SANTA FE, N.M. — Picture a mixture of Mad Max and Narnia within a Victorian house co-owned by Dr. Frank N. Furter and Pollyanna’s aunt, and you might have some idea of the future life of Santa Fe’s former Silva bowling alley.
“The idea is that some mysterious disturbance of time and space … (has created) a portal to multiple dimensions,” said Sean Di Ianni. “Every kid dreams to open the closet and find Narnia.”
The artist collective Meow Wolf outlined its vision Thursday for the complex, which was purchased and is being renovated by author George R.R. Martin with Meow Wolf as the tenant. It is slated for a fall opening.
It will include a room for children’s arts programs, as well as 19 affordable artists’ studios with shared space for collaboration. A gift shop, gallery for emerging artists, and murals on inner and outer walls are planned.
But the major draw will be a House of Eternal Return, built on the 14,000 square feet where the bowling lanes used to be and offering 20,000 square feet of explorable space as different levels are added. More than 75 artists will collaborate on creating niches and crannies – some 50 to 70 of them – to give visitors a feeling of passing through a portal to a different time and place every time they open a door.
The “house” installation has an estimated budget of $1 million.
“It will be a real unique experience,” said Meow Wolf’s Di Ianni. “Kids will like to climb on it and adults will like to dig deeper for meanings.”
And it could provide a new draw for tourists and serve as evidence that the city’s art scene is not stuck in the past.
“This is a sign we are moving forward,” said Mayor Javier Gonzales. “When people talk of art and culture in Santa Fe, Meow Wolf is on the scene, they are part of our brand in Santa Fe.”
Gonzales called the project a collaboration between young artists who want to invest in the community and be entrepreneurs, and the “international pop star” (and somewhat older) Martin, who could live and invest anywhere but chooses to do it in Santa Fe and with Meow Wolf.
“Even though I’m 66 years old, I’m 12 inside,” quipped Martin, whose “A Song of Ice and Fire” fantasy novel series launched the popular “Game of Thrones” television show.
A Santa Fe resident since 1979, Martin said he initially was skeptical about buying a bowling alley – he had never bowled at Silva Lanes – but changed his mind when he was taken to see the building.
“It’s a pretty astonishing space. I could see all sorts of possibilities here,” he said.
He recounted his own excitement when he turned on the lights at the Jean Cocteau Cinema downtown, where he used to go see movies, and later bought and revived the theater.
“It felt really good to see something coming alive,” he said. “I get the same feeling when coming down here (to the abandoned bowling alley).”
The interior of the building won’t be the only attraction. Di Ianni said plans include developing a community space where the parking lot exists, landscaping it and creating a picnic area.”
We definitely want food trucks in that parking lot,” he added.
Meow Wolf got its start in 2008, but really exploded onto the scene in 2011 with Due Return, a constructed ship from another dimension built within the Muñiz Waxman Gallery at the Center for Contemporary Arts. It attracted 25,000 visitors in three months who could wander its various levels, as well as occasionally hear bands playing at the installation.
“Kids just went crazy for it,” Di Ianni said. Since then, the group has built its immersive installations in Chicago, Miami, New York, Boulder and Las Cruces, he said.
“We enjoyed it,” he said of the travel, but they really wanted to get back to Santa Fe and do something permanent, he said.
And while the House of Eternal Return will be a permanent installation, pieces of it probably will keep changing over time, giving visitors a slightly different experience each time they come back, said Vince Kadlubek of Meow Wolf.
Musical performances also will be planned in a portion of the complex that resembles a makeshift shanty town of Mad Max vintage, he said, where listeners can stand on bridges or hang off balconies.
Meow Wolf is working with private lenders for most of the $1 million it’s expected the House of Eternal Return will cost. A Kickstarter campaign will try to raise $100,000 for the installation.
Meow Wolf anticipates attracting 100,000 visitors a year, based on visitation at other museums in Santa Fe. As part of the research for a business plan, Kadlubek said they looked at the Santa Fe Children’s Museum and other local museums, as well as the ¡Explora! Science Center and Children’s Museum in Albuquerque.
¡Explora!, he said, draws 300,000 visitors annually.
Kadlubek said admission rates are going to be $15 for adults and $10 for children, while a family of six can get an annual pass for $175. “The idea is that a family could come over and over again” at an affordable rate, he said.
“I’m born and raised here, and I’m really excited about Santa Fe,” Kadlubek said. “We’re not trying to change anything; we’re just trying to expand it.”