Logan Foret and Tanya Yarrow say their new interactive art museum project, The Giggle Box, will be unlike anything Missoula has ever seen.
“This will be the first of its kind in Montana,” Foret explained. “Get ready for 17,000 square feet, two stories of mind-bending interactive art, venue space and community-based gatherings.”
Foret and Yarrow, along with their business partner and friend Michael Gardner, are the team behind local production company BFK Presents. They’ve hosted multi-day festivals and one-time events like Disco Bloodbath, Socotra and The Silver Cloud Campout, but this coming spring they’re aiming for their most ambitious project yet. After three months of hard work to build out the space starting in January, they plan to open The Giggle Box in March for a six-month run of what they describe as dazzling visuals at Southgate Mall.
They’re about to start work transforming the old Herbergers space into a place where visitors can explore lights, sounds, textures, art installations and more while navigating a maze-like atmosphere. It'll all be designed for photos and selfies in the age of Instagram. A stuffy former retail store is an odd setting for something like this, but Foret and Yarrow say the space is actually perfect. An old cashier's station on the second floor, for example, is perfect for a DJ booth or a circular bar.
Everything will be colorful, interactive and sensory-oriented, Yarrow explained.
“Every room will hopefully have something different,” she said. “We’ll have touch walls with different textures, scratch and sniffs, technology rooms and sites with projection mapping for movement and dance. We’ll have structures where you can move on swings or large figurines.”
There’ll be about 20 different “activations” as they call the different installations. Some evenings, they’ll turn the space into sort of a speakeasy for events like stand-up comedy, acoustic music shows, drag shows, burlesque events or magic demonstrations.
If you’re not really sure how to picture the whole thing, that’s OK, Yarrow said, because most people haven’t experienced anything like it. Interactive museums like Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, New Mexico, are becoming popular in large American cities, and Yarrow and Foret loosely basing their concept off some of those that they’ve visited.
“It’s kind of like a different type of museum,” Yarrow said. “You can touch everything. It’s very photo-based. The lighting will be very good, it’ll be very colorful. Social media is involved in everything now and we’ll be geared toward all ages. It’s a community-type thing.”
There’ll be mixed media, murals, glitter, sequins and paint.
“You need to go experience it to understand it,” Foret said.
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The entry fee will be about $15 with kids under age 4 free. They’re making sure there will be no time limits and they’ll limit the number of people in at any time so people don’t feel rushed or crowded by strangers.
“We’re trying to make it more individual,” Foret said. “If you don’t feel comfortable doing something silly in front of a crowd, we’re trying to make it more intimate so you can really experience the whole thing.”
Foret said the mall’s owner, Washington Prime Group, was happy with how the Disco Bloodbath event turned out last Halloween. Foret, Yarrow and Gardner are hoping the pilot project for The Giggle Box in Missoula is successful enough to merit opening similar concepts at other malls around the country.
“We’re trying to structure this so it can be designed for a national roll-out,” Foret said. “We want to build it out to such a degree that it can really blow some minds.”
Yarrow said another key philosophy for the space will be reuse, rather than buying products online and having them shipped to Missoula.
“It’s going to be professional, but everything we do is grassroots,” she said. “That doesn’t mean we’re cutting corners. But we’re pushing to reuse stuff. We’re taking fabric and reusing it, we’re reusing materials to give a new life to certain things.”
Foret said the name comes from a childhood friend of his who he used to refer to as “the giggle box” and it felt fitting for this project.
They envision grandparents taking their grandchildren or high school kids posing for senior photos inside. The whole thing will be certified by a national organization as a place for people who are on the spectrum can feel safe, and it will be ADA-accessible with an elevator. They’ve already got a collection of artists they work with in-house, but they hope to maybe feature a rotating artist-in-residence in one of the rooms every month.
Cory Engkjer, who was leading a fitness class for seniors at the mall on Thursday, said he's interested in checking out the place when it opens.
"It sounds happy," he said. "Just the name makes me want to giggle."
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