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Strike a pose: Selfie 'museums' pop up across Metro Detroit


It's the ultimate 21st century art form: the selfie. 

Scroll through social media and you'll find nearly every kind of selfie in every kind of setting. 

Now, there are entire businesses devoted to capturing the perfect shot of yourself. Selfie "museums" -- large spaces filled with a range of rooms, props and whimsical or over-the-top backdrops -- are popping up all over Metro Detroit to let selfie fans strike a pose.

The Good Day Selfie Museum opened Friday on Woodward south of Nine Mile in Ferndale, featuring 25 of what owner Catherine Tolbert-Wilson calls photo exhibits, or vignettes. There's a graffiti room, disco room, enchanted garden, even a money room where customers can throw dollar bills in the air and get a shot.

The Detroit Selfie Museum, meanwhile, opened in early July at Twelve Oak Malls in Novi. And the Pose Experience launched earlier this year in Southfield. 

"It's the era of social media and everybody loves taking pictures and interacting on social media," said Tolbert-Wilson, 22. "Here, it's not just a museum. You become a part of the art."

And these spaces appeal to more than teenage girls, said Tahirah Hannah, owner of the Detroit Selfie Museum, who said business has been "amazing" since she opened.

"I have all walks of life," she said. "All walks of life, religions, races. I have families coming in, couples coming in, teenage girls coming in, children. I’m able to capture everybody here."

Selfie museums may be new to Michigan but they're already in cities across the country. The Color Factory, which is all about creating an immersive color experience, opened in San Francisco in 2017 and now has locations in New York City, Chicago and Houston.

In fact, it was a visit with her mom three years ago to New York City's Color Factory that inspired Tolbert-Wilson, a recent interior design and business administration grad of Central Michigan University, to create something similar in Michigan.

"I just fell in love with it. I took amazing pictures. I just loved the vibe," she said. "When we got back to the hotel, I said 'We need something like this in Michigan.'"

They decided to wait to do anything until she graduated. In the meantime, she worked on vignette ideas. She curated the entire space. 

And it's not just about taking pictures, she said. Positive affirmations and phrases -- the graffiti room, painted by an Ohio graffiti artist, says "Good Vibes Only" -- are woven throughout the vignettes, which was important to Tolbert-Wilson, who has struggled with depression and anxiety.

"With COVID, we're coming out of it, but it really brought people down just staying at home and being in their houses," said Tolbert-Wilson. "People need a space to come out to not just have fun but lift you up."

For Hannah's part, before the Detroit Selfie Museum opened, she was already working in the photo industry. She owns a photo booth company called Snap Station. But when she heard about selfie "museums" popping up across the country, she thought about opening one in Michigan. She put the idea on the back burner for awhile and then the pandemic hit.

"With the pandemic, everyone is trying to reinvent themselves and figure out a way to not go under," said Hannah. "I wanted to be prepared."

Now, the 6,000 square foot Detroit Selfie Museum, which opened July 6, features 44 different photo settings.

Each customer gets a complimentary ring light during his or her visit to create the right lighting and shoot images with a timer. There's a massive Popcorn box and a Barbie box to step inside. In the Cloud Room, customers can swing through the clouds and snap a shot.

Hannah, who designed the entire space and offers admission in half hour and hour time slots, said she was very intentional with what was installed. She wanted to appeal to all demographics.

"There are literally so many scenes that are people's favorites," said Hannah. "I put in a lot of work and time to build this space."

And while these selfie museums aren't "museums" in the traditional sense, both Tolbert-Wilson and Hannah said they are places to explore and create your own kind of art.

"I wanted to combine my love for museums and my love for selfies," said Tolbert-Wilson. "And it's not just a walk through and you look at the art. You become the art. And once you take that picture, you're within that art."

mfeighan@detroitnews.com

Metro Detroit Selfie museums

Detroit Self Museum: Upper level of 12 Oaks Mall in Novi near Nordstrom; general admission for 12 and up is $30; $25 for ages 4-11. Call (313) 399-4402.

Good Day Selfie Museum: 22742 Woodward, Ferndale. Open Wednesday through Sunday; $28 per person. Also offers group discounts and space for parties. https://gooddaymuseum.com/

The Pose Experience: 15618 West 10 Mile, Southfield. Open 12-9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday; $28 per person (12 and up). Private parties also available. Go to https://www.theposeexperience.com/.