Bruce Peterson of Grande Experiences

Founder and CEO of Grande Experiences Bruce Peterson said after the company staged its first ever exhibition in Melbourne in 2006, it would almost be another 15 years before it earned another dollar on Australian soil.

Back then, Grande Experiences began its journey just down the road from its current Fishermans Bend headquarters having brought an exhibition from Italy to Docklands – Da Vinci Machines – An Exhibition of Genius.

Internationally renowned at the time, the artefact-based exhibition featuring 64 models, many of which could be touched, tried and tested by visitors, brought to life the machine inventions of the famous polymath Leonardo da Vinci.

But while the exhibition proved to be a huge success, Bruce Peterson felt it could be done a lot better, and it would mark the beginning of his pursuit of creating a fully integrated multimedia creative experience.

The former PE teacher, who also had a background working in the pharmaceutical industry, said he was driven by an ambition to establish a “global business”, and one focused on reimagining the way art and cultured is viewed by making the experience more entertaining, and taking the art and culture to the people.

“The opportunity came my way and I saw the gap that was there in the market in terms of storytelling and the way these experiences were put together, and there were really only a couple of companies like ourselves globally when I first started back in 2006,” Mr Peterson said.

“It was a little bit of a sliding doors moment shall I say, and we were able to move into it once we realised the opportunity that was in front of us.”

Moving to Italy for 12 months, he would spend the coming years developing the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci the world had ever seen, which today has culminated in a permanent attraction in the heart of Rome – Museo Leonardo da Vinci.

But the meteoric rise of Grande Experiences began to really take off between 2009 and 2011 – the same time which Mr Peterson said, “the technology kicked in” – and it has gone on to become a global pioneer of its field.

During this period, Grande Experiences would build a technology system, known as Sensory4, capable of delivering the sought of experience Mr Peterson had envisioned, and one which was transportable and able to be installed/deinstalled and moved efficiently around the world.

A young male and female in field of sunflowers at the Van Gogh Alive exhibition in Perth by Grande Experiences
Two people sat inside the Dali Alive Egg with a checkerboard background and Salvador Dali face image by Grande Experiences

With advancements in projection, audio and touchscreen technologies, the company soon began bringing the work of other artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet and Salvador Dali to life through immersive multimedia and multi-sensory experiences.

Fast forward to today, and Grande Experiences has now hosted more than 230 exhibitions and experiences in 33 languages across 175-plus cities around the world, having attracted more than 20 million visitors to its cutting-edge displays.

Among the many innovative and reimagined experiences have included Van Gogh Alive, Monet & Friends Alive, Street Art Alive, Dali Alive, Connection (a showcase of First Nations art and music), Italian Renaissance Alive and Planet Shark: Predator Or Prey.

But having operated “almost 100 per cent overseas” since that very first experience back in 2006, Mr Peterson said it wasn’t until November 2021 that this fully Melbourne-based international success story brought its product home.

Its return to its home city culminated with the opening of the permanent 3000 sqm immersive multi-sensory gallery, THE LUME Melbourne, at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) at South Wharf – just down the road from its Salmon St headquarters.

Having launched with the hugely successful Van Gogh Alive, the gallery is now displaying Monet & Friends and is on the verge of welcoming its one millionth visitor through its doors – proof that this new destination is already cementing its reputation as an icon on Melbourne’s arts and cultural landscape.

With an ever-expanding global footprint, Grande Experiences has now come full circle with THE LUME Melbourne – an achievement that provides a great sense of pride for Mr Peterson and his talented team.

Connection, a showcase of First Nations art and music, by Grande Experiences
Monet & Friends exhibition featuring Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son, sometimes known as The Stroll (French: La Promenade), oil-on-canvas painting by Claude Monet from 1875.

“We held our very first experience in Melbourne, then pretty much never earned a dollar in Australia until we opened THE LUME Melbourne in November 2021 and took Van Gogh Alive on tour through New Zealand and Australia in 2020-23 (Van Gogh Alive is the highest selling experience of any tour in Australian history with close to 2 million tickets sold). We’ve been 100 per cent overseas and most of our displays are international,” Mr Peterson said.

“We’re world leaders in what we do, and we’ve really pioneered this movement into immersive, multisensory experiences. The experiences put together very large format images in high definition through projection, which are synchronised to musical score. We have aroma, touch, feel, and even a food and beverage cafe that’s integrated into the experience as well.”

“THE LUME Melbourne is the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, so it’s a unique, cultural attraction that is homegrown.”

“I think being able to have THE LUME Melbourne in our own backyard so that our staff can see it and their families can see that the work that they do really is world class is something that is extremely rewarding, beneficial and we’re all proud of here.”

The Melbourne-based digital gallery joins THE LUME Indianapolis, which also opened in 2021, and Grande Experiences now has a number of other international cities on its radar.

Establishing both galleries was no mean feat either. Having worked through licensing, content, securing venues, and establishing partners, Mr Peterson said the opening of THE LUME Melbourne in particular had been significantly delayed due to COVID lockdowns.

While the creative industries suffered majorly during the pandemic, the company was originally fearing a similar fate when many of the exhibitions it was running were forced to close in early 2020.

A group of people at Dali Alive at The Lume Melbourne featuring the artwork Persistence of Memory, a 1931 painting by artist Salvador Dalí and one of the most recognisable works of Surrealism
Two people drinking glasses of wine at the Monet & Friends exhibition featuring Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son, sometimes known as The Stroll (French: La Promenade), oil-on-canvas painting by Claude Monet from 1875.

But with differing COVID conditions in cities around the world, the company was able to find a way to overcome its challenges. With the ability to still tour its experiences, Mr Peterson said his team soon learned to carry out installations remotely right here from Fishermans Bend.

“Even through COVID, we were probably the only arts and entertainment business that was still operating. And we actually grew during COVID, if you can believe that,” he said.

“Our team put in an amazing effort to work out how to install our very high-tech exhibits remotely. They would sit here in front of their computers while people in Taiwan, Norway or Israel were sitting there with head cams on and a translator and getting instructed how to install our experience.”

“So, we didn’t need to be physically present, and we were able to keep moving things around and keep going without our physical presence, because obviously we couldn’t travel in and out of Australia at the same time.”

With around 50 staff based here in Melbourne consisting of audio visual, technical, creative, marketing and operations specialists, Grande Experiences also employs a further 10 people overseas with offices in London and Rome.

As technology has improved over the years, so too has the quality of the experiences Mr Peterson said the company had been able to deliver, with its early use of projection having come a long way since 2011.

“Those projectors back then were pretty unreliable,” he said. “They were all using lamps, not LED like they are today, and they were very difficult to synchronise to the software and provide a consistent, quality output.”

“Our first experience had 30 projectors, and we were trying to link together to a musical score in perfect unison to the animated images. But the software programming and equipment was quite unstable, so we had to enhance by tailoring with our own code and that’s developed a long way since then.”

“Now, at THE LUME Melbourne, for example, there are 150 LED Barco high definition projectors, a 99-channel audio system, a complex aroma emission system – it’s improved a huge amount in stability, in quality. It’s expensive tech, but the results are outstanding.”

It’s the constant sense of innovation at the heart of its work which Mr Peterson said also made its future locally in Fishermans Bend all the more exciting.

Grande Experiences

While the lack of public transport is a challenge for his staff, many of whom he said travelled to work from the northern and western suburbs, the tradeoff was the space and creative environment the area offered.

And like many other businesses in the precinct, he’s excited by what’s to come for the area, and the potential it offers for greater collaboration.

“We’ve always known that Fishermans Bend was going to be a developing, mixed-use business with some pretty exciting things coming in, and I think one of our opportunities and one of the reasons why I was keen is to connect with other businesses and groups,” he said.

“We can be very much interlinked with a lot of the businesses with the technology and know-how that we have that can assist other businesses, and the University of Melbourne coming in here can be a feeding ground for our research and development.”

By Sean Car