The photography museum Fotografiska announced last week that it has merged with NeueHouse, the co-working and social membership space headquartered in New York.
Moving forward, the two organizations will co-exist under a new parent company, CultureWorks, which brands itself as the “preeminent global growth platform for culture, experience, and hospitality brands,” according to a press release.
This, of course, is not the type of deal we see traditional non-profit institutions make. And indeed, for skeptics of Fotografiska, which is for-profit, the move will likely read as another rebuke of traditional museology in favor of a trendy experience economy model that emphasizes its restaurant, entertainment, and architectural offerings as much as it does its art. (Some have questioned if it should even truly be considered a “museum” since it does not have research facilities or a permanent collection.)
But Yoram Roth, chairman of Fotografiska and a majority investor in CultureWorks, is doubling down on the company’s commitment to the way many young people want to experience art in 2021—even if that means the museum starts to look less and less like the Met and more and more like a social club.
“I think there is a very staid and tenured way of looking at what the mission of a museum is and the way that it fulfills that mission, and everything else that is different from that is looked at as a threat or as not serious,” Roth says. “We are not the competition. The competition is TikTok and the Xbox and Netflix. We need to get people off the couch.”
Roth and NeueHouse CEO Josh Wyatt, who will also be the CEO of CultureWorks, raised $35 million for the new venture. The duo’s original brands won’t look or act any differently after the merger, they say, but crossover programming between the them will become a regular occurrence and, looking forward, you can expect branches of each to pop up in the same cities.
Seeds of the merger were first sown in February 2020, when Roth met Wyatt at Frieze LA. There, the two discovered they had similar goals for their respective companies. “We realized that we want to be in the same cities, in the same neighborhoods,” Roth said. “We realized that the people who are members at work at NeueHouse are the same people who come to Fotografiska after work.”
“There was just this ‘aha’ moment where we looked at each other and said, these are sort of like two siblings that have been separated at birth and have now found each other again,” Wyatt told Fast Company. “Fast-forward two weeks later, COVID hits in full force. And we looked at each other again and said, my lord there is a massive pivot opportunity here for both of these companies.”
Despite the pandemic, the company is still planning for aggressive growth. With three locations now open across Europe and the U.S., Fotografiska is set to open a fourth space in Berlin later this year. Meanwhile, NeueHouse plans to open additional branches in Los Angeles, Miami, and Stockholm (next door to the inaugural Fotografiska location) during the same period.
“It’s about the community,” says Roth. “I think it’s about creating this programming and these events that give people cause to be there and to come back and spend time.”