Whatever happened to Minifornia?

Whatever happened to Minifornia?

From 5th to 7th March 2020 at London’s Waterloo station the only public appearance of an unusual exhibition known as Minifornia took place. It had made its appearance on the public stage as COVID ravaged its way across the world. Countries were entering lockdown and people’s movements were being limited. Just a couple of weeks after Minifornia both the US and the UK too entered their first ever lockdowns thus the busy scenes at Waterloo quickly became a thing of the past. Three years ago this week advance publicity for Minifornia began…

‘Minifornia – An Epic Road Trip Experience.’ Crowds mill around the miniature exhibition on its final day at Waterloo station in London.

Minifornia’s creators:

The main creators were Visit California with several other companies participating.

The ‘Hollywood special effects team’ were in fact Vision Scenery who are based at Sylmar in California. The company built the entire miniature exhibition from scratch in a period of just nine weeks.

By the way it wasn’t just a Californian work as two main UK companies were also involved in the participation. The first was JCDecaux Creative Solutions. Some of Decaux’s other work has also been featured at Waterloo including the Ghostbusters, Jurrassic World and Men in Black campaigns. JCDecaux were responsible for the interactive side of Minifornia which included VR headsets and cameras around the site on the various model vehicles:

‘A custom-built model of California linked to video headsets will be unveiled at Waterloo train station next month. The 36sq metre ‘Minifornia’ model will be placed in the middle of the station concourse and feature miniature vehicles travelling on four routes through the state’s natural hotspots, such as El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, Mammoth Mountain and Palm Springs. Live footage of the scene will be transmitted to viewers wearing headsets and across large motion screens in the station. Minifornia is part of Visit California’s California Road Trip Republic campaign.’ Source: Travel Weekly.

The other UK organisation, Black Diamond, was involved with Minifornia. Uniquely Black Diamond are alone in having retained any proper reference to Minifornia on its website. The company were involved in the UK side of things including Minifornia’s publicity plus arrangements for the exhibition floor on the station concourse as well as use of the large digital screens and placement of banners and flags throughout Waterloo station.

Was Minifornia a success?

Its quite evident Minifornia had considerable success as gleaned from the meagre information that is available. Loads of enquiries and potential bookings were raised as a result of people’s interest in terms of a holiday across the pond. Sadly Minifornia came onto the scene as COVID was making inroads – thus it more or less vanished off the radar completely. To this day there’s little to indicate Minifornia had ever existed.

In terms of success the following detail comes from Visit California documentation at the Internet Archive:

‘Engagement and foot traffic far exceeded expectations. Despite being in one of the busiest commuter stations in London, there was a constant stream of traffic and people exploring the model, making it difficult to even find a space to view it up close.’

  • Individual time spent with the model was extensive, with visitors saying ‘they didn’t mind missing their train’ as a result.
  • The model achieved the objective of educating consumers on California’s geography, helping Brits unfamiliar with California’s scale to understand just how many miles of road the state offers.
  • Sentiment and the vast majority of comments were overwhelmingly positive. A number of comments centered on nostalgia (visitors would recall fond memories of going to one place or the other on their honeymoon for example or another type of trip taken to California).
  • Only a very small handful of questions were received regarding COVID-19 or wildfires.
  • 1,100 visitor’s guides distributed over 3 days.
  • 864 competition entries and 404 U.K. e-newsletter sign-ups were received over the three day period.

There were other results besides these findings. For example there were 6,300 interactions with the model exhibition. That’s two thousand one hundred per day. Its quite debatable as to exactly how many people visited Minifornia – because ‘interactions’ mean different things and that whether its real world or online (such as Twitter, Facebook Instagram etc.) Possibly around two thousand visitors had interacted with the model each day but there’s also those who didn’t interact – this would be what are termed impressions – in other words the exhibition had some form of impact even if fleetingly. Perhaps people glimpsed it quickly as the sought to catch a train, maybe they tweeted about it or mentioned it on Facebook, Instagram or other social media Maybe they told their friends and family too or could have even made a mental note to read more online about the Californian Road Trip Republic at a later time.

Apparently requests for Minifornia to visit other UK venues were also received. Some possible dates such as July 2020 were too mooted but sadly COVID put paid to all that.

Once Minifornia had closed its doors at the end of business on the 7th March 2020, the exhibition was progressively dismantled with the work continuing into the night. It was packaged into its five crates and then shipped off to Heathrow for forward transit back to Sylmar in California. Despite the possibility Minifornia could make a reappearance in the UK, the events that occurred during the following couple of weeks or so ensured there was no chance of that happening. On March 20th 2020 both the state of California ordered its 40 million residents to stay at home in light of the coronavirus epidemic. Three days later the UK followed suit. Evidently any chance of resurrecting Minifornia vanished as soon as COVID had gripped the entire globe.

The Visit California guy takes a pic of the Chandelier Tree as the exhibition drew towards its final hours at Waterloo station.

General view of the Minifornia exhibition at Waterloo station.

In spite of Minifornia being a success, post recovery from COVID would have taken far too long for Minifornia to be of further use. Any priority post COVID would have been to renew confidence to businesses and tourism. Other tourist campaigns such as Kidifornia (2017) and Californian Road Trip Republic continue to the present – and that likely because success could be measured over a substantially longer period of time – unlike Minifornia.

Clearly short term wonders such as Minifornia stood little chance. To this very day the model is likely to be found stored at Sylmar, California, with little chance of ever seeing the light of day again.

Pics from London Rail Blog (except tweets.)

Minifornia – my original post from March 2020.