Enter the Meow Wolf Multiverse
As recently as two years ago, Meow Wolf was relatively unknown outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. But even then, within an hour of arrival, a visitor could count on strangers urgently recommending a visit to the place. This would inevitably be followed by the recommender’s inability to explain what, exactly, Meow Wolf was. “You’ll just have to see it for yourself,” was the eventual answer.
Meow Wolf is a world of its own, it turns out, unlike any created before. And due to its massive success, it has morphed into one of the most talked about entertainment brands in the attractions industry, with new projects springing up in key cities throughout the West. But the Santa Fe location is where it all began, in an unassuming, refurbished former bowling alley that has to be the only one in the world to contain a fully built Victorian house.
Officially called “House of Eternal Return,” this Meow Wolf project is a self-guided experience that drops hints of what happened to the former occupants of the house throughout multiple rooms. Brochures on a living room coffee table, for example, advertise something called “Positive Mechanics,” which promise to transport people to their true “spiritual home.” In a teenage girl’s bedroom, an open diary details the girl’s worries about her family’s teleporting experiments. The bathroom floor is oddly warped, as if something is attempting to push through it.
The hints get a lot weirder. People walk in and out of the living room fireplace. They step into bedroom closets and don’t return. Others open the kitchen refrigerator to reveal a glowing corridor that leads to … somewhere.
The best part? Guests can enter these seemingly mundane household features themselves (or in the case of a dryer, work up the nerve to slide down it) to emerge in new worlds that have been created by some of the most original and creative artists working today. Inside these cavernous spaces are interactive experiences and art, and visitors deeply immersed in exploring it all.
Stranger than Fiction: How Parallel Realities Grew into a Real-Life Phenomenon
Meow Wolf began as a collective of artists with an instinctive aversion to playing by the rules of the established art scene in Santa Fe. The artists opted instead to create their own space with few, if any, rules except to create. In a newspaper article some years back, a co-founder recalled that when he brought the first agenda to a meeting, someone wadded it up and threw it on the floor.
Either despite or because of the lack of formal structure, the collective managed to create a number of fantastical experiences for the public—like an archaeological dig site from the future and a full-blown ship that traveled on an “inter-dimensional” timetable. The different installations collected an increasing number of donations. Eventually, the idea of a permanent, immersive installation was formed, and then funded by different investors.
Most famous among these early funders: George R.R. Martin, the “Game of Thrones” author and Santa Fe resident who paid for the Meow Wolf space and subsequently the “House of Eternal Return” located inside. Between the infusion of cash and unfettered creativity, this first exhibit took off, taking Meow Wolf with it into undeniable commercial success. In a little over two years, the Santa Fe location alone has welcomed more than 2 million guests, while Meow Wolf has rapidly expanded into new iterations and locations.
The company’s potential for long-term growth appears to be as big as the founders’ imagination—and our own.
The “House of Eternal Return” storyline is a prime example. It’s assumed a life of its own even outside of the physical exhibit, aided by entire websites dedicated to the home’s missing Selig family and the theory of positive mechanics. The storyline will continue to evolve, according to Vince Kadlubek, Meow Wolf co-founder and CEO.
“It is already impacting families around the world,” Kadlubek notes rather mysteriously.
It gets even more intriguing when he explains that the “House of Eternal Return” story is really a prologue into a much larger one about a new crack in reality. Just what’s on the other side of that crack, even the creators at Meow Wolf don’t fully know yet—or if there’s an ending to the story at all. As Kadlubek sees it, bringing such storytelling to fruition—a combination of explorable, touchable art with a mesmerizing and open-ended narrative—speaks to a significant evolution in humankind in itself.
“Throughout history, we have exponentially increased our ability to express and experience our imagination. And when I say experience, I mean actually experience the things we have imagined. The time and space world that we are in is not a fixed structure. There’s another world that is imaginative, that is another dimension, that is our dreams, that is waiting to be transmuted into this world,” he explains.
Do these sound like the out-there observations of, well, of the leader of an art collective formed in a desert outpost? Perhaps. Yet Kadlubek and his team have brought into existence a story that has captivated the interest of millions of people.
Moreover, creating tangible worlds out of ideas is exactly what all creative visionaries seek to do. What Meow Wolf does is to create new stories rather than building off existing ones—and in doing so, has proved that people crave originality along with freedom to discover at their own pace.
A True Original is Born
All of the above is a lot to pack into just one industry category. And it’s clear that Meow Wolf has become a bona fide brand in the attractions industry, with projects that now include a dark ride at Denver’s Elitch Gardens; an entertainment complex under construction in Vegas; live interactive streaming events on Twitch; a music festival; and more permanent venues planned in other cities in addition to “House of Eternal Return.”
But what’s the unifying thread to all of these different experiences? In other words, what do we call what is clearly a new niche in the attractions industry?
“It’s an immersive storytelling experience,” says Kadlubek. “And it’s show, don’t tell; you provide agency for the guest to discover the story. What you don’t do is tell what the story is by walking the guest through a prescribed, operational map.”
He also points out many, if not most people, also get a “rush” from having their imaginations unleashed.
“This is why people are addicted to shopping, because at that moment they can be a ‘scientist,’ so to speak, who can explore different things. But even shopping is a prescribed experience,” he observes.
Meow Wolf has tapped into this longing for agency—and something else. “We are tapping into people’s dreams and the hope that there are other worlds to experience. And in a way they aren’t wrong,” Kadlubek concludes.
Stephanie Janard is a longtime contributor to Funworld. She can be reached at [email protected].