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Meow Wolf moves into a summer ‘multiverse’

SANTA FE, N.M. — If you’ve ever followed a curious thread through Meow Wolf’s “House of Eternal Return,” you can’t help but think about migration.

In the house that rests uneasily in Mendocino, Calif., and out of it (although its strange reality is in fact inside a former bowling alley in Santa Fe), we’re all just visiting, right?

It’s fitting, then, to suggest to fans of this immersive art installation that, over the next few months, they can travel to a “Summer in the Multiverse.”

The arts collective – which includes 100 artists fully employed – has ramped up some new ideas to make the infinite galaxy a bit more intimate, with musicians and other performing artists now populating the exhibit.

They represent just one of the answers to the question “What’s next?” for Meow Wolf, said Vince Kadlubek, the group’s 34-year-old founder/CEO and a Santa Fe High School graduate.

The 400,000 visitors to “House of Eternal Return” in its first year, when only 100,000 annually had been projected at opening in March 2016, meant the enterprise has been “riding a wave” of unexpected proportion, Kadlubek said.

“We didn’t know how big the wave was going to be. We really started paddling,” he said.

Performer Stephanie Kitts, left, peeks in as Weston Keller, 12, of Santa Fe, plays violin at Meow Wolf’s “House of Eternal Return.” They’re among the summer additions at the immersive art exhibit’s “Summer in the Multiverse.” (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The “multiverse” this summer will include concerts, community days, Spanish story-tellers and salsa dancing for children, along with nearly 100 new artists – like a cross-dressing tuba player or a 12-year-old violinist – and, on the parking lot, the launch of Meow Wolf’s own food truck, featuring Cajun cuisine.

Creative additions made for Halloween at Meow Wolf – actors roamed the premises as apparently interstellar security agents or characters from the house’s resident “family” – were a success. Planning for the summer then started before Christmas, Kadlubek said.

Several projects were “green lit,” such as additions at the gift shop and the food truck, which was the brainchild of Eliot Chavanne, who worked at Meow Wolf’s front desk.

Hiring the performers who will be arriving on scene from other realities has increased the enterprise’s positive impact on employment within New Mexico’s creative economy, said Alexandra Renzo, artistic director for “Summer in the Multiverse.”

“That we pay them, some of them had tears in their eyes,” she said.

Amy Glasser, right, as Tula Rose, performs with plants in Meow Wolf’s “Summer in the Multiverse.” (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Visitor numbers continue to rack up, with the hope among Meow Wolf’s ranks that everyone, especially children and young adults, find entry to creating art from their visits to the “House of Eternal Return.”

“When a 12-year-old walks in here, we’ll never know how this experience may have changed the arc of his life, but there is definitely the potential for expansion of the imagination,” said John Feins, director of marketing for the enterprise.

How the art of Meow Wolf fits into the rest of Santa Fe’s style depends on perspective. Feins cited the local-but-outsider community of artists like Wil Shuster, who dreamed up Zozobra nine decades ago, as similarly revolutionary and fun.

“Art is a big word,” he said.

The area around the old bowling alley is teeming with visitors, even on weekdays. Creative endeavors also in the neighborhood, such as Adobe Rose Theatre and Teatro Paragua off nearby Rufina, are looking for upticks in interest for their offerings from the new traffic, said representatives of the theaters.

The revered human circus Wise Fool, with its home a couple of blocks away on Siler, will be performing in Meow Wolf’s multiverse. “It’s a largely happy result,” Feins said.

The arts collective’s growth as an employer was recognized earlier this month with an award of state government funds designated for business startups and city money aimed at employment growth. The funds add up to $1.1 million for the coming year.

Kadlubek had been working on the application for the funds for a year and half to help ensure that Santa Fe and New Mexico remains Meow Wolf’s permanent home, even as it considers franchises in places such as Denver and Austin. He said Meow Wolf recently hired a general manager. With a full-time creative staff, the enterprise also is purchasing the old the old Caterpillar plant in south Santa Fe as a manufacturing facility for its exhibits.

Franchising into other markets may come sooner than expected, Kadlubek said, because of the government support. “Where that comes in, we’ll be able to add 250 new jobs over five years,” he said.

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