Cool/Interactive/Fun/Artsy Activities for a Professionally-Thrown Party
September 25, 2015 9:16 AM   Subscribe

Have you ever been to an event that had something really fun and cool, that got you to whip out your phone and take a photo, that made you go "wait, this is free?" An example from a party I've been to recently is having screen printers make t-shirts and tote bags for attendees from designs they chose right there in front of them. More examples inside.

I recently started a new job (yay!) with an events listing and promotion company that also regularly throws our own parties (can we talk about how perfect I am for this job? ok we're done but thanks). We have sponsors and a budget and stuff. We need more ideas.

Other Examples:

animal handler with a three-toed sloth you could pet and take photos with

adult-sized tricycles you could ride around

live body painting

GIF photobooth

If you have something that doesn't QUITE seem right for a party but was Cool/Interactive/Fun/Artsy - like once I saw a museum exhibit with a TV set up that had all these reflectors and stuff set up to kaleidoscope the picture, and attendees could select and pop in VHS tapes - I still want to hear about it.
posted by Juliet Banana to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Banana split bar
posted by k8t at 9:29 AM on September 25, 2015

Every time I walk past a bouncy house, I'm really sad when it's full of kids and it's obviously for kids and it would be weird for me as a grownup person to enter the bouncy house. You should definitely create more bouncy house opportunities.
posted by the_blizz at 9:38 AM on September 25, 2015 [14 favorites]

I work lots of these sort of events. Being in the Bay Area, a popular thing is to bring large scale Burning Man art in. I'm not quite sure how that translates to Chicago, though.
posted by mollymayhem at 9:48 AM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

You mention a GIF photobooth, but I heart regular photobooths (that print out a four-strip and/or allow you to email the photos to yourself, post to Facebook etc.).

In the vein of on-the-spot screen printing, I'd love to see on the spot photo keychains/mugs/etc, ideally that allow you to take a photo or use one that's already on your phone.

I've enjoyed having a henna artist do free art on my hand, but that may be culturally fraught at a random party - my experience was at an Indian wedding. Maybe temporary tattoos of some sort instead?

Animals are always a good idea, as long as they appear to be happy & are well taken care of - anything from photos with a parrot or snake to pony rides to a mini petting zoo. You could even do a petting zoo type situation with kittens or puppies! I would LOVE to go to a party and get to hang out with some kittens and puppies.

I really enjoy events where I can do some kind of craft - ideally everything is set up nicely, and the attendees just come by, spend however long they like on the craft, and then someone else cleans up. Something like tie-dye tshirts is ideal, because it's fun and easy and usually turns out well, but is messy and inconvenient to do at home.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:51 AM on September 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Someone was taking and developing tintype portraits at our neighborhood farmer's market yesterday. No idea if they were free, but she was snapping them and developing them in a mobile darkroom onsite.
posted by vitabellosi at 9:53 AM on September 25, 2015 [7 favorites]

I was recently at a party with adoptable kittens and puppies. It was awesome, adorable, and those animals got SO much attention and media exposure. I think a ton of them were adopted directly by people at the party and anecdotally, a bunch of other people adopted them after seeing pics on Facebook and Instagram. I'd like that much more than a caged/trained sloth or another wild animal, especially if it wasn't part of a wildlife or rehab program.

It wasn't really a party, but at a conference makerspace there was a machine that would scan your face and then make a plastic bobblehead-thing of your likeness. It wasn't perfect but it was super fun.

There was also a virtual realty room where you put on a headpiece and then flew through different scenarios.

Also a giant keyboard on the floor, like the one from the movie Big.
posted by barnone at 10:17 AM on September 25, 2015 [9 favorites]

caricature artist? They do have some limits about time and people flow, but really fun, and a nice keepsake.

Inflatable sumo wrestler outfits :D
posted by Jacen at 11:37 AM on September 25, 2015

When hosting parties for school kids, the biggest hit I had was making colored ice. Adding food coloring to the ice slowed the freezing process. It took me several days to make multiple different colors at home and have enough to serve a small party. I let each kid initially pick any two colors of ice to put in their clear drink (probably sprite) and they got see the colors combine as the ice melted. Every kid came back mulitiple times for more ice. By the end of the party, they all had brown drinks. It was a smash hit.

So, maybe the takeaway is "fun foods" of some sort. As a kid, I remember thinking floats were so cool. When I was a kid, you could only get cotton candy once a year at the county fair. Not only was the texture so cool, you got to see the process. It meant cotton candy was a cherished, magical experience.

More adult sounding food stunts: Flambe, where they set your food on fire in front of you; Japanese restaurants where they do the amazing chopping thing in front of you and cook your food as you watch. I went to a restaurant like that once. They made food prep part of the experience.

Food experiences as either art or science. And then you eat them.
posted by Michele in California at 11:43 AM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

My aunt coordinated a casino night for a New Year's party. It was a huge hit! Roulette and cards and betting chips and food and more.
posted by harrietthespy at 12:37 PM on September 25, 2015

Fortune teller/Tarot readings.

Nail artists doing manicures or single nail fancy stuff.

Arcade games, I'm thinking active ones like DDR, air hockey/ping pong, or where you throw as many little basketballs in the hoop as you can, or a claw grabber thing and the prizes could be a mix of promo/branded stuff and good prizes. (I assume there's a way to switch things like that to free mode or just give out/recycle tokens.)
posted by misskaz at 12:55 PM on September 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

I've been to a few of these kinds of parties, here's what stood out:

* A zombie-themed party held in an old medical college where you could get into the old cages and take awesome photos
* A medical-themed party where you go into different rooms for different food and drink "experiments" administered by people in lab coats (you also got your own lab coat when you arrive)
* A "night at the museum" party where you get to silent disco in the kid's area
* A games-inspired party where they had 1-on-1 tables set up with old-school Battleship and other games, along with a giant projector for those DDR-style games for more participation

This is such an awesome job - have a great time!
posted by ukdanae at 1:07 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

went to a party once with a ceiling-height Space Odyssey style monolith that was also a theremin and walking close to it would make it go wooooooooo
posted by ghostbikes at 1:40 PM on September 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

I've seen a spare ID-card machine being used for novelty photo-ID cards (imagine a high-security Men-In-Back lanyard photo-ID keycard sort of thing). I've seen something similar done with just a polaroid+cards+laminator.

A popular one I saw recently was a photobooth that produced mugshot pictures that looked like the wizard newspaper mugshots from Harry Potter (when the wizards were WANTED and on the run.)

Virtual reality demos are always a hit. The Occulus Rift dev-kits are not tooo hard to beg, borrow, or steal, and they're not yet available to consumers, and they blow people's minds.
posted by anonymisc at 2:17 PM on September 25, 2015

The most awesome parties I know of:
1. Hiring out an entire family style pool/water park thing, with the wave machine and all the pool toys and several huge slides. At 11pm.
2. Hiring out one of those huge modern soft play centres where you can climb around in a giant maze and there is a huge ball pool and etc.
3. Near where I live is a massive cave system. It is possible to rig a big underground chamber with awesome lighting and have gigs / events / parties down there.
posted by emilyw at 2:27 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

My niece had a flip book maker at her bat mitzvah and it was a RIOT. The kids loved it and so did the adults. Apparently it's a known service, at least in the LA area. They bring props and costumey things and you dance around for 15 seconds while they film you with a digital camera and then 30 minutes later they give you a flip book of your dance. It's especially fun with a group of people, although we found that 4 was probably the most you could see in one screen.
posted by janey47 at 2:52 PM on September 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

Large scale board games - eg. (Human) Mouse Trap, Jenga towers made of 2x4s, chess boards with people as the pieces, etc.
posted by mannequito at 4:18 PM on September 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have a part-time job helping throw kids' birthday parties. They're all very different, as the parents basically decide the activities.

For whatever this is worth, given my limited scope of party experience here, the only party activities I've ever seen the adults get super into are:

- petting the animals (we're at a horse facility); any animals you can bring in humanely and for a good cause will be a huge hit. I love the pet adoption idea suggested upthread.

- face painting. Someone with better skills than "butterfly or smiley face?", like, an actual artist, can be so popular with adults. I've seen some amazing Mardi gras-esque eye mask type things. It's fun to walk around a party like that. and less adventurous people can always go for a hand painting, which hits a similar note as henna tattoos.
posted by jessicapierce at 4:18 PM on September 25, 2015

Mashed potato bar.
posted by bendy at 7:13 PM on September 25, 2015

Instead of henna, you can get gold temporary tattoos done. At a party planning meeting recently, one service mentioned was an artist who did the painting on the spot (I think an airbrush kit?) as well as having a bunch of ready-made designs, mostly bands and small spot designs, to apply. Gold looks fantastic and glittery on just about every skin tone, and it's much more grown-up fun than facepainting and more culturally neutral if you're careful about the design choices. That gives you 4-6 days of fancy body art that people will remember your event for. You could even give out a couple of transfer sheets with logos artfully done or some kind of image worked in and possibly get people to wear them post-event for fun.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:29 PM on September 25, 2015

Close up (street) magic / mentalist would be really fun! Maybe with a couple or so people so they can float through the crowd plus one at a table or something. It's really interactive for little groups of people and since the tricks are usually shorter, people can come and go without needing to stay for a whole "show" so to speak.

Yeah I like airbrush tattoos or henna. If you do henna be sure to make sure it's natural henna! (The other stuff can cause severe allergic reactions.)

Also, what about spray paint artists? (Obviously you'd need an outdoor space or something.) But that's work that dries really fast for people to take home. It's also really cool to watch!

Sand art bottles are fun, easy, and people can take them home.
posted by Crystalinne at 8:12 PM on September 25, 2015

Oh and from experience - be very uh informed? when dealing with an artist vs an artiste/craftsperson for a live performance of art. If you have an artist making art or doing a performance at an event and they have creative control, you can get unpredictable outcomes. As a person, I really really loved the art event I experienced but from an event organiser perspective, the intensive confrontational dark energy of the piece was soooo not what we had expected from prior discussions with the artist. If you're doing a corporate event, I wouldn't risk working with an artist who had artistic control unless you had real corporate support that was willing to take the risk of publicity for the artist going wild. For a non-corporate event, go for it! Working with actual artists is fun.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:36 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I went to an event once that included a big table covered in loose origami paper, with a couple volunteers present to show people how to fold a specific kind of basic origami (pinwheels, in this case). They also had instructional posters on the nearby walls (and I think even a sound-free video of how to do it, maybe?) in case the participants strongly outnumbered the volunteers in any given moment. There was a big bulletin board where people could tack up their creations, and a lot of colorful pinwheels just got left on the table too. There was something really pleasing about all those colors in basically the same configuration all mixed together, and it was a relatively quick thing you could stop at with a few friends without feeling like you were missing out on the rest of the party.

The same event also had a "tap water bar" where you could taste a few different tap waters from various nearby municipalities and try to guess which one was from where. They were served by bartenders in little glasses like a beer flight. Surprisingly popular.

If your goal is to get your crowd posting photos on social media to raise awareness, people might like some well-conceived versions of those stick-your-face-in-this-hole-for-a-photo boards with funny bodies and scenes painted on the front. They'd have to have scenes that would actually seem interesting or funny enough to post online, though. If they're boring nobody will do them.

I don't know your budget, but could every guest get a free accessory to wear upon arrival and during the party? Silly hats or cheap boutonnieres/corsages or leis or wacky sunglasses or face masks or stick-on mustaches or pirate accessories or those sproingy novelty headbands with things on springs attached to your head... you get the idea. Or you could provide fewer, slightly nicer accessories for temporary use during photo ops at the event. Either way, having a couple photo backdrops to fit the theme of your props is a nice touch. Having guests pick which one they want from your stash increases buy-in compared to just handing them out randomly.
posted by vytae at 9:54 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

For an outdoor party (ours was a golf event) there was a spot where 2 Tesla cars were available for test drives (with the Tesla sales rep in the car). The line got really long really fast, so I would recommend an appointment system. Maybe get several different high end dealerships to bring some cars out.
posted by CathyG at 10:31 AM on September 27, 2015

My company had a team of people rolling fresh cigars to be smoked on-site at our last holiday party and the line was outrageous.

A fun twist: two kinds of pinatas. One with candy and toys inside for kids, and another filled with condoms and plastic airline-sized liquor bottles for adults.

Seconding the flip book: we still treasure ours from a party 5 years ago.

A photo booth with customizable filters before printing would be fun: aging filter, zombie filter, circus mirror filter, etc.

Also, what about airbrushed shirts like you get at state fairs? They can include caricatures or names or whatever.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:46 AM on September 27, 2015

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