Photo by Cody Bess/Courtesy Color Factory

Pop-up exhibitions are a booming trend. These short-term venues draw crowds with their eye-popping environments, designed with Instagrammable moments in mind. But the Color Factory, which opens for a month in Houston starting Saturday, Oct. 26, aims to be more than a selfie backdrop. Alison Piepmeyer, cofounder and chief marketing officer, says, “It’s more than just a photo op. We think people are looking for a human experience, outside their phones. We want people to experience the world in a different way.”

Piepmeyer and her team partnered with artists and designers to convert a two-story former furniture showroom into a labyrinth of sensory experiences, unified by color, that bring to mind a combination of Willy Wonka’s factory and a Dr. Seuss dreamscape. Imagine wandering through a Lite-Brite room, painting a larger-than-life coloring book, wading through a glowing ball pit, and trying to guess the scents emanating from different-colored pipes. In one room, bright-hued balloons dance aloft on jets of air; in another, confetti sifts from above to form snow-like drifts on the floor. Each space comes with a custom soundtrack, and several offer treats like macaroons, mochi ice cream, and popcorn in a rainbow of flavors.

Photo by Cody Bess/Courtesy Color Factor

The Color Factory got its start in San Francisco in 2017 before opening in New York the following year. Piepmeyer explains that they selected Houston for the third location because they were looking for “a place that’s quirky and fun and passionate about art.” They tailor the color palette to each city, and the Bayou City inspired the most vibrant one yet. “Our team drove over 400 miles around the city to find colors iconic to Houston,” she says. In all, they selected 30 shades: the deep green of a live oak, the blue of the NASA logo, the yellow of an Astrodome stadium seat, and the vivid red of a Viet-Cajun crawfish are just a few.

Beyond the visual appeal, the Color Factory provides opportunities to connect with others in ways that defy photography. One of the most popular experiences is a guided sketching session in which two visitors create colorful portraits of one another. Another requires visitors to make a circuit by holding hands, thereby illuminating a series of lights and a marquee with the words “YOU ARE MAGIC.” According to Piepmeyer, this room exemplifies the whole point of the Color Factory: “You have to touch another person to bring magic into the world.” No camera necessary.

The Color Factory will be at 3303 Kirby Drive in Houston through Nov. 26; tickets are $35 for adults, $28 for children ages 3-12. The  exhibition may be extended based on demand.

The June 2024 cover of Texas Highways: Treasures from the Coast

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