Meow Wolf

Don Kennell's dog watches over Meow Wolf in Santa Fe. Photo Kate Russell; courtesy Meow Wolf

How often do more than a hundred artists come together to create one exhibit? Meow Wolf did just that with its fabulously successful, 20,000-square-foot House of Eternal Return, which opened on St. Patrick’s Day in 2016. Just 30 months later, the collective has won a Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts as a Major Contributor to the Arts. As the announcement of its most recent kudo sinks in, the collaborative is at work on two much larger exhibits in Las Vegas and Denver.

Next April, Meow Wolf opens its first project in the Mile High City. “It’s a ride at the Elitch Gardens amusement park, and it is a prelude to the larger epic story that will be the Denver exhibition,” said Vince Kadlubek, Meow Wolf’s co-founder and chief executive officer. Of the installation, he said, “It’s going to be a 90,000-square-foot building, three times what we have in Santa Fe, and it’s going to be just filled with an entire storytelling universe. You’ll get dropped off on another planet, and you get to decide how you spend your time there.”

He said Meow Wolf artists and staffers have been working on the Denver exhibit for a year, and it will open at the end of 2020. The Las Vegas exhibit is 50,000 square feet and will open at the end of 2019.

Those projects are in the hands of the same artist collective that created the Santa Fe exhibit in the old Silva Lanes at 1352 Rufina Circle, but the collective has expanded. “There were about 150 people when the House of Eternal Return opened in March 2016, and now we’re at 350,” Kadlubek said. “Of the 350, about 200 are in the creative production side of things, including tech and programming and digital art. Then we have about 80 people operating the House of Eternal Return, including food and beverage and the gift shop, and the other 70 are in administrative, finance, and marketing.”

Kadlubek said he is the spokesman for the group, though he does not have the last word on its creations. “We have creative directors who have the final say, and they override me. Matt King, Caity Kennedy, Emily Montoya, and Corvas Brinkerhoff are all original founders, and that’s the senior creative leadership, and there are other art directors and creative directors below them.”

In a joint statement about the Governor’s Award, Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber and former mayor Javier Gonzales said Meow Wolf has positively impacted the entire area, supplying “evidence that communities who invest in creativity and expose young people to the arts are planting seeds that will grow to have a lasting and powerful impact.”

Kadlubek said admissions for the House of Eternal Return exhibit amount to approximately $30 million to date. Besides the significant revenues to the city in gross-receipts taxes, Meow Wolf has contributed about $250,000 to New Mexico nonprofits and schools and an equal amount outside ofNew Mexico.

Meow Wolf expanded its project-management and production programs with its Creative Studios that moved into the renovated digs of the former Caterpillar engine factory this past spring. A documentary film, Meow Wolf: Origin Story, premiered in March at Austin’s South by Southwest Film Festival and will open nationally on Nov. 15. The film’s executive producer is George R.R. Martin, the author and producer who did a substantial renovation of Silva Lanes for Meow Wolf and is the organization’s landlord there, as well as an investor.

Meow Wolf prominently proclaims on its website, “We’ll never forget our DIY roots, and are proud to stand with the DIY community across the country.” The Meow Wolf DIY Fund, now at $250,000, supports community art spaces. “It has been great,” Kadlubek said. “It only fuels the type of culture that we want to see in the world. For us, it reminds us of why we got involved in all of this to begin with, and it keeps us connected to that. Alternative arts and music spaces, things that don’t fit into the normal box of business and consumerism, are incredibly important because you end up being able to cultivate a certain type of thought process and a certain kind of dialogue and communal interaction.”

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