Arts collective-turned-arts mega-corp Meow Wolf turned 10 this year on Valentine's Day. Its flagship space in midtown Santa Fe hit its second birthday in March. These milestones represent everything the group has accomplished since partnering with fantasy writer/bazzilionaire George RR Martin in 2015 and opening the now world-famous perma-installation in an abandoned bowling alley, but also as an appropriate signpost for a look back over the years.
From a run-down old warehouse in the Hopewell-Mann neighborhood in 2008 to its first massive installation, The Due Return, in 2011, Meow Wolf is now a full-fledged and massive artistic funhouse fueled by creative types. The last few years have been good for them. To grow from a series of resource-light art and music events to a world-famous member of the new guard of experiential museums and installations fueled by collectives that aren't beholden to stuffy old-school arts practices in under a decade is borderline unbelievable.
But a place where interactive tech becomes visually stunning masterpieces, where an art installation can have a constantly evolving soundtrack, where artists (both local and not) are paid for their efforts and where people once underserved can have a real, tangible affect on the future of their community was sorely needed in Santa Fe.
Meow Wolf is a major local employer, currently boasting 220 employees and, according to CEO Vince Kadlubek, that number should be closer to 300 by the end of 2018. Kadlubek further estimates roughly 500,000 visitors trekked to Meow Wolf in 2017, and Director of Marketing John Feins explains that 900,000 visitors total have stopped by since Meow Wolf first opened the doors at the old alley. The House of Eternal Return is also the most-Instagrammed location in New Mexico, and Meow Wolf has recently announced new, larger installations in Denver and Las Vegas slated to open in the next few years.
But perhaps more valuable than facts and numbers has been the positive impact on artists' lives over the past two-plus years. Meow Wolf reportedly pays well, both for entry-level employees and higher-level creators. Without getting into specifics, narrative team member Bill Rodgers says he makes enough to live comfortably, and that his position allows him to do so while flexing his creative muscle.
"There aren't too many examples out there of a really immersive narrative experience," Rodgers says, likening Meow Wolf to a gaming experience. The experience at the House of Eternal Return is, after all, akin to the relatively new gaming genre known as a walking sim—an exploratory experience wherein narrative elements exist, but aren't vital to the overall enjoyment of said experience. "It's almost like—if you find it, great, and it informs the environment," Rodgers says of the countless narrative elements found throughout the installation. "It can give context to the place you're in and, in a way, the story explains the environment and kind of justifies it."
Rodgers, a former journalist from Ohio, says he has no idea what he might be doing had he not found Meow Wolf. "Being a writer before was always characterized by this low-level, always-present fear that you're not going to be able to write anymore or find something that supports you," he says. "Now I have this job that's going to continue for the foreseeable future, and that job is making cool things that people are really jazzed about."
For Sarah Bradley, an artist who began as a costumer during the 2010 Meow Wolf play The Moon is to Live On, the experience breaks down to trusting the artists. Bradley now works in the podcast department, which was spearheaded by native Santa Fean Warren Langford last year, and is part of the burgeoning Meow Wolf Entertainment arm of the company.
"I've gone through a lot of different departments," Bradley says, "and I had no idea, even last year, that I would be doing podcasts—I feel really lucky to be able to make a move like that." According to Bradley, artists who have long worked with Meow Wolf have a voice within the company and can thrive without management, an atmosphere that has helped her grow artistically. "I'm coming into my own more now," she says. "I do feel a bit more capable in self-directing, and I definitely do feel heard."
And the jobs keep coming, both near and far. Given Meow Wolf's current and potential economic impact (an estimated $358 million over the next decade, according the New Mexico Economic Development Department) and the ways large and small that it has impacted the lives of creatives, this might be the beginning of a new and exciting era in America that finds starving artists with more options than ever and some seriously weird-ass art propping the whole system up.
Special pricing changes often; visit meowwolf.com for up-to-date info.
10 am-8 pm Wednesday-Monday; closes at 10 pm Friday and Saturday.
1352 Rufina Circle, 395-6369