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Arts / Galleries

Former Bank Space Turned Into the Ultimate FOMO Factory in Houston Galleria

Journey Into an Instagram-Land of Wild Childhood Nostalgia — Prom Redo Included

BY // 06.06.19

It’s Thursday morning, and it’s time to step into a childhood wonderland in the least likely of places.

That’d be on the third floor of The Houston Galleria — in a former corporate bank space, since turned into a kaleidoscope of color thanks to a 17-room immersive art exhibit.

The rainbow paradise is available to explore starting tomorrow (Friday, June 7) for six whole months. Inspired by the likes of The Museum of Ice Cream in New York, FOMO Factory is the epitome of Insta-friendly. But it goes far beyond a charming backdrop.

With a collaborative creative process born of brainstorming by artists and engineers alike, plus deep dives into Pinterest, it’s not like anything you’ve seen before.

There’s nothing to really prepare you for FOMO Factory. The name gives a clue, at least, while you fill out a purple or turquoise framed HELLO, MY NAME IS ____ card.

We’ve all heard of FOMO — the Fear of Missing Out, of losing out on epic experiences. It’s the kind of thing that can hold you back. Or it’s the kind of thing that can propel you forward.

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It’s often used as a negative, but it doesn’t have to be.

At FOMO Factory, the technicolor, vibrant fantasy world dreamed up by native Texan Rachel Youens, it’s all about yet another acronym — JOBI.

“We like to celebrate this idea of JOBI — the Joy of Being In. You’re not missing out anymore now that you’re in,” Youens laughs.

The funky founder is decked out in a bright blue jumpsuit, black jelly sandals and black socks — in fitting with the throwback theme — with glitter sparkling from her right cheek, and a name tag that reads “Calico.”

Youens sits cozy in a low chair in the music room, lined with a grid of color-coded cassette tapes. It’s one of 17 rooms centered on sensory overload— eight from the Austin FOMO Factory, where all the magic began last year — and nine designed by local Space City artists.

The immersive spaces span every theme you could imagine. There’s the Summer Camp Room, with a tent you can climb in, a canoe you can paddle in and a vest you can wear covered in all different FOMO Factory merit badges.

Then there’s the Birthday Room, with a wall studded with yellow and pink cupcakes, and a massive white confetti cake you can climb into and pop out of. There’s the Coloring Room, a life-size, three-walled coloring book where you can make your mark — and erase it just as easily.

The Playground Room has a rainbow seesaw fit for all ages and sizes. There’s a space devoted to a bathtub, a sand castle, an inflatable pool with resident flamingo float, “Mimosa.”

fomo factory
There’s nothing nicer than a day on the beach.

Childhood is the thread that ties all these rich fabrics together — whether they’re woven of bright yellow and orange skateboards, ropes of roses or an entire I-Spy wall of miniature painted guitars, tennis rackets and more. Or baby pink swingsets where pop sensation Billie Eilish once sat.

“Nostalgia is universal. Everyone had a childhood. If your childhood was great, this gives you a chance to get back to it. If it wasn’t so great, here’s your second chance,” Youens tells PaperCity.

You’ll find inspired do-over opportunities in sites like the moon and glitter-spangled Prom Room, where you can pose with your “prom date” in front of a silver crescent moon.

“I love seeing our prom room, especially in Texas. People who were gay and didn’t get to go to their prom — you can do that here,” Youens says. “People really reclaim moments. For me, no one asked me to prom, I didn’t have a prom date. I get to go to that room and put on a tiara and put on a sash and get to own that narrative.”

The photos, while emblematic of the experience, are just one pivotal piece of the puzzle.

“Taking photos of each other is a very vulnerable act. Are you going to make me look good? Are you going to be honest with me if I look fat in this photo? Are you going to take 15 more photos if I don’t like the ones you took?” Youens laughs.

An Art Playground

FOMO Factory is freeing, letting you shake off those inhibitions, in large part thanks to the immersive angle — riding seesaws, picking up a flask as a mad scientist, playing the guitar, splashing in a bubble bath.

“You have the art be something you play with,” Youens says.

That’s the stark, rainbow-painted line that divides FOMO Factory from “Instagram traps” or even “self-serve photo studios.”

“I think these spaces get a lot of haters thinking it’s frivolous. But if all you came out of here with was photos, I’d be a little bummed. I want you to come out with memories, with laughing, with an inside joke about the nickname you chose,” Youens says.

The nametags inspire the sense of a new identity, the chance of an alter ego who can wind their way from the butterfly wall to the Shine Bright sign.

FOMO Factory is nothing short of a playground. But it’s also art, even if it’s not on par with a contemporary art museum.

“We don’t think all art has to have a deep societal meaning. It’s OK for things to ust be beautiful. You don’t have to apologize for just enjoying things.  The Art Car scene was here just when we were starting to build the art car parade happening. I love that kind of enterprising, joyful kind of art,” Youens says.

It’s time for her close-up. Youens stands against the retro cassette tape wall and turns to the glass to toss her hair a bit. No judgment here.

At FOMO Factory, you’re free to look your best. And when it comes to having fun? Do your worst.

FOMO Factory’s hours are 10 am to 9 pm Mondays through Saturdays and 11 am to 7 pm on Sundays. Tickets are $23 for adults and $18 for kids. Adult-only hours are Wednesdays and Thursdays from 7 to 9 pm. It will be open from Friday, June 7 through December 31.

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