Axios What's Next

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Those "immersive" art exhibits popping up nationwide are big moneymakers, Jennifer reports today — and lots of fun.

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1 big thing: "Immersive" exhibits are all the rage

At "Beyond King Tut: The Immersive Experience," images of art from Tutankhamun's tomb are projected on screens that surround visitors.

At "Beyond King Tut: The Immersive Experience," images of art from Tutankhamun's tomb are projected on screens that surround visitors. Photo: Clifford A. Sobel

Attendance is sluggish at movies and museums, but people are flocking to "immersive" shows that let them walk around (virtually) in a Van Gogh painting, King Tut's tomb or a surreal fantasy world, Jennifer A. Kingson reports.

Why it matters: People are yearning to ditch their sofas and phone screens for transcendent experiences that let them move around and mingle, untethered from a theater seat or virtual reality headset.

Driving the news: The surprise popularity of the half-a-dozen competing immersive Van Gogh exhibitions that hit the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic helped open the floodgates for similar shows.

  • Advances in projection mapping enable producers to build dazzling spectacles.
  • "You walk in and become transported to another world," says Gilles Paquin, CEO of Paquin Entertainment Group, which is behind the "Immersive King Tut" show now open in 14 U.S. cities. "It puts you in a Zen place, a calming place."

What's happening: Production companies specializing in concerts and stage shows are rushing to open immersive entertainment divisions, in part because the original "Immersive Van Gogh" raked in big bucks.

  • The company behind “Immersive Van Gogh," Lighthouse Immersive, "reported selling more than 5 million tickets between February 2021 and May 2022, indicating that 1 in 90 Americans had bought a ticket," according to Artnet News.
  • Lighthouse's Van Gogh shows pulled in $250 million in overall revenue, MarketWatch reports — not counting $30 million from the gift shops.

Now you can also wander through the works of Monet and Klimt, and Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

  • Other immersive experiences include outdoor Lumina Night Walks and indoor shows such as Inter_, a "Fantasia"-like display that just opened in beta in New York City.
  • Some shows — such as SuperReal, which played last summer at Manhattan's landmark Cunard Building — capitalize on the architectural uniqueness of their venue.

What they're saying: When the Van Gogh show hit Paris in 2019, "I couldn't understand how you could have a very successful immersive show in a market where you had all the greatest museums in the world, and then I realized that it was a new art form, if you will," Paquin said.

  • Immersive shows transform audience members from passive to active participants, explained Jamie Reilly, general manager of Moment Factory, which designed a new installation at Newark Liberty International Airport.
  • "You blur the lines between what is real and what is surreal, what is digital and what is physical," she told Axios.

Yes, but: Critics and audience members have called some shows underwhelming, cheesy and expensive.

  • The Van Gogh shows "distill fin-de-siècle French painting into an amusement as captivating as a nursery mobile," a New York Times critic scoffed.

The bottom line: Shows that blend art, music and an upbeat ambience dovetail with today's zeitgeist of wellness, mindfulness and mental health.

  • "We’re really encouraging people to leave their issues behind," says Nelson of Inter_, which is run by a company called Jobi.
  • "We want to create experiences that give people a reason to get out of their house and engage with each other."

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2. Lab-grown meat gets FDA go-ahead

A technician displays a lab-grown chicken meat in a sealed bag.

A technician displays lab-grown chicken meat in a sealed bag. Photo: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

Lab-grown poultry from a California startup is safe for human consumption, say U.S. regulators, Axios' Herb Scribner reports.

Why it matters: It's a major milestone for cell-cultivated meats, bringing them one step closer to grocery stores and restaurants near you.

Driving the news: The Food and Drug Administration says it has "no further questions" about the safety of cell-grown chicken from startup Upside Foods, following a pre-market review.

What's next: Upside's facilities still need to undergo more FDA and Department of Agriculture scrutiny before its chicken heads to market.

What they're saying: "The FDA is ready to work with additional firms developing cultured animal cell food and production processes to ensure their products are safe and lawful," the FDA commissioner, Robert Califf, and the director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Susan Mayne, said in a statement.

Read the rest.

3. Welcome to the new Moon age

Illustration of an astronaut holding a balloon made of the moon.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

NASA's successful launch of its Moon rocket this week ushers in a new age of lunar exploration, Axios' Miriam Kramer writes.

Why it matters: NASA's Artemis program may inspire new generations, as its Apollo program once did.

  • Plus, NASA's Mars plans hinge on Artemis — it wants to use the Moon as a proving ground to prepare for crewed missions to the Red Planet.

Catch up quick: NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket launched from Florida's Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday, lofting an uncrewed Orion capsule on a journey around the Moon.

  • The SLS is the most powerful rocket ever built, capable of sending people and payloads to deep space destinations.
  • Orion should splash down back on Earth in December after testing its systems in space.

Yes, but: Wednesday's launch was only one step in what will be a long journey to land people on the Moon again.

  • The SLS' first crewed launch is set for 2024, when astronauts will fly by the Moon and return without landing.
  • Artemis III, expected in 2025, will mark the program's first crewed lunar landing, using SpaceX's Starship as a lander — but Starship needs more testing first.

Read the rest.

4. 📸 The Prius is sexy now?

Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

Onlookers photograph Toyota's newly revamped Prius hybrid, unveiled this week in Tokyo and Los Angeles.

  • Aside from flashy new looks, the 2023 Prius produces about 195 horsepower — or a whopping 220 for the plug-in hybrid version, which'll do about 38 miles of electric-only driving.
  • It's set to hit U.S. shores sometime next year, with prices likely starting around $30,000.

What they're saying: "If the Prius could have looked like this the entire time, why didn't it?" quips Car & Driver.

Yes, but: Toyota often gets knocked for being slow to embrace fully electric vehicles — it only has one in the category, the bZ4X compact SUV.

  • Still, as Joann Muller has written, there's obvious consumer demand for plug-ins, whereas many buyers aren't yet convinced on fully electric cars.

5. One fun thing: Iowa's year-round snow sports mecca

A scene from Sleepy Hollow Sports Park when it was privately owned.

A scene from Sleepy Hollow Sports Park when it was privately owned. Photo courtesy of Catch Des Moines

A tubing hill at Iowa's Sleepy Hollow Sports Park will reopen this summer as a year-round snow sports complex, Axios Des Moines' Jason Clayworth reports.

  • A synthetic snow-substitute known as Snowflex will allow tubing, snowboarding and skiing for at least 44 weeks a year.

Why it matters: The project will make the 76-acre park a significant outdoor recreational attraction, local officials said.

What's happening: A roughly $1.7 million redevelopment will begin in the coming months, focused primarily on resurfacing the tubing hill and building a new pedestrian lift.

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Big thanks to What's Next copy editor Amy Stern.

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