By Alison Fox
October 03, 2019
Credit: David Mitchell for Arcadia Earth

Standing under the ocean, a visual cacophony of blues and greens all around, a shark swims by, passing just in front of my face. It's not a real shark, of course. It's swimming by on an iPad, just one of many augmented reality experiences placed throughout Arcadia Earth, an immersive art installation on climate change open in New York City that has one simple hope: that through beauty, visitors will learn.

The shark swims away, floating around the room exhibiting how to choose a sunscreen that is safe for coral reefs, and I move on, walking through room after room showcasing the fleeting nature of our planet.

Credit: David Mitchell for Arcadia Earth

Arcadia, which is open through January, is the brainchild of Valentino Vettori, a veteran of the fashion industry who came up with the concept about two years ago. He tested it in Miami at Art Basel last year before bringing it to the Big Apple. Vettori decided that rather than try and lecture people about the science, he would instead create a project that people wanted to engage with — and share.

"People don't connect with fear," Vettori told Travel + Leisure. "Arcadia is, in its own way, like Mary Poppins: With a [spoonful] of sugar, the medicine goes down."

Arcadia's 15 rooms touch on everything from plastic bag waste to environmental impact of eating meat. And while the topics are serious, the presentation is not. Virtual jellyfish float around in one room, while another is packed with plastic bags that appear almost otherworldly. In yet another room, visitors take mirror selfies with catchy slogans like "waste no food," the neon lettering conveniently flipped so it will appear the right way around in the mirror.

Credit: David Mitchell for Arcadia Earth
Credit: David Mitchell for Arcadia Earth

"What we did is [in] each room we put the message — it's printed if you want to read it, it's in the audio if you want to hear it, it's in the AR if you want to scan it," Vettori said. "And then eventually we see that everybody that goes out gets one thing that they care about."

But beyond simply learning about the effects of climate change, Vettori hopes that people will start to see how they can counteract out their own carbon footprints, including when it comes to practicing sustainable travel.

There are simple changes Vettori said travelers can make that could have a big impact, like eating less meat, using a sunscreen that won't harm the ocean, and using less plastic (on an airplane, for example, he suggested people bring an empty bottle and fill it up with water rather than use plastic cups and skip the plastic stirrer for your coffee).

"We're not saying to stop travel," he added. "We just need to travel responsibly and be aware."

Arcadia Earth is open in New York at 718 Broadway through January 2020. General admission is $33, and a tree will be planted for each ticket sold.