Meet us in the plastic bag nightclub. | Photo courtesy of Arcadia: Earth.
Meet us in the plastic bag nightclub. | Photo courtesy of Arcadia: Earth.

This New Immersive Experience in Vegas Is Earth, Reimagined

Think Meow Wolf meets Greta Thunberg.

It feels like you’re in the intestines of a sea creature, with thousands of white villi reaching toward you. Or maybe in an Arctic cave, stalactites made of ice. Except it’s lit in hues of pink and of-the-moment periwinkle, Arctic cave-as-nightclub. And it’s not made of ice, but plastic bags, 66,000 of them—on the ceiling, on the walls, creating archways—the number used by the city of Las Vegas not every second, but every 1/3 of a second. You’re surrounded by the visual representation of man-made excess, and as the lights bounce off the finger-like white strands, it’s at once beautiful and jarring.

This is the premise of Arcadia Earth, a 15,000-square-foot interactive extravaganza opening December 23rd on the Las Vegas Strip. Of course, immersive endeavors are nothing new here; a city built on escapism, Sin City has a whole entertainment complex dedicated to augmented reality at Area 15 (including Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart, which opened in February 2021). Arcadia, however, aims not only to create artistic Instagram moments but to elicit emotional responses through information: about the rapidly changing climate, about what microplastics are doing to the ocean, on the damage caused by our outsized proclivity for meat, on the plight of bees, and more. Each of the fifteen exhibits follows the same format—present the problem, explain the potential damage, and promote sustainability by offering practical, sustainable solutions accessed via QR code.

“When you think about climate change or any problem, we always have a tendency to create a doomsday scenario: everybody’s gonna die, the water’s rising, we’re all gonna suffocate. Nobody wants to hear that,” says creator Valentino Vettori. Rather than dwell on the negative, his approach with Arcadia is biopositive, scenarios brought out of the abstract with easily digestible content and solutions in doable bites—things like buying clothing made from sustainable fibers or using a washing bag designed to catch microplastics. “I figured if I did something awesome and people wanted to come, not only could I partially educate them in the exhibit, it might inspire [them] to do something good too.”

Take a tunnel through the CGI aquarium. No water necessary. | Photo courtesy of Arcadia Earth

Vettori’s background is in experiential art, creating in-store installations in the fashion space for brands like Vivienne Westwood and Century 21, picking up supportive buds like Robert Downey Jr. along the way. This pivot to environmental education began first with the self-financed Arcadia Earth in New York, a pop-up launched in 2019, with information vetted by conservation group Oceanic Global and the World Wildlife Fund. Within its fifteen rooms, it employed what was at the time cutting-edge technology: VR headsets to take you on an ocean dive, iPads to enable augmented reality, and projection mapping, turning every room into a wholly new environment.

He also partnered with environmental artists for tactile installations, like the room of gigantic jellyfish made of salvaged microplastics by Thai-turned-New-Yorker Poramit Thantapalit. (FYI, jellyfish are the only life form expected to survive if we keep polluting the ocean with microplastics. A terrifying thought.)

Then there’s the visceral section Eat Less Meat, replicated in Vegas, featuring Alchemy by Jerusalem-born Argentinian textile artist Tamara Kostianovsky—it’s a splayed raw animal carcass hanging from a meat hook, uncannily created from recycled clothing. And there’s the original Rainbow Cave of plastic bags, by Polish-born Brooklyn-based artist Basia Goszczynska. The New York version showcases some 44,000, the number of bags used every minute by the city (pre-plastic ban).

Gigantic jellyfish made from microplastics, by Poramit Thantapalit in Arcadia Earth New York. | Photo courtesy of Arcadia Earth

Vegas, as it tends to do, goes bigger. “It’s designed to be more of a show,” explains Vettori. “New York was made with the resources I had at the time. Vegas is three to four times more expensive, it’s bigger, and it’s permanent.” That VR headset that takes you swimming deep in the ocean? Now it’s a full-on LED tunnel aquarium with CGI animations of endangered marine life, whales, sharks, and turtles swimming in an ocean in the desert of Nevada.

There’s also robotic arms, lasers, and olfactory experiences. Calling attention to the extinction of bees, five gigantic honeycombs made from discarded library books and shaped like human noses elicit distinct smells, like fresh dirt, rain, and manure, taking you through the story of pollination. “I grew up in Italy, and if I close my eyes I smell the pasture,” says Vettori. “In its own way it’s so disgustingly good. You close your eyes and you go, ‘oh my god, this is fresh air.’”

The Rainbow Cave in New York, by Basia Goszczynska. | Photo courtesy of Arcadia Earth

And for all its showy excess, Vegas is actually pretty progressive with its environmental actions, which Vettori highlights in Arcadia Earth’s lobby. Right after the entrance, an LED display discusses water scarcity and the city’s conservation initiatives, including the fact that Southern Nevada recycles 99 percent of its water used indoors. “They are intentionally preserving water,” he says, “and should be used globally as an example.”

Tickets ($33 to $39, with special discounts for teachers, students, and Nevada residents) go on sale December 15th. A tree is planted for every ticket sold, with ten percent of the proceeds supporting Oceanic Global. There’s a marketplace, both physical and online, with eco-friendly products like reef-safe sunscreen and organic cleaning products. Pick up a few to help you on your own real-life sustainable journey—just be sure to bring your own bag.

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Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist's Senior Travel Writer. After seeing Alchemy she did a deep dive into Tamara Kostianovsky's work. And it did not disappoint.