Walking into Water Tower Place, 835 N. Michigan Ave.) was an experience, for sure. After all, it's not what it used to be.
Marshall Field's and its successor, Macy's, are goneas well as scores of other businesses, with some relocating and others shutting down altogether.
However, on Water Tower's fourth floor (in the former Victoria's Secret spot) is an exhibit that speaks to the body, mind and soul: the immersive experience known as The Exhibit House.
This all-ages exhibitknown as a "hidden art experience"is an open layout that is partially divided into separate exhibits that allows visitors to explore things at their own pace (and there are seemingly unlimited opportunities to take photos). The Exhibit House, founded by Janine Williams, is divided into three areas:
Disco Dreamland: Studded with disco balls, people can dance their cares away in this part of the exhibitand there's even a platform that allows cellphones to record video of visitors as they dance on it (to the music of their choice, enhancing the experience).
The Mood Room: With an aim of emotional exploration, this area can add color, laughter and even tears to people's lives (with Williams saying she's definitely witnessed all three). The Mood Room provides a burst of color in a creatively inspiring environment built to visualize different emotions of the human mind through art.
Each installation has an activity. For example, "Sensitivity" has complimentary statements printed on index cards (like "Your smile makes me melt"); people can take cards and pass them on to people they know (or even strangers), paying it forward. Other installations involve emotions such as sadness, caution, trust, peace, fear/dread and even anger, allowing people to confront and purge their emotions.
The Secret Garden: Toward the rear, this hidden area has a lush path filled with secret messages and unique earthly environments. Spaces include The Rose Room, Butterfly Forest, Desert Daze, Mushy Madness and Living Luminescenceand there's even a gnome village.
Although The Exhibit House is a permanent experience, Williams said that she is looking to switch out some elements, although she's likely to keep The Secret Garden running "a little longer than expected" because she's particularly close to this section.
In addition, "Kites Ice: Ice Diner" is open for a limited time. South Side artist/jewelry designer Kristopher Kites is also known for his pre-packaged ice pops (in strawberry, pineapple and coconut varieties). Attendees can chat while downing pops as well as shopping for jewelry and merch.
For Williams, The Exhibit House is a passion project of the purest kindand she literally put herself into it.
Williams worked in retail management for more than 20 years. However, that changed after a significant change happened in her life, resulting in The Exhibit House.
"My passion was always in arts and entertainment," she said. "A couple of years ago, I fell into a deep depression and I didn't like the way that I felt. I was forcing myself to come out of that depression without seeking therapy or counseling; I wasn't ready for [that]. So I tried exercise, writing journals," but eventually developed The Exhibit House.
The disco balls represent "new beginnings" to Williams, while the different colors in The Mood Room represent the "different emotions she went through while I was in that depression." Williams added that, when she travels, she likes "to be near greenery, like the tropics. The Secret Garden represents all the things that I love." Even the diner has special meaning for Williams: "I used to go to bars when I was sad or depressed. I couldn't put a bar here, so I put a mock diner. Each part of this exhibit represents a part of my life."
The Exhibit House has so much to offer. However, it's one of those places where the more someone puts into it, the more that person gets out of it.
Tickets to The Exhibit House are only available online. Visit www.exhibit-house.com/ for passes and more information. Also, it's on Instagram @the_exhibit_house and Facebook at www.facebook.com/Theexhibithouse .