SANTA FE – Imagine roaming through a massive magical house that can suddenly transport visitors to other planets and solar systems simply by touching the wall or a piece of furniture.
That and more will be at the finger tips of visitors to “The House of Eternal Return” when it opens in Santa Fe next November. The artists’ collaborative Meow Wolf is now building the fantasy house in a 20,000-square-foot space at the Midtown Arts District, where Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin is helping the company to renovate an old bowling alley to accommodate what could become a permanent exhibit.
Meow Wolf has 100 artists and computer programmers working on the project.
“It’s 21st Century experimental art that we want to build into the No. 1 family attraction in New Mexico for years to come,” said Meow Wolf co-founder and CEO Vince Kadlubek. “It will open in Santa Fe, but eventually we’ll take it to other markets as well. We’re creating a new, modern day forum for story telling for audiences of all ages.”
Meow Wolf began planning the project in 2011, after it successfully built and hosted a four-month exhibit at Santa Fe’s Center for Contemporary Arts that featured a life-size ship where visitors could walk through imaginary tunnels and portholes in a virtual sci-fi tour of alien worlds and dimensions. But the new project, which is 20 times the size of the 2011 show, has progressed at warp speed since Meow Wolf founders participated in the Creative Startups business accelerator last year.
The accelerator program taught the founders how to turn their artists’ collaborative into a for-profit business that now supports 65 full-time jobs in a 30,000-square-foot complex where The House of Eternal Return is under construction. Since participating in Creative Startups, the collaborative has raised most of the $1.5 million needed to build and launch the company’s fantasy house exhibit.
“We’ve got $600,000 to go, so we’re still in fund raising mode now,” Kadlubek said.
The collaborative raised $800,000 from individual investors by offering five-year, $25,000 notes with 12 percent interest rates. One of the investors is fellow artist and visionary Jared Tarbell, founder and owner of the Levitated Toy Factory in Albuquerque, which uses 3-D printing, or digital manufacturing, to build creative outdoor structures and educational toys.
“The challenge of what Meow Wolf is creating is repeatability,” Tarbell said. “They need people to come to their exhibit more than once. But they’re putting so much into it that people won’t be able to see everything in one visit, so many will come back.”
George R.R. Martin, who bought the old Silva Lanes bowling alley for $750,000 on agreement to lease it to Meow Wolf, is now financing a $1 million to $2 million renovation of the building.
“Meow Wolf’s project is going to be exciting and strange,” Martin said in an email. “It’s something the city has never seen before.”
Once open, the fantasy house will allow visitors to touch hundreds of digital connections imbedded in everything from walls and doors to furniture and personal items. Sensors will trigger a range of visual and audio experiences, providing in many cases elaborate, virtual transport to wild places.
In one section, visitors can walk through Star Trek-like sliding doors that act as portals to alien worlds and dimensions, including beaches on distant planets and water resorts on the moon of another solar system.
“The house tells the story of a magical family that gained the ability to alter the fabric of time and space after an event inside the home opened worm holes into other dimensions,” Kadlubek said. “Visitors interact directly with artifacts, photos, journals and other things to learn about the family’s life. Worm holes, or secret passage ways, are hidden everywhere – such as a crawl tunnel through a dryer that leads to a tree house forest – providing entrance to new worlds like in the Chronicles of Narnia.
“The House of Eternal Return marks Meow Wolf’s transition from an informal artists’ collaborative into a profit-making business.
“We have something that broad audience’s will want to see, many of whom have never stepped into an art gallery before,” Kadlubek said. “It’s something entirely new with a business model that allows us to support our artists with revenue.”