29Rooms is the Political Playground of Your Instagram Dreams


When you step into the 80,000-square-foot Williamsburg warehouse that is 29Rooms, the first thing that catches your eye is the cascading flower garden hanging from the ceiling.  Or, perhaps you were immediately drawn to the illuminated neon words “Care No Matter What”.  Before you even saw that, though, the massive paper lantern sculpture may have captivated your attention. With 29Rooms, digital media company-extraordinaire Refinery29 has translated their medium - the overstimulating, captivating world of social media - into an immersive art space. As the company describes it: a merger of the experience of a funhouse with the cultural relevance of a museum.  Like scrolling through the world’s greatest Instagram feed, there’s something more exciting with each new turn in 29Rooms.  


To classify 29Rooms as simply Instagram fodder, however, is to ignore the activism and artistry that went into its creation. This year, the event’s theme is “Turn It Into Art”, which -according to Refinery29- celebrates “the transformative power of creativity in its ability to shift perspective and drive change.” This idea manifests in some form in all the rooms, but particularly stands out in room number nine: “Art Heals.” Made in collaboration with the foundation The Art of Elysium, to which a portion of 29Room’s proceeds go to, guests are encouraged to add to the installation and “paint their worries away.” This interactive installation reflects Art of Elysium’s mission to empower those in need through art and creativity. Stress-relief is a theme throughout 29Rooms; whether it’s writing down your troubles and sending them through the shredder in Jake Gyllenhaal’s aptly-named “Shred It” room, creating a symphony by boxing your troubles away on musical punching bags hand-painted with inspiring messages in “The Future is Female”, or opting for mindfulness in poet Cleo Wade’s meditation center “The Womb”.  


It’s no coincidence that these inspirational spaces were created in and for the current political climate. When asked about Refinery29’s desire to create a healing space, co-founder and Executive Creative Director Piera Gelardi told Her Campus Barnard, “I think we’re in a political climate where a lot of people feel under attack…and I think there’s a lot of anxiety. There’s a lot being thrown at us and so many things to contend with.  So we felt it was important to create a space that had a feeling of optimism, of hope, of our own agency to take action to translate those things we’re feeling and the things that are happening in society and, through creativity, turn them into action, healing and conversation in all these different ways.”  While 29Rooms is certainly a manifestation and reflection of social media, it’s also an antidote to its darker parts. The constant bombardment Piera speaks of can be extremely draining, and 29Rooms attempts to filter out the bad and highlight the positive aspects of online content.  


“Hear Our Voice” is a room created in collaboration with Women’s March, a movement largely driven by social media. It’s covered in posters designed for the movement by independent artists and features a table full of postcard versions of them, on which guests are encouraged to write to their representative. A mailbox sits in the corner; all of the postcards will be mailed at the end of 29Rooms’ run.  


“Bright Future” is a massive neon sign display created in collaboration with Planned Parenthood featuring the organization’s “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” campaign, highlighting the importance of providing healthcare to everyone.


 “Just Be” provides guests with messages of body positivity, while “Neurospeculative Afrofeminism” shows an empowered future for women of color. Emma Roberts’ “Tales We Tell” celebrates iconic female authors and the trash-sculpted “Ocean of Creativity” is an ironic commentary on environmental disaster.  Much like the young women who rule social media, 29Rooms is substantive and caring. The installation attempts to speak directly to them.  



When asked which rooms she finds particularly empowering, Piera tells Her Campus Barnard, “I think hopefully the overall experience. For me, I really love the Cleo Wade “womb” because it speaks to self-love, it speaks to our human right to take up space and to shine our light.  I think it’s a self-care room, which I think is very necessary for people right now, so I love that one.  I think the punching bag symphony is really amazing because it translates aggression into music and art; if we can channel the things we’re feeling into something that’s a positive and uniting medium I think that’s really powerful. The general neutral bathroom I love because it’s a really empathy building experience hearing about other people’s gender experience, just making people feel seen and not invisible.”   


Like social media and real life, though, not all of 29Rooms is political.  Some of it is just brand-sponsored: the “Behind the Flavor” room with Dunkin’ Donuts, the “Sonic Spin” with Dyson. Some of it is just cool: “Harmony” with Chloe x Halle, “The Art of Innovation” with Cadillac and Jason Wu. Or some of it is just plain fun: “Cloud Pool”, an adult foam pit, with Chiaozza, “Move and Be Moved”, a silent disco, with Lizzo, “Laugh-O-Matic", a laughter car wash, with Sasheer Zamata.  


It’s the combination of all these aspects that define 29Rooms, turning each and every aspect of our content-driven lives into art. As she gave a tour, Piera noted that millennials value experience over material things, and expanded upon this in a press release, stating, “In our increasingly plugged-in world, people crave unique experiences that engage them IRL while simultaneously fueling content creation for their digital lives”. 29Rooms seeks a somewhat contradictory existence in the space between the online and real worlds, encouraging guests to embrace the power of social media while actually engaging with the kind of art you typically only see on your screen.