, for instance.

  • Gabbard says you don't have to spend billions — or millions — to create something creative and cool, to create something that audiences love.
  • He didn't give an exact figure but says it will cost significantly less than the $3-5 million he estimated when they were considering building a structure from scratch.

The bottom line: Just like Van Gogh, Blume Studios will feel a little scrappy, and Gabbard says that's intentional and representative of Charlotte's artistic community.

  • "We're not stuck in the past," he says of Blumenthal Arts. "We're absolutely ready to embrace the new."

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