Meow Wolf is supposed to be a surprise every time people visit, a step into a surreal twist of home sweet home.
But not even the creative minds behind Meow Wolf could have imagined a year ago how different their House of Eternal Return on Rufina Circle would be this month.
Just for surreal starters, pretty much all visitors likely will find a space in the Meow Wolf parking lot.
Meow Wolf is set to reopen March 19 after a one-year, pandemic-driven hiatus, with limited everything: days open, hours, number of visitors and all sorts of COVID-19 safe practices introduced into the narrative of the House of Eternal Return.
“We’re a little crazy right now,” said Susan Garbett, the House of Eternal Return’s general manager. “It is a lot of work because of how long the closure has been.”
State public health orders limit attendance to 25 percent of capacity, which will allow only 625 visitors a day through the portals into Meow Wolf’s fantasyland rather than the usual 2,500 daily visitors from pre-pandemic days, or more during spring break and summer.
The House of Eternal Return will relaunch as a four-day-a-week attraction, an extended weekend: On Friday and Saturday, it will open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday and Monday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Meow Wolf does not require advance ticket purchases, but with such limited access, visitors are best served with advance timed tickets sold at 20-minute intervals.
“We’re excited to open but we want to open slowly and safely. Opening four days a week is a way to do that,” Garbett said.
If Meow Wolf isn’t mind-bending all on its own, the coronavirus era takes it into a new dimension.
In some ways, it could seem normal that masks would be required in the world of Meow Wolf. Other safety measures include a noninvasive temperature check before entry and weekly coronavirus tests for Meow Wolf employees.
Returning visitors will notice the path through the House of Eternal Return has been altered.
“We created a bunch of one-way areas where the house was more free-flowing in the past,” Garbett said.
The famous passage through the 1950s refrigerator is now dedicated one way from the front.
Meow Wolf replaced various hand touch sensors with elbow scanners, a nod to the elbow bump replacing shaking hands.
The House of Eternal Return does have a narrative that used to be revealed by flipping through newspapers and books. Meow Wolf now tells its story with QR codes and other digital means.
With fewer people allowed in at one time, everyone will have the equivalent of a VIP ticket. The required 6-foot social distancing should be easy to achieve.
“It’s not crowded,” Garbett said. “You can take your time. It’s like going to Disney World and not having to wait in line for a ride.”
Meow Wolf has been planning its reopening since it closed a year ago on March 13. At first, the coronavirus closures were expected to last two weeks or a month. As it became apparent closures would be indefinite and longer, the reopening plan became far more elaborate and layered.
“Everything is refreshed more than I could have imagined,” Garbett said. “It took the founders 14 months to build the house. In 11 months, we refreshed every square inch. We repainted almost everything in the exhibit.”
Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart opened Feb. 18 in Las Vegas, Nev., which makes it look like Santa Fe could make use of those coronavirus safety plans. But things are never the way they seem at Meow Wolf.
“We have been working on COVID safety protocols since last spring,” Garbett said. “When it came time for Vegas to open, we sent them our [coronavirus] plans. We could not imagine Vegas opening before Santa Fe.”
Meow Wolf historically has closed each January for a couple of weeks for maintenance and to replace an exhibit or two. This year, the staff had 12 months to install more elaborate creations in three rooms by guest artists Corinne Loperfido, Paolo Puck and Obsidiopolis.
“These rooms had not been updated since the opening in 2016,” Garbett said. “Meow Wolf is a living, breathing art exhibit.”
Garbett was especially thrilled to replace the artificial turf at the entry and exit of the House of Eternal Return. The gift shop was moved and the bar and cafe area was expanded to allow for more social distancing.
Meow Wolf’s reopening has the blessing of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
“I’m personally very excited to have places like Meow Wolf back open,” the governor said in a statement. “The state has reviewed Meow Wolf’s health protocols and is satisfied with the important efforts they have made to safeguard the health and welfare of visitors.”