Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf – an Interactive Art Masterpiece
In 2014, author and screenwriter George R. R. Martin (of Game of Thrones fame) pledged $2.7 million to renovate and lease a vacant bowling alley in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The purpose was to help Meow Wolf create a permanent facility for an interactive art experience. The city of Santa Fe contributed an additional $50,000 and another $100,000 was raised in a crowdfunding campaign. The Meow Wolf Art Complex opened in 2016, featuring an immersive and interactive alternative art experience. Its main exhibit, “House of Eternal Return,” received a 2017 Themed Entertainment Attraction (TEA) Award for “Excellence in Connected Immersion.” The TEA awards are usually dominated by big companies like Disney and Universal, making the award all the more prominent for a Santa Fe group of artists.
Meow Wolf’s Humble Beginnings
In 2008, a group of young artists formed a collective with the goal of bringing an alternative art and music venue to Santa Fe, New Mexico. The co-founder and company’s first CEO, Vince Kadlubeek, believed that humans were living in a “crisis of imagination” and it was his goal to help reawaken the creativity in people.
“Meow Wolf is an art production company that has its roots as an art collective. It’s a social movement that transformed into a startup business.”
Prior to 2016, Meow Wold had rented spaces to artists who could present their unique alternative art and music to the Santa Fe community. But the group of 135 artists had a bigger vision that came to life in 2016 when the first permanent exhibit at Meow Wolf – House of Eternal Returned – opened it’s doors.
Meow Wolf – House of Eternal Return wasn’t developed overnight. It was January 2014 – more than two years before the opening – that Game of Thrones creator George R. R. Martin purchased the bowling alley that would be transformed into one of the most immersive art exhibits in the world.
Meow Wolf Opening in Santa Fe
Meow Wolf opened its first permanent location in Santa Fe on March 18, 2016. It was made possible by a massive multi-million dollar investment from author and TV producer George R.R. Martin, a resident of Santa Fe. Crowd-funding and a contribution from the City of Santa Fe helped make the installation a reality.
Describing what Meow Wolf is can be a difficult process. Perhaps the Kadlubek can help from his Future of StoryTelling talk (see full video further below):
“We have one permanent storytelling experience up right now. It’s called the “House of Eternal Return…” There’s a lot of room for influence and interpretation and like gaps in the storytelling almost on purpose so that the person who’s visiting can fill that gap however they see fit. It literally generates imagination in the customer as they’re walking through. It’s asking them to become re-engaged with the scientist inside of them. They get to be explorers. They get to discover various things; open this door, open this drawer, read this journal. That’s like the transformative moment that people have when they open the fridge. When they open the fridge and realize they can go through it, it’s now something that is radically different than what they thought it was; which means that the world can be radically different than what they thought the world could be. But most importantly it’s that they can now be radically different than what they thought they could be.
A couple of days before the grand opening in Santa Fe, there was a soft opening for media and others. The Santa Fe New Mexican took video to give people an early look at the attraction:
And here’s a video the City of Santa Fe released:
No one could imagine that Meow Wolf: House of Eternal Return would skyrocket in popularity, bringing in four times more visitors than expectations. The experience was something new, creative, imaginative… a world that opened up one’s mind. Perhaps this video brings it into perspective:
People from Santa Fe flocked to Meow Wolf and as word spread about how awesome it was, people from out of town made Meow Wolf a “destination.” With half of its money being pure profit (PBS News Hour interview), Meow Wolf was able to put money back into the business for major expansions.
News media attention has been very favorable in the years since the opening, like this CBS Sunday Morning story from 2019 that does a great job of introducing a person to Meow Wolf: House of Eternal Returns:
Meow Wolf Expands
It was only a matter of time before Meow Wolf would expand thanks to the enormous success of the original Santa Fe location. As of this writing (in 2020) Meow Wolf will soon be opening huge expanded experiences in Denver and Las Vegas, followed by Phoenix, and Washington DC.
Here’s a new story from when Meow Wolf first announced its Denver expansion:
The Denver Meow Wolf experience is three times larger than Santa Fe, housed in a 90,000-square-foot building.
Meow Wolf isn’t just expanding into different cities, but also in different experiences. In 2019, at Elitch Gardens in Denver Meow Wolf opened up a new dare ride called Kaleidoscape. The experience of watching it on video isn’t as good as riding it in person, but this video can at least give you an idea of what it is like.
Meow Wolf: Origin Story
Meow Wolf’s soaring popularity is because independent artists were allowed to bring their visions to life in a way that challenges our perceptions. And when an experience opens the mind, it is one you want to have again and again. As long as Meow Wolf doesn’t get to “corporate” in their success, this type of vision could trigger more creative thinking worldwide. Remembering the roots and vision of their origins will be key to people appreciating their amazing progress.
Are you craving even more information on Meow Wolf? If so, check out the documentary (Amazon) “Meow Wolf: Origin Story.” Here’s the trailer: