Meow Wolf, the once ragtag band of like-minded artists, is going global — at least multistate. They’ve told the story of their humble beginnings via a new documentary, and now the menagerie on display at its 20,000-square-foot building at 1352 Rufina Circle moves into the next era of its existence.
For years, people talked nonstop about one of the collective’s first major projects, The Due Return (2011), a full-scale seafaring vessel that was temporarily installed at the Center for Contemporary Arts, replete with the traces and ephemera that marked her fictional journeys across alien oceans to exotic ports of call. Part pirate ship, part scientific experimentation lab, part terrarium, The Due Return became a harbinger of what was just over the horizon.
Now in its third year, the House of Eternal Return installation has been an undeniable hit with audiences on an international scale, turning a hefty profit and contributing to the local and state economies.
Meow Wolf has told its story in a new documentary that had its world premiere in early March at the South by Southwest festival in Austin. Meow Wolf: Origin Story,co-directed by Morgan Capps and Jilann Spitzmiller, addresses the positives and negatives of artistic success. It shows how far the art collective has come, but their future is still being molded — some of it with InstaMorph, no less, a type of malleable plastic from which many components of their permanent exhibits are crafted.
One of Meow Wolf’s latest ventures in Santa Fe has been the construction and development of Creative Studios, a central base from which the various departments work to service existing and future projects. “All the production teams, which include architecture and design, fabrication, art, tech, and project management, are housed down here,” said Meow Wolf’s technology director Drew Trujillo of the refurbished space. It was created on Camino Entrada at the site of a former Caterpillar engine factory. The space is still affectionately known by Meow Wolf employees as “Caterpillar.” The image the name conjures, of a yet-to-be-butterfly still in an early stage of its life-cycle, seems apropos.
“It’s going to be huge for us,” Trujillo said. “To be able to have all the production teams in the same environment together is really important because being in multiple buildings, separated mainly by chance, requires us to drive to different locations. Creativity happens spontaneously. Now we’ll be able to break out areas that can be dedicated to a certain project that’s going on. It doesn’t matter what team you’re on. We’ll be able to sit together and let the ideas flow more fluidly.”
Meow Wolf, though they’ve been tight-lipped, has two major works in development: an exhibit space in Las Vegas, Nevada, which, at roughly 40,000 square feet, is twice the size of the Art Complex in Santa Fe, and a roughly 60,000-square-foot space in Denver. The Denver space will have its own building, on which they have yet to break ground. The target dates to open them to the public are the fourth quarter of 2019 for Las Vegas, and the first or second quarter of 2020 for Denver. That means a lot of employment opportunities for a lot of people. “These are rough numbers, but we’re at over 200 people, we’ll probably be at over 300 just in Santa Fe this year,” Trujillo said. “In addition to that, we’re commissioning a lot of artwork from artists in Denver. So we’ll be bringing them in, essentially, as commissioned or contracted artists.”
Creative Studios includes designers, sound teams, tech teams, narrative teams, administrative staff, fabricators, and more. On the fabrication side, there’s a metal shop with a massive laser cutter that can cut through steel, a woodworking shop, two large cranes that run along tracks set into the ceiling, and several 3-D printers. Much of the art features in Denver and Las Vegas will be conceived, designed, and fabricated right here in Santa Fe. The crews are looking at ways to create modular exhibition components that can be easily disassembled and moved. “One of the most beautiful things about where we are and the type of talent we’re attracting now from all over is that we just keep leveling up,” Trujillo said. “We have people who are really good with pneumatics, hydraulics, lighting — you just name it.”
Meow Wolf has remained committed to a non-hierarchical employment model, other than the necessity of having project leaders. According to Trujillo, in the initial phases of each new venture, everyone’s ideas are welcome, whether it is a suggestion about lighting or thoughts about what exterior signage should look like. Meow Wolf is moving confidently into its butterfly phase. “We’ve proven ourselves and have been profitable in our first two years,” Trujillo said. “That speaks to what the future will look like. It puts a much more solid base underneath our feet.”