Meet the Placemakers

For many, a trip to Boston is a chance to take a real-life walk through American history, visiting monuments and architecture from the nation’s colonial past. But Ariel Foxman knows his city is also dynamic and future-focused. So when he became vice president of brand and experience for WS Development, the company behind the Boston Seaport, he knew it was a chance to do what he does best: “I look at this as an opportunity to tell stories in live 4D,” Ariel told WWD magazine.

Ariel, the man behind the scenes at the newly developed 20-block stretch situated between Boston’s waterfront and its historic Fort Point district, joined the Seaport in 2021, but he is not new to storytelling. The former editor-in-chief of InStyle magazine, he is currently a contributing editor for Vanity Fair. And while the platform for his work has shifted, his focus has remained the same. “The best storytelling considers the audience,” says Ariel. “What they already know, what they may be excited to learn, and how they can be inspired to take immediate action. That is as true in service journalism as it is in experiential marketing. Entertain, inform, inspire. Make the aspirational accessible to those who are engaged.”



Visitors to the Seaport are drawn into a multisensory narrative that includes parks, a pedestrian promenade, shopping at a wide range of stores, dining, art installations, conferences, and a revolving door of exciting brand activations. Last year, over 875,000 visitors came to Holiday Market at Snowport, which had plenty of attractions for shoppers, kids, and animal lovers (photos with Betty the Yeti were a hit). This year, the Seaport celebrated Halloween with Play It By Fear, an experience that featured a string quartet playing instrumental versions of scary movie music and local businesses collaborating in all ways creepy.

It is a testament to Ariel’s brilliance as an experience maker that each trip to the Seaport feels new and exciting, as opposed to, say, a walk down a street you’ve been on countless times. This ability to build an original experience — one that draws people back repeatedly — in a fixed location is the special talent of The Placemakers, the term we have adopted at XP Land to describe experience makers who do not need a change of venue to bring a change of experience.


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If the Placemakers had a slogan, it would be “There’s always something exciting and new to be found in the familiar.” This only holds true, however, because of their unique talent for building a brand’s identity through experiential. They don’t need the razzle-dazzle of a special event; the day-to-day is more than enough to craft an unforgettable time. This group — representing a wide range of industries, from publishing to retail to architecture — also includes includes Rachel Shechtman (who is currently on the board of directors for interactive toy store CAMP), Brent Bushnell (co-founder of micro-amusement park Two Bit Circus), Jordan Renda (founder of immersive museum franchise Otherworld), Brandon Garrett (co-founder of immersive fun houses, Electric Playhouse), and Duane Bobbsemple (founder and CEO of creative agency Banded Purple). 

Aside from the ability to create a fixed-place experience that feels new, one other thing sets these experience makers apart from others: they all believe deeply in the power of storytelling. Take Rachel Schectman’s STORY, a retail space she founded in 2011 and turned into an immersive experience; every six to eight weeks, the boutique was transformed using a new editorial point of view. She described it as “an ever-changing retail concept that brings a new theme to life every couple of months, through a mix of new products and events for all ages.” After selling STORY to Macy’s in 2018, Rachel is now an “entrepreneur in residence” for the Brooklyn Museum, using her storytelling to engage visitors as the museum celebrates its 200th anniversary.


Storytelling is integral to creating experiences in fixed venues; it gives brands the power to do experiential every day by injecting fresh energy into a destination. The Placemakers’ work shows that there is also something spectacular in working on a smaller scale.

Brent Bushnell believes that play and spectacle are at the heart of creating immersive, innovative experiences. Bushnell is an engineer and entrepreneur who co-founded Two Bit Circus, a Los Angeles–based experiential entertainment company whose products and events combine story and technology in a way that puts the audience in control. “Humans are corporeal; we have physical bodies, but technology has gotten us very digital, very into our heads, on screens all the time,” says Brett. “Now, whether it’s virtual reality, immersive theater, or escape rooms, industries are figuring out ways humans can be back in their bodies.”

Two Bit Circus is currently building a
network of micro–amusement parks featuring free-roaming VR, robot bartenders, an interactive supper club, and more. “Most movies you want to see one time, so it’s up to the theaters to swap out the bits so that you can come back for new content all the time,” says Brett, whose former role as the on-air inventor for ABC’s Extreme Makeover contributed to his ability to innovate. “I think of us as a movie theater for interaction. There are so many places in our park — whether it’s the game show, the VR headsets, the arcade, the displays — and we can take events and swap them out. That dynamism is new for the user and gives people the opportunity to come and socialize again.”

This knack for innovation is why all experience makers, from the humble party thrower to a megabrand, can learn from the Placemakers. The key is to start with a core belief around how best to tell a story, then treat the venue as one more character in the compelling narrative. Think of it as a way to let the experience — and its captive audience — live happily ever after.

Join us in XP Land. A community for experiential creatives and experience-makers, brand leaders and IP-owners, space stewards and venue visionaries — all of those in the business of epic gatherings and live, immersive storytelling.

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Experiential Is Everything

XP Land is for experiential creatives and experience-makers, brand leaders, and IP-owners, space stewards and venue visionaries — all those in the business of epic gatherings and live, immersive storytelling.