Meow Wolf is tapping into the “going to the mall” spirit of the 1980s for its next excursion into interactive-art-meets-surreal-storytelling at the Grapevine Mills mall in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area.
In its first six years, Meow Wolf has opened attractions in a former bowling alley, near a tangle of elevated freeway ramps, and as an anchor tenant amid a collection of experiential and virtual reality entertainment.
Now, the company is engrossed with a 25-year-old mall in Texas that mixes sea life, outlet stores, basketball/volleyball and Legoland, along with normal mall offerings.
“We all grew up haunting hallways of malls, pre-internet, pre-cellphone,” said Dale Sheehan, Meow Wolf’s executive creative director. “For anyone thinking a mall is not an interesting place, we are hoping to change their mind. We’re going to have a unique audience at the mall that we have never had before.”
That would be people from the nation’s fourth largest metropolitan area, but also conference attendees and those waiting out flight layovers at DFW International Airport, just two miles away.
The mall, located in Grapevine, Texas, itself is an inspiration for Meow Wolf and local collaborating artists creating the as-yet-unannounced theme for Meow Wolf Grapevine.
“What would we do in a mall?” Sheehan said. “We are responding to the unexpected conditions. We get the opportunity to respond to what is around us.”
Meow Wolf announced May 11 it would open its fourth and fifth interactive, walk-through attractions in Grapevine and Houston in 2023 and 2024. Neither Meow Wolf nor Grapevine Mills officials would say how long an agreement has been in place, but the relationship started in 2018 — the same year Meow Wolf’s first expansions to Las Vegas, Nev., and Denver were announced.
Meow Wolf’s founding CEO Vince Kadlubek, who stepped down in 2019, had met a Simon Property Group executive at a Los Angeles conference. Simon is the nation’s largest mall operator.
A few months later, the Simon executive told Kadlubek he needed to check out the mall in Grapevine. As much as Meow Wolf is outside the box, even Kadlubek was skeptical.
“OK, I’ll go check out a mall,” Kadlubek recalled saying reluctantly at the time. “When I went, I saw a community rec center and three soccer fields inside the mall. I was impressed with how forward-thinking this mall was.”
As unlikely as a mall sounds for Meow Wolf, it does fit Meow Wolf’s goal to reach out to underserved and underrepresented communities. Meow Wolf will fill 40,000 square feet in a former Bed Bath & Beyond space.
“We’ve always wanted to show art to a truly diverse range of audience,” Kadlubek said. “Truly, we want art experienced by everyone. The power of the imagination can be anywhere.”
Grapevine Mills opened in 1997 as an outlet mall that in the past 10 years has evolved into a center with shopping and entertainment, or “shoppertainment,” as described by Trudy Cresswell, the mall’s marketing and business development director.
“We did go to Santa Fe to visit Meow Wolf,” Cresswell said. “It really cemented that we wanted them. They wanted us. We like what Santa Fe is doing with art and interactive experience, and working with emerging artists was something very appealing to us.”
So far, Meow Wolf is a stand-alone attraction or an anchor attraction. At Grapevine Mills, Meow Wolf will be among 204 tenants and 21 anchor stores. This includes Neiman Marcus Last Call, Saks Off 5th and Macy’s Backstage.
“We are a very unique shopping center,” Cresswell said. “We are not a typical mall. We are blurring the line between shopping and entertainment.”
Among the “anchors” are Fieldhouse USA, with indoor basketball, volleyball and other activities; Legoland Discovery Center; Round 1 Bowling & Amusement; a Sea Life aquarium; Peppa Pig World of Play; and a 30-screen, dine-in AMC theater.
“Each entertainment concept complements the others and focuses on a different target group,” Cresswell said, adding about Meow Wolf: “They are going to draw their own devotees. Once they are done with Meow Wolf, they will discover other things. Meow Wolf definitely is going to be a draw.”
Cresswell said Grapevine, a city of 55,000 residents, “is always a stop [for visitors].”
A visitor shuttle delivers passengers from the nearby airport to the mall, both destination travelers or layover passengers with hours to kill.
“We will see people with luggage in tow because they have a layover,” she said. “We see entire flight crews. We see people shopping to buy luggage for what they buy.”
Within the 195-mall Simon empire, Grapevine Mills falls within a group of 16 malls called The Mills that specialize in “power shopping, volume shopping. You don’t go to buy a pair of jeans. You outfit your entire family,” Cresswell said. “We stand alone in The Mills because of the entertainment and shopping.”