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SF ‘grocery store’ an elaborate prank

SANTA FE — Whale Song: It’s an antiperspirant and an antidepressant.

“People came in looking for it,” said Emily Montoya, wrapped in an OmegaMart apron as she stood at the checkout stand. “It’s one-twelfth off.”

From the hand-lettered window signs reading “ice” and “snax,” to the produce aisle and shelves brimming with canned goods, at first glance the OmegaMart at 1635 St. Michael’s Dr. resembles an organic food store.

But look closely at the products –– “Robot in a Can,” “Omega Goatmeal,” and AstroTurf labeled “Organic Micro Greens,” to get a hint there is something amiss.

OmegaMart’s website promises it “crushes its competitors into a fine, post-capitalist paste,” “first pick of expired meat items” and “flexibleish hours.”

It’s an elaborate joke created to teach kids how to work collaboratively and think about what they buy in a culture saturated with stuff. Blame it on the Meow Wolf artist collective.

The group has been working with students in the Santa Fe Public Schools since September 2011. During the second semester, their Chimera integrated arts education program reached 900 students in 45 classrooms from Wood Gormley, Ramirez Thomas, Ortiz, Acequia Madre, Turquoise Trail and Gonzales, among others, said Meow Wolf’s Vince Kadlubek. The group kept the citywide prank a secret until recently.

The instructors worked with the students to create fake grocery store products to be installed in a pretend grocery store, hence OmegaMart. They used blank recycled product packaging to begin their designs, breaking off into groups. The students created more than 200 fake products; 60 made the cut for Meow Wolf graphic designers to professionalize and print them. The rest are Meow Wolf originals.

The assignment introduced elementary students to the “producer” side of consumerism, allowing them to use their knowledge of marketing ploys to create artwork mocking 21st-century consumer culture.

“For us, the goal is to teach kids about collaborative art making and media literacy,” Montoya said. “It’s looking more closely at things that they buy and the idea that you can find a sense of wonder in a place as mundane as a grocery store.”

Twelve-year-old Usha Walsh made a rainbow-colored box of dreams, complete with a mustachioed pink unicorn. The back reads “Keep Your Dreams Safe.”

“It’s funny how people think it’s a real grocery store,” she said. “My Mom thought it was a real grocery store.”

The store is organized to resemble the real thing, complete with frozen food, a meat case, pharmacy and toys, including a “Pop-up Skyscraper” and “Giant Sponge in a Box for Cows.” Personal care items include “Tooth Slime,” accompanied by the saying “Slime Your Mouth,” “Fish Soap” and a prescription bottle filled with “Spider Legs.”

When the store first opened early this month, several customers mistook it for Santa Fe’s latest entry into organic groceries.

“Intense confusion is very common,” Montoya said. “They’ll do the loop and look at the shelves. One woman took a shopping cart and pushed it through the aisles.

“We like to prolong the fiction long enough for them to look around,” she added.

One woman found no humor in the project.

“This woman walked in and it was like, ‘Where’s the food?'” Montoya continued — “‘None of this is real!’ and she walked out.”

About 30 visitors trickle in and out of the store daily.

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