The founder also called on Luminis Partners seek new capital for the company as it embarks on a plan to build more permanent galleries and expand its traveling exhibitions in a post-pandemic world.
âI just want to see more people around the world engaging in art and culture,â says Peterson. “I think COVID has shown us that we are in a much better place when we have art and culture in our lives, and in order to grow at the rate we want, that’s going to take investment.”
Peterson began his career as a physical education teacher before moving to the pharmaceutical industry. A gap year at the age of 29 led him to decide to stand on his own feet. He started, sold and closed several businesses before a move to major marketing events licensed him in 2006 to bring an exhibition of Da Vinci’s machine inventions to Australia.
He didn’t believe the show was as good as it could be and saw the potential to do something bigger on da Vinci’s work. So, he uprooted his wife and three children and moved to Italy to pursue the idea of ââbuilding a da Vinci exhibit based on artifacts.
But as he dragged his family around Italy’s famous galleries and museums, he kept pulling on the sleeve – the kids were bored and ice cream was much more appealing than art.
âIt took a little while to get the kids to understand what the problem was for them, but they just weren’t engaged,â he explains. âI’ve been a teacher for a long time and the lesson I’ve learned is that if you want to educate someone, you have to involve them. And if you want to involve them more, you have to keep them entertained.
In 2009, Peterson’s plan for a multimedia exhibit was born. It took two years to build a technological system (which Grande Experiences calls Sensory4) that would create the kind of immersive experience Peterson had in his head, harnessing multiple projectors, multiple screens, music, and other elements.
The exhibit system also had to be portable, able to be packed in two shipping containers, shipped around the world and then set up in a new city in seven days.
In 2011, Van Gogh Alive’s first exhibition took place at the ArtScience Museum in Singapore. Grande Experiences was officially launched.
The company has grown rapidly since and is now able to organize once 16 separate exhibitions. To minimize the risks of the Grande Experience, Peterson will license a show to a local partner (typically an art gallery, venue, or entertainment company) or co-produce it as part of a joint venture.
Different partners have different skills and different needs, he says; an art museum focuses more on the content of the show, while an entertainment company has local marketing expertise.
Securing the content of the shows was another challenge. While the art of Vinci, van Gogh and Monet is no longer protected by copyright, Grande Experiences worked for five years for the Salvador Dali Museum in Florida to obtain permission to use the work of the famous absurd.
Peterson says that in the end, his pitch to museum director Hank Hine was straightforward. âI said, ‘Hank, if Salvador Dali were alive today, don’t you think he would work on this digital medium? “”
Grande Experiences has also developed shows based on indigenous art and street art. The latter group has proven particularly difficult to locate, with some only willing to speak on phones that cannot be found.
Peterson says COVID-19 hit the group hard at first, the exhibits he was hosting in early 2020 suddenly closed. But in countries where lockdown restrictions were light enough to allow sites to stay open, he knew he had to fulfill his contractual obligations or face big losses.
Within a month, his team found a way to do something Grande Experiences had never had to do: put on a show remotely. The first was in Taiwan and the second in Norway. Peterson says that while the experience was painful, it was also formative.
“We just proved how reliable we are as a company and how innovative we are as a company by doing what was really seen as impossible.”
COVID-19 has also delayed the launch of Grande Experiences’ next big phase of growth: the permanent galleries called The Lume. The first, at the Newfields Museum in Indianapolis, opened in June, but Peterson is clearly opening The Lume in his hometown of Melbourne in November, with Van Gogh Alive as the opening show.
Peterson says a permanent gallery allows Grande Experiences to do things it can’t with traveling shows, including integrating food and drink outlets in the middle of the exhibit, and more opportunities for corporate sponsors. (The Lume will open in Melbourne with automaker Lexus as a partner.)
Grande Experiences has a list of countries where it would like to establish permanent galleries, including the United States, Great Britain and Asia; the group’s latest exhibition in Beijing sold its first 50,000 tickets via TikTok and Peterson says demand in the region is strong.
But he knows balancing that ambition with the growth of traveling exhibitions will require capital. To his credit, he keeps an open mind on what that looks like – it could mean hiring investors, or there could be a strategic buyer or private equity firm that could attract Grande Experiences to a larger firm.
âWe often talk about the fact that what got us here is not what gets us there,â he says. “The reach of what we’re doing is so huge, the addressable market is the whole world, with cities of over 500,000 people, it’s something beyond what I think I can handle on my own.”
Suffice to say that Peterson’s children are no longer bored with daddy’s art exhibitions. But they remain important critics, keeping Grande Experiences in touch with the one group he says some in the art world can sometimes forget: the visitor.
âIf we let middle-aged men like me figure out what and how we do things, I don’t think it would be that successful. We are really focused on the visitor.