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Knowledge on a tour: how nomadic workshops, trains and labs deliver expertise and inspiration to the door

With mobile devices and advanced computer technology available now, knowledge can be accessed distantly and at any time. Still, people sometimes need wisdom to be packed and delivered to them in portions, preferably in the physical dimension. The focus is gradually shifted to teaching on the go, and more mentors are hitting the road to bring their expertise to the public across the country or sometimes even across the globe. Brands gladly support or even initiate such initiatives aimed to break into the cluttered informational realities of consumers, teach the curious minds something new and let them evolve as creatives.

It’s quite old-school to let the information flow from person to person, with no digital medium, still this proves to be the most effective way to plant seeds of knowledge. Despite now it’s possible to reach any physical point in a few hours, especially within one country, people’s lives are so busy that they not always take advantage of this opportunity even if they want to be present at worthy events, exhibits, workshop, etc. This article explores the latest examples of how brands use the nomad style to deliver professional insight, art inspiration and social life knowledge to masses.

The modern roaming teaching/learning cross-country (or even international) experiences can be divided into three major groups, by scale: Pop-up workshops/master classes, Trains, and Labs.

Pop-up workshops and master classes in different cities

This is a perfect solution for brands that want to teach their consumers some specific knowledge without sacrificing much money or time. In 2010-2012, Levi’s hosted a series of temporary workshops dedicated to a plethora of themes ranging from printing to filmmaking. The brand opened the spaces for a limited time only, up to four months, each in a different city (NYC, San Francisco, LA, Berlin, and London), allowing creative minds to enjoy an opportunity of learning one of the crafts.

Started in Naples in 2009, Gucci’s “The Artisan Corner” custom-built Gucci retail workshops are travelling across the globe, demonstrating the public how the iconic accessories, timepieces and footwear are made by the brand’s masters. For the past four years, it has made stops in Japan, the U.S., Middle East, Australia and Europe, allowing people to see how the signature products are created in real time before their very eyes (still, with no direct involvement).

In early summer, the Glacéau Vitaminwater beverage brand launched a multinational campaign, #Shinebright, encouraging people from a selection of countries (Denmark, France, GB and Norway to name a few) to compete for a chance to get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of sourcing a bit of expertise from six modern gurus of fashion, music, design and media. Applications for six differently challenges are accepted through August 16. For the winners of the competitions, the brand will host exclusive themed one-to-one collaborations and workshops led by the experts in different cities of Europe.

Technically, numerous conferences, venues and seminars also resonate with the idea of the travelling master classes. There is a selection of such initiatives, and the biggest ones usually garner much support from brands in their fields. For instance, Digital Tourism Think Tank emerged in partnership with Yahoo! in early 2013to provide thought leadership in digital marketing to the tourism industry. The experts who collaborate on the initiative will be sharing their expertise at a series of events across the globe—according to the current schedule, upcoming workshops ad campuses are to be hosted in Dubai and Barcelona.

Trains

What will we get if infuse travelling workshops with an extra pinch of dynamism? We’ll get trains, stuffed with thinkers, innovators, explorers, performers, makers, artists and high doses of game-changing creativity. Inspired by whistle-stop tours, these undertakings focus not on politics but on taking expertise and igniting tech and social change across the country.

The Millennial Trains Project (MTP), a 3,000-mile transcontinental journey across the USA, is a new crowd-funded initiative with the travelling idea behind. The project inspired by Jagriti Yatra, a similar Indian experience, will be rolling for 10 days, August 8-17—and during the tour, the participants on and off the train will have an ultimate transformational experience. The train will be taking mentors and 20 thinkers aged 18-34 across the country—those who wanted to get on board were invited to apply with their project that benefits, serves, and inspires others. The team of 20 young participants was made of those who first generated at least $5,000 for their on-train project in crowd-funding (the deadline was July 1). The team of the inaugural edition is already formed. The participants will be communicating with each other on board and also have 5-6 hours to advance their projects to local public in each of the 7 destinations on the route.

Surprisingly, the MTP initiative is currently not supported or sponsored by any brand except National Geographic Traveler. The magazine is the only media body that partnered with the project in its inaugural year. Most probably, when the initiative proves its vitality, there’ll be more interest from companies and brands.

Three weeks after the MTP, the USA will experience another grandiose train tour, Station to Station, a public art project made possible by Levi’s. Organized by artist Doug Aitken, the train odyssey will include nine stops across the country from September 6-28. The Station to Station project, designed to connect artists, musicians and creative pioneers from New York City to San Francisco, will include a series of art, music, food, literature, and film “cultural interventions and site-specific happenings.” Travelling on the train, the “moving, kinetic light sculpture,” they will be making waves in the communities on the route.

Serving as an art venue on the wheels, the train will also be turned into a moving broadcast station—along the way, expulsive content and artistic experiences will be broadcast internationally from the stops as well as on the moving train. So far, it’s hard to predict on the project’s reach—the tickets are still on sale, the audience seems to be quite modest in terms of numbers (at the moment of publication, there’re 765 followers on Twitter, 480 subscribers on Instagram, 934 friends on Facebook, and more) but growing. The initiative is covered on TwitterFacebook, Tumblr, Vine (@stntostn), InstagramVimeo.

Such trains are basically travelling exhibits, just put onto the wheels as they are, without taking down to parts. One of the best examples of roaming exhibitions with a “tech and teach” twist is IBM’s THINK experience, started in 2011 in NYC and continued in early 2013 at INNOVENTIONS West at Epcot at Walt Disney World Resort. The THINK exhibition and the app illustrate how “progress is shaped through a common and systematic approach.” Twenty years ago, in 80s, the tech giant also unveiled its IBM Travelling Exhibition to showcase the advances of technology, especially among younger generation The impressive 48 metres long, 12 metres wide and 7 metres high installation was set up in the parks of twenty different European cities, for one month at a time.

Labs

Announced back in 2010 as a 6-year 9-city global tour, urbanism-centric project, BMW Guggenheim Lab made its inaugural stop in NYC in 2011 and has visited two more cities, Berlin and Mumbai over the course of the last two years. The Lab was designed as a temporary urban think tank, community center and public gathering space, aimed at initiating academic and participatory studies, conversations and forward-thinking initiatives. The curators of the Lab invited experts from the areas of urbanism, architecture, art, design, science, technology, education, and sustainability to participate in the programs dedicated to urban living. Each city’s multi-faceted program included tours, screenings, lectures and workshops, debates and roundtable discussions, performances and surveys, in-door experiments and outdoor explorations, all to understand how urban areas live today and what the city of tomorrow will be.

The lab’s reach was quite impressive—only the first edition, NYC program of 2½ months, attracted more than 54,000 physical visitors from 60 countries (329,000 users from more than 150 countries visited the dedicated website). The Berlin’s program, running for thirty-three days, was attended by 27,144 visitors, while Mumbai’s Lab saw 23,861 visitors of all ages over 29 days. The themes of the labs in the cities were Confronting Comfort (NYC), Making (Berlin), and Privacy and Public Space (Mumbai).

The collaborative project was planned to run through 2016, but BMW has recently announced it ends the support of the initiative—the closing exhibition, Participatory City: 100 Urban Trends from the BMW Guggenheim Lab, running October 11, 2013—January 5, 2014 in NYC. The concluding event will see international and interdisciplinary expert groups which will be exploring the themes and ideas from the Lab’s three previous stops.

Despite the projects spanned fewer cities and ended earlier than planned, it accumulated a plethora of valuable ideas and inspirations to make diverse cities a better place to live. The Lab’s heritage include the “100 Urban Trends” online glossary, the “Urbanology” and “Public/Private” games, lecture short videos and more. For an insight into the Labs’ findings, visit the Lab Learnings page.

The Cube by Electrolux can also be added to the list of travelling labs. Since 2011, The Cube has visited Milan, Brussels, Stockholm, and London, “landing” on buildings in the form of a huge white futuristic construction. While the initiative is aimed not at teaching, but at delivering ultimate dining experience to people across Europe, the project also inspires learning and cultural exchange. The acclaimed chefs make refined meals in front of the 18 guests and get them involved into the cooking process—the chefs “share their hints, tips and techniques on creating fantastic quality food at home,” says the dedicated online hub. The previous stop of The Cube was in London (it stayed there until December 31, 2012), and currently Electrolux doesn’t say whether and when it will continue.

Three key insights into how brands can better engage with the public in their “moving” initiatives :

1. Let your expertise transcend one location. Allow people from other cities to get some bites of your knowledge through short interactions with labe’s experts and visionaries that mirror the brand’s values.

2. Define the area of expertise and organize short-time, location specific workshops under various themes within the brand’s area of interests. They can be launched across the country or internationally, at the brand’s stores or public spaces. This saves money, space and time. (Levi’s)

3. Organize cross-country/continent creative and think tank interventions (trains), asking participants to crowdsource funds in order to get on board. This kills two birds with one stone—brings you the money and helps you make sure that the public is interested in the content you are going to deliver (since it pays forward with contributions). (MTP).