Seemingly overnight, buildings tucked away in nondescript neighborhoods are transformed, their stark exteriors refreshed with bright coats of paint, the blank interiors filled with interactive and Instagram-worthy art installations.
With names like Happy Place, Museum of Ice Cream, Candytopia, and Color Factory, these pop-up experiences focus on all things fun and whimsical. There's been an explosion of openings over the last year, and for good reason: People are happy to pay upwards of $30 for a few hours of feel-good entertainment, where the most important decision they'll have to make is which filter to use on a picture of them diving into a pool of sprinkles.
While these pop-ups are fleeting, staying open for only months — and sometimes even just weeks — at a time, there's a lot that goes into getting them up and running. They typically follow the same pattern: After picking a theme and setting up shop in a major city, designers are brought in to make the topic come alive. They push the envelope, but in a totally wholesome way — is there a pastel color no one else has used that would make a great backdrop in this room, or has anyone tried making snow angels in a sandbox filled with glitter? Word spreads quickly, thanks to social media influencers, and then it's a race to see who can get tickets before they sell out.
Happy Place opened in the Arts District of downtown Los Angeles last November, and was originally slated to stay open through January, but its popularity allowed organizers to extend its run through February. Founder Jared Paul told The Week it took three months to put Happy Place together, with Paul and creative and technical director Butch Allen going over concepts, hiring contractors, and working with "many artists and talented individuals who each contributed to the design process of different rooms and installations. We learned as went went on, we all bounced ideas back and forth, and made many adjustments along the way."
You couldn't miss Happy Place: The building, recently used as an art gallery and once a warehouse, was painted a vibrant yellow, standing out in a narrow street lined with brick structures. Spread out across more than 20,000 square feet, Happy Place was sectioned off into 13 multi-sensory immersive rooms, with different artists and brands taking over the design of each area.
In one giant room, visitors jumped into a gigantic pot filled with 25,000 pieces of (plastic) gold while an employee filmed the act, then emailed each person their jumps in GIF form. In another room, the giant Confetti Dome was filled with half a million pieces of confetti, which swirled as visitors danced, ran around, or just stood still, briefly statues in their own personal snow globe.
Every inch of Happy Place was designed to make visitors feel joy, whether it was blowing out fake candles on an enormous birthday cake or standing in a room where everything felt like it was upside down. Paul said the idea came to him while he was thinking about fun things to do with his children.
"With so many unfortunate disasters and events constantly happening around us, I'm always looking to find a way to teach my kids about happiness and hope," he said. "As tour and concert producers, we always wanted to find ways to bring our experience with live entertainment to a fully immersive and interactive environment and thought, why not create a space where when you walk in, you are surrounded by all things that make you happy."
In December, Happy Place hit a snag — the city of Los Angeles' Department of Building and Safety closed it down, saying temporary-use permits were not issued. (The city told Candytopia, an interactive art installation celebrating all things sugar, the same thing, even though the pop-up had yet to open its doors at L.A. Hangar Studios. Candytopia has since announced it will open March 2 in a new location in Santa Monica.) Happy Place was quick to apologize to fans on social media, releasing a statement saying that "the last thing we want is to let anybody down."
"We knew we had to move quickly, so once we found out staying at the Arts District wasn't an option, we immediately refunded all remaining ticket holders and started to look for the next best home for Happy Place," Paul said.
Paul said he was approached by several locations around the city, but decided to relaunch Happy Place just a few miles away at L.A. Live, an entertainment complex adjacent to Staples Center and the Los Angeles Convention Center. Visitors can expect the same vibe as the original, but "we are reimagining some of our rooms and working towards making Happy Place a bigger, better, and happier experience. We are very excited for our future."
Happy Place 2.0 will run from April 26 to May 27, and Paul said this time around, there won't be an extension. He'd like to have the opportunity to bring Happy Place to other cities, but "right now, our priority is to give the best experience possible to our visitors in L.A. We want them to have the ultimate happy experience. We want them to leave their troubles behind when they walk into Happy Place for at least an hour and really enjoy themselves and our space and share their experience with their loved ones."
Although more and more pop-up experiences are starting to appear in cities across the United States, it's not a bubble Paul thinks will be popped anytime soon.
"I think this genre of entertainment has just started its run," he said, "and will only become more popular as everyone in the space continues to explore new creative ideas."