Let me tell you—we need to have a talk about all these NYC ‘immersive’ experiences

Doesn’t it seem like everything is immersive this year?

Just to name a few, NYC currently has or will soon welcome immersive Gustav Klimt, immersive Frida Kahlo, immersive Claude Monet, immersive King Tutimmersive Encanto, immersive museum experiencesimmersive theater, immersive holiday installations—you get the idea. 

In the two months I’ve worked as Time Out New York’s Things to Do Editor, I’ve received 165 emails with the word “immersive,” most of them PR pitches for new immersive experiences. I wasn’t a math major, but that’s nearly four “immersive” emails per working day.

I don’t have a problem with the experiences, per se. We write about them often because they are legitimately cool. I understand the desire to feel like you’re being transported somewhere else, the magic of pretending like you’re in the center of a painting and the yearning to consume as much culture as possible after being in isolation amid the pandemic. If immersive experiences help engage more people in the arts, I’m so here for that. I’ve enjoyed the immersive exhibits I’ve attended, including the new Klimt show; it’s even housed in a new space dedicated to immersive events

But I fear that we tend to only notice the immersive sensory details when we’re paying 50 cents/minute to be put in a dark room and forced to stay present. I fear that we miss the immersive moments around us every day. Too often we only pay attention to the “immersive” aspects when we’re literally paying for them.

Life is immersive.

Monet’s Garden The Immersive Experience
Photograph: Lukas Schulze, courtesy of Monet’s Garden The Immersive Experience

Crispy yellow leaves flutter to the ground and crunch beneath sneakers. The subway performs a clicking-clacking etude between each stop. The fresh aroma of eucalyptus wafts through the air at the Union Square farmers market. Squirrels dart through the park with acorns hanging from their teeth.  

Squirrels, fall leaves and eucalyptus, however, don’t have a PR team. 

I fear that we tend to only notice the immersive sensory details when we’re paying 50 cents/minute to be put in a dark room and forced to stay present.

So this weekend, save your $35 and try a free experience. That’s my Time Out Tip. I officially dub these “immersive” experiences even though nobody else is marketing them as such:

  • Have some fun at NYC’s first Fungus Festival. What’s more immersive that walking through the woods scouring the land for funky fungus? At New York City’s debut Fungus Festival on Sunday, October 23, you can meet up with members of the New York Mycological Society on Randall’s Island. They’re bringing microscopes, mushroom tea samples, a microphone so you can listen to fungi and guides for nature walks. Now, that’s what I call immersive. 
  • Lace up your sneakers and get outside. There are free walking tours all around town, some guided and some DIY. I’ve rounded up a few of my favorites here because there’s nothing more immersive than experiencing the sights, smells and sounds of New York City. 
  • Ooh and ahh (and awwww) over all the cute dogs. Want to really forget about your cares for the day? Spend your afternoon among the precious pups at the Tompkins Square Park Halloween Dog Parade on Saturday, October 22. Whether you’re bringing along your canine companion or just there to cheer on the pups, it’s sure to be a blast.
Inside the immersive Gustav Klimt: Gold in Motion
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan | Gustav Klimt: Gold in Motion

And if you decide to head to one of the branded immersive experiences, that’s cool, too! There’s no shortage of experiences to choose from. I mentioned the Klimt experience, for example, which brings the artist’s floral and erotic paintings to life on the walls, floors and ceiling in dazzling colors. It’s so immersive, I actually felt dizzy at a few points. (P.S. If you, like me, are the type of person who wants to read about the artist and his era before experiencing the artwork, you’ll find information about that in the basement.) 

Will I snap 100 photos at the Immersive Frida Kahlo exhibit? You betcha. Will I savor the lavender aromas at the Immersive Monet exhibit? Can’t wait. 

But I’m also trying to see the “immersive” in the quotidian, and I hope you will, too. 

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