Women's Empowerment: 29Rooms Exclusive Interview With Piera Gelardi

We sat down with Piera Luisa Gelardi, the executive creative director and co-founder of Refinery29, to get an inside look into 29Rooms.

To get a better understanding of 29Rooms, we sat down with Co-Founder and Executive Creative Director of Refinery29 Piera Luisa Gelardi. Here's what she had to say about the rooms and where the inspiration for the interactive pop-up funhouse came from. 

Q: What exactly is 29Rooms?

A: 29Rooms is an immersive funhouse of style, culture and technology. It takes the interactivity and glee of a funhouse and pairs it with the cultural relevance of a museum. A space created by artists where you can be the art, punch the art, smell the art. It's multi-century and really interactive. 

Q: Where does the inspiration of 29Rooms come from? How did Refinery29 come up with the idea of this event?

A: The idea for 29Rooms came from wanting to take a lot of topics and creative people and turn it into a physical place where we could a gift for an audience. A place where they could come and be the star of the show, and they could interact with a lot of the ideas that we present in our digital content in a way that was experiential. Everything from beauty and style to self expression, gender identity, politics and body image. All of these different things that we cover in our content. We decided that we wanted to do that in collaboration with artists that are shaping culture and non profit brands to bring it to life. 

Q: What type of people were you looking to collaborate with when creating this event? How did you go about picking or accepting them?

A: The whole event is a bit of a puzzle, we start off with the big theme. This years theme was transcendental art and we wanted to create a space that has transformative power, creativity and show the ability art has to spark ideas, action and bring positivity and inspiration to peoples lives. We start with that and we think about the topics that feel really relevant to culture now and things we want to discuss.

This year we thought about doing a room that celebrated the power of art to be a catalyst, to ignite movement, so we worked with the Women's March. A lot of times it's driven by a topic or concept. Like we wanted to do something around body image, and we loved working with this spoken word artist, Ashlee Haze. We think about topics that are relevant and people that are big in that area. We like to work with a range of artists. We love collaborating with amazing visual artists, but also with poets and musicians and performers of all different kinds. We hear what artists want to do and look at who would be best to pair them up with. 

(Photo: Tiffany Ervin)
(Photo: Tiffany Ervin)
(Photo: Tiffany Ervin)
(Photo: Tiffany Ervin)

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about the rooms and which of the 29 rooms is your favorite?

A: It's so hard for me to pick a favorite especially because a lot of people peg this event as an Instagram playground and selfie wonderland and we do design it so that people can be the star of the show, but what's really important to us is to create an event that's meaningful and opens people up to new ideas and ways of thinking.

I love "Shred It" and "The Womb" because they had a deeper meaning and message. With "Future Is Female" we wanted to create something where people used their physicality to turn their aggression and frustration into art. In the current political climate where people feel that they are at stake and at risk, we felt that it could be very powerful. We really love Madame Gandhi's song "Future Is Female" because it speaks to that. We worked with her to create this punching bag room where it's physical therapy and a form of turning frustration and anger into something that ignites people and can spark change. 

We took the lyrics of her song and artists and turned that into all the graphics in the room. Guests came through to punch the punching bags that each released sounds and played back to the tracks playing in the room. The more people punched, the more there was a symphony. We had people coming out of the room saying, "I didn't realize how much I needed that expression." That's something I loved hearing. 

Q: Tell me more about "Hear Our Voice" room?

A: With Women's March, we turned it into art and made a room that celebrated artwork in an increasingly visual culture. We worked with 30 different artists that created art work for women to march with. We saw that resonate hugely with our audience. People were taking our art and turning it into conversations on social.

People downloaded our signs and marched with it across the rooms. With 29Rooms, we wanted something that would spark a movement. We were talking to Women's March about creating a room that used all this awesome art. We wanted to take it a step further and show people how fun it can be to have their voice heard. We printed 20,000 postcards and placed all the information for reps across the country so that people could actually be in the room with their friends and write something on the card to mail it. We want people to leave and say, "You know what? That was really easy to write a letter to my representative, I'm going to make that a practice. I'm going to get friends together in the future and do something like this."

Q: Who is 29Rooms for? Who would enjoy this experience? 

A: 29Rooms is an inclusive event. We definitely saw people of all ages coming through. Our core group that we are hoping to serve is young women that's our audience and we create the event with the idea of how do we create an experience that's inspirational and gives a sense of possibility. It's relevant to a wider range of people and really try to make the event really inclusive in terms of the artists we are including and thinking about representation on all different levels so that people can come and feel they are included and represented. We want them to come out feeling a sense of inspiration and positivity in their life.

(Photo: Tiffany Ervin)
(Photo: Tiffany Ervin)
(Photo: Tiffany Ervin)
(Photo: Tiffany Ervin)
(Photo: Tiffany Ervin)
(Photo: Tiffany Ervin)

Q: We heard 29 Rooms will be traveling soon. Where will 29Rooms be traveling to next?

A: Yeah, so we are are taking 29Rooms to LA in December. Tickets will go on sale on September 20, and then 29Rooms will be in LA during December 8-10. Some of the rooms from NY will be moving over but there are also 13 new rooms. There's a lot of exciting new things to explore as well as some of our favorites from New York transferring over. We're planning that now and we're looking to expand this even further into 2018 and beyond! 

(Photo: Tiffany Ervin)
(Photo: Tiffany Ervin)

Thank you for your time, Piera! For a look at some of our favorite rooms, and how they relate to Being Mary Jane, take a look at our BMJ listicle, "Here's How 29Rooms Is a Representation of Everything MJ Stands For."

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