The 16th Street Mall is welcoming a new business: the Museum of Illusions, an international chain that hopes its trademark "edutainment" will help re-energize the strip. The interactive museum will open on September 29 at 951 16th Street, the former Chili's location that closed last year. Tickets are available now.
“We’re really glad to be a part of the 16th Street Mall, especially during this revitalization, and to help bring tourists and locals back downtown in that area,” says Karah Duanchan, the sales and marketing manager for the Denver location.
“We really saw the 16th Street Mall as this iconic location and destination in Denver that attracts both locals and tourists alike, which really aligns well with our goal, since we really appeal to a broad range of audiences,” says Duanchan. “It’s for date nights, it’s for families, group events and field trips. It’s really a great location, where we can appeal to the masses.”
The Museum of Illusions joins several restaurant and retail joints repopulating the mall over the past year, including Milkshake Bar, Little Finch and Sofia, despite ongoing trouble with construction, crime and closings such as the Hard Rock Cafe, which shuttered in July after 25 years. The mall is undergoing an almost $150 million renovation, which broke ground last year and is expected to finish up next year, leaving many businesses stumbling post-pandemic.
The Museum of Illusions franchise was founded by two friends from Zagreb, Croatia: Roko Živković and Tomislav Pamuković. Now backed by Inerva Equity Partners, a private equity fund also based in the Croatian capital city, the franchise has spread to more than 25 countries with forty locations. Describing its offerings as “edutainment,” the museum capitalizes on interactive illusions to bridge the gap between visual amusement and the science behind it.
“It features mind-bending exhibits that allow you to understand visual perception and how your mind bends, and basically the science behind why that happens,” says Duanchan. “It’s entertaining in the sense that the museum is not as traditional as other museums where you can actually interact and take photos and touch the exhibits, but then the educational side comes from our illusionist experts that will be laid out within the museum [who] can actually explain the science between why your brain and your perception might be understanding something different.”
More than sixty exhibits will be showcased within the museum. Some are the standard crowd-pleasers found at every franchise location, but others will be unique to Denver, says Duanchan. Unlike Meow Wolf, which selected local artists to contribute their own spaces within Convergence Station months ahead of opening in September 2021, the Museum of Illusions says that while it's willing to work with Denver creatives, their inclusion is not set in stone.
The big hits from other locations include dizzying optical phenomena and odd, illusory novelties. And, of course, there's the social media draw: Patrons can take photographs in the trippy installations with help from the staff, while learning about the science behind what they see.
“There’s one called the Vortex Room. As you walk through, the walls are spinning and rotating around you, so it feels like you’re losing your balance and falling,” explains Duanchan. “We have a color room that uses RGB light, and you can utilize your own body movement to understand how that impacts the lights and the colors. We also have a room, where — based on where you’re positioned in the room as well as where the photo was taken — you could look smaller or larger than the person that you’re in the room with.”
In joining the 16th Street Mall, the museum hopes to build a network with its new neighbors and bring a bit of wonder to the stretch as commerce along the street regains momentum.
“It’s a permanent location, so we’re here to stay," says Duanchan. "We definitely love to continue to collaborate with local businesses, we like to host events, so we will definitely have some unique events and interactive experiences once we're open that will happen year-round.”
The Museum of Illusions is set to open in September at 951 16th Street. Ticket prices will be released closer to the opening; find more information on the museum’s website.