The opening of Meow Wolf in Las Vegas, Nev., is a giant leap forward for the Santa Fe imagination factory and a thrilling moment for the company, its workers and their hometown.

Omega Mart — Meow Wolf’s new permanent installation — is the anchor tenant at Area15. It’s a tribute to the power of the art collective and its ability to draw crowds of the curious.

On opening day last week, thousands of people lined up to see Meow Wolf’s reimagined grocery store — and we’re sure many will return again and again. As we in Santa Fe know from visiting the House of Eternal Return, it’s impossible to take it all in during one, two or a dozen trips.

The partnership of Meow Wolf and one of the country’s leading entertainment centers grew from the collective’s original installation at the former bowling alley on Rufina Street. From its opening in 2016, the House of Eternal Return made a worldwide splash. By the next summer, the brains behind Area15 came to Santa Fe to see what the fuss was about. By November of 2017, the commitment was made and plans announced early in 2018.

Meow Wolf became the first tenant in what is envisioned to become a place where visitors can go not just to sit back and be entertained, but to be part of the happening.

As with all things Meow Wolf, the Vegas destination is quirky, with many levels of reality on display. With Omega Mart taking up a third of Area15’s 135,000 square feet, visitors can take eight portals to an alternative reality. All visitors are receiving a radio frequency identification card, designed to help them seek out clues as they meander through the exhibit. That gives them access to a broader story even as they enjoy the exhibit right before their eyes.

More than 325 artists from Santa Fe, across the country and from different parts of the globe helped create this futuristic yet familiar shopping experience — another way Meow Wolf is changing how art is perceived. Its founders are showing how a creative economy can employ the artists, the designers, the planners and the builders of attractions, paying them a decent wage in the process. There was backing in New Mexico from the state, city and private investors — showing what collaboration can do.

With the Vegas opening completed, the company’s attention is moving to Denver, with an opening later in 2021. A Santa Fe-born and bred art collective is changing the world of entertainment.

Santa Fe’s original site remains, waiting for the end of coronavirus pandemic restrictions. Lines will be out the door again, someday soon, as thousands show up to take a trip to an alternative reality.

In the Las Vegas Weekly article on the Area15 experience, there is this description of what Meow Wolf does. It’s one of the best we’ve seen: “Simply put, they build wonderfully weird movies you can walk through.”

Writer Geoff Carter also puts Meow Wolf in the Vegas context — art smack dab in the midst of a massive hospitality industry, competing head to head against gambling and shows. “It takes a lot to stand out in a city this full of overwhelming, eccentric delights,” he wrote. “And, amazingly, Omega Mart pulls it off.”

On to Denver.

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