Santa Fe-based arts mega-corporation Meow Wolf has announced that employees throughout its perma-installations in New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Texas have completed training that make its various locations Certified Autism Centers. The accreditation comes from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards and aims to increase accessibility across the board in addition to the ongoing sensory sensitive days already on offer. We spoke with VP of Operations Development and Exhibition Engineering Brian Loo—who kickstarted the accessibility initiative alongside Assistant Manager of Operations Development Megan Sada—to learn more about what that means. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
This will probably sound like an obvious question, but why is it so important for Meow Wolf locations to become Certified Autism Centers?
We are excited to become Certified Autism Centers because we truly believe art and creativity should be accessible to all, and creating an inclusive experience makes it better for everyone. It’s just one of the areas we looked at where we’re trying to make sure we’re accessible to all within the disability community, and this is just one way we could help this particular community…feel more prepared to experience what Meow Wolf has to offer.
What are some examples of how the new training will help with accessibility for people who land across the spectrum?
We understand all of this is a spectrum, and a lot of what we worked on was to train and talk to all our employees about awareness for what autism is, the potential needs for that community, so if there is an incident at any of our locations, our guest service teams can provide the best resources to the people who need it. Part of that includes decompression zones. We’re in the process of developing a sensory guide, making a more detailed version with IBCCES. One of the things we learned is our community wants to pre-plan their visits, and we want to make sure they have a lot of opportunities to do that, and to help them in understanding as much as we can what their experience will be like.
We trained all our employees at our exhibitions. So currently in Santa Fe, Las Vegas and Denver—and we’re in the process of opening our Fort Worth location, which we call Grapevine—all of those employees, as part of their onboarding, will go through that training. So, from the guest services team who take tickets, to maintenance, custodial, we wanted to train our employees who may interact with guests during their day-to-day tasks. Creativity can come for anywhere, so whether you’re in front of guests on a daily basis or in the [admin offices], they can all come up with creative solutions that can better help.
Can we assume these practices and others will evolve over time? Training, I’d assume, will become an ongoing thing?
Most definitely. I think it’s every two years we’ll provide a new training class and partner with IBCCES to do it again as a refresher course on the latest trends, any additional learnings IBCCES has identified. And of course as we’re going through this we’re looking for different...experiences for the community. What are the things we can pivot or highlight?
All of our locations are working on a big accessibility program, too. When we were getting ready to open Denver, we wanted to focus on different communities, and part of that is that we have an audio description tour we provide once a month for blind and low-vision guests. It’s very detailed in story and description of visual elements, and we partnered very closely with people from the community to pilot test and write that. We’ve partnered with other organizations to understand their programs—what works well and what hasn’t; so one thing we offer at all our locations is a sensory bag with various items based on our guests’ needs, like noise reduction headphones if it’s too loud, sunglasses if something is too bright; and fidget spinners and some kind of decompression space to go if there’s over-stimulation.
This is just one step in our journey, and we are definitely excited for this achievement and continuously looking for how to make a better experience for everyone. What we’re really focusing on is that all our guests feel supported, and to empower them to explore our exhibitions, but also to be creative and enjoy the art regardless of their abilities.