Immersive Van Gogh Interactive Exhibit Literally Makes Waves With Animation, Music And 600,000 Cubic Feet Of Projections

Nina Westervelt
A visitor contemplates the swirling night sky of impressionist artist Vincent Van Gogh

When those in the events industry talk about the still-lingering COVID era, it’s nearly always in terms of the shows shut down, the crews laid off, the devastation of an industry.  But for Immersive Van Gogh, an interactive exhibit digitally representing the works and brilliance of the 19th Century, Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh, COVID might have been the best thing that happened.

The show was seen by more than 2 million visitors in Paris, and brought to Toronto by Lighthouse Immersive, a partnership between StarVox Entertainment (headed by producer Corey Ross) and Show One Productions (founded by Svetlana Dvoretsky), and with the assistance of Immersive Van Gogh Paris director and co-creator Massimiliano Siccardi. 
“We’ve known each other for almost 15 years, and have been in close communication throughout: sharing ideas, updating each other on projects, going to each other’s opening nights, producing some shows together and so on,” Dvoretsky says of her partnership with Ross. 
“When I saw this exhibit in Paris, I thought it would be a really good idea to bring something like this to Toronto, especially because we have a lack of museum-type space. I was very excited when I shared the idea with Corey and I’m very glad that he got excited as well.”
Because of the sheer size of the production and COVID restrictions and venue shutdowns, the producers were forced to pivot and find a non-traditional space large enough to accommodate the show and allow for social distancing as well.
“Corey had this whole plan ready to open in Toronto,” Lobeline Communications Founder and Chairman Phil Lobel tells Pollstar
“Millions of dollars were sunk into the event and COVID hit. He thought he was going to go bankrupt. Instead, he found a venue in Toronto, which was, I think, the old Toronto newspaper printing press building with a loading dock. And he opened with people riding through the exhibit in their cars [before it was able to open as a walk-through show]. It was a huge success and he recouped his millions of dollars.”
Nothing succeeds like success and, though specific box office reports are unavailable, Lobeline CEO Jamie Hurley says Immersive Van Gogh sold more than $6 million in tickets during the time most events were dark, and has sold upwards of 2 million tickets to date. Estimates put Immersive Van Gogh’s gross at about $150 million and it’s projected to ultimately double that. 
It could do even better, if it continues expanding its footprint. Immersive Van Gogh has already spread far beyond Toronto and is now appearing or opening soon in 20 North American cities, including New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Las Vegas, Dallas, Pittsburgh and more. There’s also a production announced coming soon to Dubai.
Immersive Van Gogh Toronto has been extended more than once, and is now scheduled to continue through January, and its success has inspired at least two other, competing Van Gogh-themed exhibits that are also popping up across North America.
It’s not hard to see why. Immersive Van Gogh features some 600,000 cubic feet of projections that vividly highlight brushstroke, detail and color of such iconic Van Gogh works from the artist’s famed landscapes, night scenes, portraits and still life works including “The Potato Eaters,” “Starry Night,” “Sunflowers” and “The Bedroom.” The images are vivid, moving and swirling to produce what its creators envision Van Gogh’s imagination might have looked like from the inside out. 
Immersive Van Gogh is enhanced by a soundtrack of original music composed by Luco Longobardi, who collaborated with Siccardi on Immersive Van Gogh at Paris Atelier des Lumières, and joined him in creating the productions in Toronto and far beyond.
“Immersive art is a very complex concept, it is not just a technical way to represent A/V in huge spaces,” Longobardi says in an interview on the event’s website. “The word ‘immersive’ indicates a deep commitment of intentions which connect images and sounds in a way that the audience is able to experience a different perception of the art. The music does not ‘overpower’ the images but, on the contrary, allows a diverse approach to them, one that is more personal and intimate.”
Included in the visuals are circular projections from the ceiling that serve as social distancing tools, creating digital “pods” that keep visitors separated but moving along, and can be adjusted to fit spacing and audience restrictions city by city as well as week to week as guidelines change.
In addition to Longobardi’s original compositions, the music director has curated a Van Gogh inspired playlist for Spotify that can also be found on the exhibit’s mobile app, which includes audio guides, access to AR lobby activations, educational content about Van Gogh’s paintings and more. 
And, in some locations, additional activities like yoga sessions dubbed “GOGH With The Flow,” and cannabis-enhanced viewings are available as pop-up events.
The COVID pivot of Immersive Van Gogh in Toronto was not only successful for Lighthouse Immersive and its founders, but for companies like Lobeline that have benefited from the show’s ultimate success.
Lobel had just partnered with Hurley and Miguel Costa (who had their own successful social media and marketing company). Hurley and Costa helped transform Lobeline into a digitally focused firm and Immersive Van Gogh seemed an ideal project – and then COVID emerged.
“We’ve obviously been able to take the history and experience that Lobeline has had, the ingrained relationships, of course, that Phil and the company had for three and a half decades. But to be able to pivot when in the beginning the world was falling apart, including us — my God, we lost 60% of our clients overnight. We’re like, ‘This is bad.’ Miguel and I are like, ‘We just bought  this company. Is this really actually happening right now?’ 
“We made the decision to pivot and came together as a team and as partners and over the next several months, we regained  all of our business and had explosive growth from there. And it just kept going up, up, and up.”
Lobel concurs and marvels at Immersive Van Gogh’s ability to turn on a dime in Toronto with Ross finding a venue to enable the show to convert to a drive-through exhibit and avoiding a likely bankruptcy to come out on the other side as what Lobel describes as a “Rolling Stones-grossing-sized event.”
“It was a huge success and [Ross] recouped his millions of dollars,” Lobel explains. “Then he moved it to a walk-through venue. And then, unfortunately, COVID surged again, and he had to close. But by then he was setting up his operation through cities all over the U.S. He put Immersive Van Gogh out there with a massive digital campaign, and went on sale in cities in North America. 
“People were desperate to buy a ticket and the money started flowing in rapidly. I’m not sure it would have had such massive instantaneous huge success had it not been for COVID.”