In the winter 2017, Jim Hayhurst, then-CEO of Pretio Interactive, was out walking on the sandy beach in Cordova Bay when he noticed a guy whose kid was splashing around in the ocean. Who the hell lets their kid play in the water in February? Hayhurst thought. Nevertheless, he decided to introduce himself, because, you know, that’s how Hayhurst rolls.
The other beachgoer turned out to be Mike Wilson, a 25-year veteran of the video game industry and cofounder of four independent publishing companies, who had recently transplanted his family from Austin, Texas.
The men got talking and uncovered some common interests. Both were delighted to find another person with huge ideas for the city of Victoria.
The ideas began to zip back and forth: “Something new and creative!” “Digital but analog too!” “ART! Like Meow Wolf!” “THEATRE! Sleep No More, but cooler!” “Burning Man!”
Before long, Hayhurst introduced Wilson to someone he’d already been throwing ideas around with: Nicole Sorochan. The multi-talented Sorochan is co-owner of the creative agency One Net, co-creator of the augmented location-based music discovery game Hipster Bait, and producer/director of Amplify Her, a documentary about women DJs currently making its way around the world.
The three were joined by Wilson’s daughter, Deaven, a marketing and communication specialist from Austin. With the team in place, the stage was set for Something Sacred, Victoria’s most innovative experience.
A mash-up of museum, theatre and art gallery, Something Sacred falls under the header of interactive art experience, along the lines of the smash successes Meow Wolf (Santa Fe), Atelier Des Lumières (Paris), Sleep No More (New York) and teamLab Borderless (Tokyo).
With development planned to begin in 2020, Something Sacred will include an immersive series of detailed, intricately rendered rooms — each designed by a professional artist — linked by a common theme of sacred spaces: The places we go to feel part of something bigger.
Part permanent exhibit, part theatrical production where participants are free to wander as long as they like, in whatever order they like, Something Sacred is more experience than venue, where visitors take meaning from the stories their own minds create.
Anchored by the themes that humanity has found peace in — not divinity, per se — Something Sacred unfolds in labyrinthine non-linearity, promising places of rest and healing like a dance studio, an Italian dinner table, a Mexican ofrenda or a library. Cast members will wander throughout: a Tibetan monk meditating in a coder’s lair; a dervish whirling in the forest.
When visitors finish or want to rest, they can gather in a decompression chamber of sorts — likely a café — where they can talk, think and plan their next exploration.
The idea is to make the experience affordable and family friendly, so people will come back again and again — and it’ll be a different trip each time.
Moving Into The Experience Economy
The four enterpreneurs have a calling card: Transcend Entertainment, a company serving the fast-growing experience economy with a series of compelling shows, venues and human-centred attractions aimed at getting people out of their homes, off their devices and reconnecting with each other.
Earlier this year, Transcend had a seed round and is still seeking investors. They have reason to be optimistic — in May of this year, Meow Wolf raised $158 million U.S.
Transcend is also actively looking for a home for Something Sacred. At press time, discussions were underway regarding iconic, but perhaps underutilized, buildings and spaces. (Meow Wolf was started in an old bowling alley.) Other projects include an installation in the Victoria Press building, a partnership with the building’s owner David Fullbrook.
Something Sacred will be governed by a high-level vision, with a story and central theme woven throughout, but it’s the artists and their voices that will bring the project to life. Transcend plans to engage local, Canadian and international artists to create and direct each space, with an overarching spirit of collaboration and mutual betterment.
Why Victoria And Why Now?
Victoria has a five-billion-dollar tech industry and a long list of shiny condo towers slated for development — all good from a growth point of view. But there’s a delicate interplay between urban development and the socio-cultural ethos that attracts people to a city in the first place.
Something Sacred is a proactive step in preserving the city’s arts community and holding space for the creative souls that lend texture and life to the city.
“I think we’re in a very unique time right now in Victoria,” says Sorochan. “There’s a ton of new construction happening and the city is growing. We need to ensure that we carve out art and entertainment and new ideas that will keep the city vibrant, versus making it a live-and-work-only style city.”
Transcend definitely doesn’t want the city to be all work/live and no play. Rather, they’d prefer to help develop an arts district in our city that will continue to grow and flourish and showcase our world-class local artists, groups like MonkeyC Interactive, Limbic Media and DreamCraft Attractions.
Says Hayhurst, “If you go experience great Victoria-driven art at Burning Man or an installation at Coachella or wherever, and if you think about the great artists, the great creators, even the set directors and designers that are working all around the world … many of them are from here. But we don’t get to see it.”
Guided by other successful immersive art experiences worldwide, the plan is for Something Sacred to make it possible for artists to make money, and for art to make the city money via a unique offering. Transcend has based their healthy projections on resident traffic alone; tourists and cruise-ship visitors are gravy.
“The comparables for the cities that are finding success with this are pretty stark,” Mike Wilson says. “These things work in towns where there is other competition. There is an expectation of high-value art or tourist attractions or festivals.”
Hayhurst agrees, noting there’s a clear business case for this kind of experience and attraction in Victoria.
“The nice thing is, it’s not dependent on cheap labour subsidies or wildly over-enthusiastic projections,” he says. “It’s based on [knowing that] this is the kind of city that we have; paying people more than a fair wage to create art; and having a long-term vision of the investment. That’s what our investors would expect. The investors that we’re speaking to will not be looking at this as a donation to the arts community.”
The Deeper Mission
Transcend is on a bit of a social mission with Something Sacred, seeking to create something where, once people have toured the experience, they will feel their view of the world has grown ever so slightly.
“Whenever we think about something that was profound, that shifted us to our core, we talk about it having come from an experience,” Sorochan says. “Maybe we’ll get the odd, occasional conversation that will really lift [us], but where it really comes from is when we’re given the time and space in a place that might feel unfamiliar or uncomfortable, and we get to experience it.”
It’s an experience the team wants for themselves. As such, they want to bestow the gift back to the city, so others can experience enjoyment and growth and self-discovery too.
“We’re in a pivotal moment with a lot of angry men running the world, and I feel like we need the opposite,” Sorochan says. “We need to start shifting the way we understand things, the way we understand the idea of collaboration, the way we care about each other, the way we care about each other’s perspectives. And if we can do that through something that’s entertaining — and not finger pointing — then this is exactly what I want to be doing.”
This article is from the October/November 2019 issue of Douglas.