A creative storm has been brewing in Santa Fe, N.M. and it’s about to be unleashed in an abandoned bowling alley on the edge of town.
Meow Wolf, the renowned Santa Fe arts production company, has found a home in the old Silva Lanes building for its first permanent attraction, “House of Eternal Return,” which opens March 17.
Matt King, 31, is one of Meow Wolf’s founders and the fabrication director on the project. He said it will take visitors into new realms which blur the lines between exhibition and adventure.
“How do you get people to look at art?” King asks, “This is the culmination of that idea. There is no separation of art and space.”
Inside the renovated 20,000 square foot building, located at 1352 Rufina Circle, visitors will enter the exhibit through a life-size Victorian home, complete with quaint front porch and a little front yard. The path exits the house in bizarre ways, including out the back of the refrigerator or crawling through the fireplace; transporting you into the main spectacle of 75 interconnected rooms full of interactive art. Visitors will even encounter a time travel agency: “Portal Bermuda.”
Vince Kadlubek, another Meow Wolf founder, hopes “House of Eternal Return” will spark the imagination of the public at large, rather than just the art scene.
“I am not terribly interested in how the project effects the art world, more so how we affect people. I want people to be reconnected with their creative selves.”
Fully-immersive, brilliantly detailed and ambitious are hallmarks of Meow Wolf projects, and King compares the narrative found throughout this exhibit to a choose your own adventure novel, where losing your way is the whole idea.
“That is our hope. When you are lost, you’re not sure if you’ve seen it all.”
Meow Wolf is literally banking on this concept, which they hope will entice people to make return visits to their first ever admissions-based exhibit.
Meow Wolf has a track record of successful, and varied, undertakings. In 2011 they unveiled “Due Return,” a giant wooden “interdimensional ship” that landed on an alien planet. It was a notable success, reeling in 25,000 visitors during its three month showing. “Omega Mart” came the following year. Replete with ironic inventory, the mock grocery store commented on consumerism and consumption, and incorporated the work of over 1000 local school kids. King said Meow Wolf has learned a lot from all of its previous projects.
“We’ve done it over and over to get us here to this. We took all of those ideas that have been proven to work and made them bigger and packed it all together.”
Erika Wanenmacher, 60, has lived in Santa Fe for over thirty years. She is one of 70 artists contributing to “House of Eternal Return” and says the promise that first drew her to Santa Fe decades earlier is now coming to life with Meow Wolf’s latest creation.
“I banked my whole career on this, not New York or Los Angeles,” she continues, “This is for real. For me, this feels like what I’ve been waiting for. It feels totally right.”
But, for all its galleries and world-class reputation, Wanenmacher said Santa Fe has not always nurtured its own young enough. In years past, kids were leaving here in droves to bigger, trendier cities, hoping to find a creative scene to plug into. Meow Wolf emerged from this vacuum, serving as an outlet for the off-beat artists who felt stifled by the lack of representation in their own town.
Wanenmacher said thanks to Meow Wolf this high desert diaspora is now mellowing and the creative upstarts are sticking around.
“They are do it yourself kids, sucking up all the creative capital in Santa Fe.”
Nicholas Toll, 32, is one of those artists. A longtime Santa Fe local, Toll has spent the last couple years in Denver, where his family’s history in the state goes back six generations. When Toll was asked to help with this latest project, he jumped at the chance.
“I have always loved Meow Wolf’s process, namely the opportunity to practice radical collaboration. In an ever busier, more populated world, collaboration is the key to gracefully surviving the madness.”
After years of running up and down I-25 between the two cities, Toll considers Santa Fe and Denver to be parts of the same artistic scene, co-exisiting within Meow Wolf’s ever present mantra of collaboration.
“I think that Meow Wolf will definitely create a strong reason for all creatives to come around, and hopefully beget more of the same. It is very easy to imagine this sort of thing working great in Denver.”
Meow Wolf is proud of their standalone identity, but they are also keen to seek support from their community, a move which has paid off.
“It’s DIY to the max. They’re smart enough to ask for help and they’re getting it,” Wanenmacher said.
King said Meow Wolf raised $100,000 through a Kickstarter campaign, and another $1.4 million of their $2.1 million dollar goal came mainly from investors. Major support for the project also came from notable Santa Fe resident and “Game of Thrones” creator George R. R. Martin, who purchased the Silva Lanes building for $800,000 dollars and put an additional $2.7 million dollars into improvements. Meow Wolf has a 10 year lease on the building from Martin.
“We’ve been lucky enough to have people in the community take a chance on us and invest,” King said.
Kadlubek also touted the citizens of Santa Fe, and Mayor Javier Gonzales, for their encouragement.
“Santa Fe has been our community since we began in 2008 and the people of Santa Fe have nurtured and created us, honestly.”
The story of “House of Eternal Return” actually coming to fruition has been a journey in itself. Caity Kennedy, 32, is the art director at Meow Wolf, a seemingly daunting position considering the immensity of this project. She was calm, however, saying it is a team effort and everyone has about five different roles.
“It’s like composition art, but on the most enormous scale.”
She likened her job to an explosion in reverse, taking a million tiny parts and bringing them together into an exhibit that organizers estimate will take 120 hours per visitor to fully experience. Kennedy said that after months of looking at the blueprints, it is all finally coming to life.
“These lines on paper for so long are being extruded into reality.”
Amongst all the frantic energy and expansiveness of this production, you get the feeling that something really special is taking form here. Definitions are abandoned, grounded concepts uprooted, all in an effort to tighten the connection between being present and being engaged.
Meow Wolf’s fantasy world is becoming a reality and as it continues to be a magnet for creative misfits, it is also hoping to be an attraction for the masses.
Wanenmacher looked fulfilled saying she had found her people out here in the New Mexican desert.
“I know artists and communities around the world, but I don’t know artists and a community like this. It feels totally right. It’s going to get crazy.”