SANTA FE – Vince Kadlubek, who presided over Meow Wolf’s transformation from a funky Santa Fe multimedia arts collective to a national cultural phenomenon, announced in an online post late Friday that he has decided to step down as CEO.
In his post, Kadlubek said he wanted to leave the CEO job “to focus on developing a new toolset of skills, to build key development initiatives and take care of my personal health.”
The role of CEO will be shared by three executives – Ali Rubinstein (chief creative officer), Carl Christensen (chief financial officer) and Jim Ward (chief of content) – Kadlubek said in his blog post.
Kadlubek’s personal observations echoed the rags-to-riches evolution of Meow Wolf, which opened in the former Silva Lanes in spring 2016 with the help of media impresario George R.R. Martin, best known for his books and HBO series “Game of Thrones.”
“Five years ago, in the fall of 2014, I was making $50/a day delivering food, living at my parents’ house on the south side of Santa Fe, and dreaming of becoming an accomplished playwright,” Kadlubek wrote.
“Only 14 months later, I become CEO of New Mexico’s fastest-growing startup company and our team unveiled one of the most impactful pieces of art in the 21st century,” he said. “On March 16, 2016, Meow Wolf opened House of Eternal Return to the public and my life became forever and radically changed.”
Attendance at the edgy arts installation hit 1 million visitors by July 2018, driven mostly by word of mouth and a solitary billboard on Interstate 25 heading north from Albuquerque.
But Meow Wolf’s meteoric growth changed the character of the enterprise.
“We went from a group of friends operating an art warehouse together to a company with formal policies and much-needed process,” Kadlubek wrote. “That transition has been challenging, but absolutely necessary.”
A $158 million investment in May from 87 investors, including one who owns about 40% of the company, forced share buybacks that essentially ended the upside for more than 600 early investors who put small amounts in the Santa Fe arts emporium through a crowdfunding platform.
The infusion of large amounts of capital and the announcement of projects in Las Vegas, Nevada, Denver, Phoenix and Washington, D.C,, changed Meow Wolf from a scrappy upstart to a Disney wannabe in the eyes of some.
Despite the loss of Santa Fe good vibes, there is no denying Meow’s Wolf record of creating jobs for nearly 500 New Mexicans (only 10 aren’t state residents, Kadlubek said in a recent interview), with another 100 vacancies to be filled.
Meow Wolf is an example of the private-public partnership model championed by the city and state, which agreed in 2017 to invest more $1 million in the venture through economic development funds. The funding consisted of $850,000 from the state and $250,000 from the city.
Asked if he ever imagined that Meow Wolf would be such a success, former Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales said, “At the time, it was hard to grasp the House of Eternal Return, but Vince’s tenacity helped make it a success, not just for the founders of Meow Wolf, but for all of Santa Fe, where it has helped drive tourism.”