Atlas Obscura takes over Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. Photo by Steven Acres.
When was the last time you staged a meeting for 1,600 people in a cemetery at night? That is exactly what Atlas Obscura co-founder Dylan Thuras did at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Participants, wielding maps of the 478-acre space, happened upon musical performances, readings, pop-up bars and candlelit crypts as they navigated their individual journies. “That sense of discovery is what makes an experience stick,” he says, even as he acknowledges that it takes more time to put the guidepost in place to help people find the surprises on their own.
Thuras took the same hands-on discovery approach when he put on a lock-picking party for 400 people in the Library at General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York, which happens to have an amazing collection of antique locks. Guests were given a lock or key when they entered and had to find their match. Then everyone received a lock-picking kit and the keynote speaker, a professional locksmith, taught them how to open any door while driving home a larger message about finding patterns. To make the event a true party, he added dancing and an open bar.
Thuras is passionate about celebrating different ways of looking at the world. Here are his tips for putting on an event that leverages the wondrous to create the meaningful.
1. Look for the elicit, the magical, the unexpected. To be memorable, an activity has to take people slightly outside their comfort zone. It is basic psychology. That sense of being a little unsure and asked to make a decision that pays off is what creates a catharsis and releases the dopamine that makes a mental impression. Note that this sense of slight nervousness has to be accomplished within the framework of a safe, legal space that may be more controlled than it appears.
2. Make it contextual. Matching the group to the place adds meaning immediately. A meeting of neuroscientists at the Cushing Center with its room of brains in jars makes any message more relevant. The group will see it as a perk and the conversations may have a little more spark as well.
3. Look to the past for unusual venues. That Independent Order of Odd Fellows hall may not be on the radar or connected to a hotel, but it can be a beautiful backdrop that will leave an impression. Consider some of the spaces built by fraternal organizations of yesteryear, such as Masonic, Moose and Elks lodges. These are huge, beautiful spaces scattered all over the world, Thuras says. Museums, libraries and churches also capitalize on the sentiment of the past in the context of large, architecturally stunning spaces.
4. Look up, down and out. Extremes make an impression. Consider rooftops on skyscrapers, subterranean spaces or taking a group out on a boat to put some distance between their state of mind and ground level thinking.
The good news is that wondrous spaces don’t have to be more expensive. Often these spaces are much less in demand and therefore cheaper than the hot new ballroom, Thuras says.