‘The Whole Thing Is an Art Project’: Meow Wolf Cofounders Explain the Grand Plan Behind Their Wildly Popular Immersive Art Universe
In an interview, Sean Di Ianni and Matt King tell us why they believe Meow Wolf is art—and why they don't mind if the art world disagrees.
“We started out in 2008 as just a DIY group of artists who got together to make art, throw parties, and have music shows in a warehouse in Santa Fe,” Sean Di Ianni, one of the group’s cofounders, said at the press preview. “Now we have a team of painters and sculptors, graphic designers, lighting and sound artists, people working with augmented and virtual reality, digital artists and programmers, costumers and performers, and designers of all types.”
It was fantasy author George R.R. Martin, a Santa Fe local, who helped the group take their otherworldly vision to the next level, investing $3.5 million to help them build House of Eternal Return, the Meow Wolf flagship that opened there in 2016.
The project was an immediate sensation, and the company soon showed it had the fundraising chops to rival any buzzy start up, bringing in $17 million in 2018 and over $158 million the following year. Meow Wolf, which has always prided itself in having a social conscience, filed as a B Corporation, a for-profit business legally required to meet standards for “social and environmental performance.”
“Our mission is to inspire creativity in people’s lives so that the imagination can transform our world,” Di Ianni said.
As you might expect, however, the demands of a multi-million dollar company sometimes don’t align perfectly with high-born ideals. Growing pains have included a unionization drive from dissatisfied staff—and reports that those organizing efforts met with opposition from leadership—as well as a massive round of layoffs during the pandemic lockdown. Additionally, plans for a hotel and art experience in Phoenix and a location in Washington, D.C. had to be cancelled.
Despite these challenges, Meow Wolf’s leadership insists the company has worked hard to stay true true to its creative roots.
Today, seven of the original co-founders—Di Ianni, Corvas Brinkerhoff, Benji Geary, Caity Kennedy, Matt King, Vince Kadlubek, and Emily Montoya—are still with the company, which now boasts a staff of 900.
Collectively, these dreamy yet high-tech tableaux represent the latest chapter in something akin to the Marvel Cinematic Universe—a world characterized by strange inter-dimensional portals and vaguely sinister corporations armed with futuristic technologies.
With three permanent locations under its belt, Meow Wolf is beginning to talk more openly about the depth of its world-building, and how its writers have been weaving together the threads of an overarching story. The plot, it turns out, has been in development for years—although it’s perfectly fine with the creators if you experience Meow Wolf’s spaces on a purely aesthetic level, rather than combing through each and every room for clues.
At the Denver opening, Artnet News sat down with two of the founders, Di Ianni and King, to talk about how the company and their roles in it have changed over the years, the challenges of building Convergence Station on an oddly-shaped plot of land between two arms of freeway overpasses, and whether what Meow Wolf does is still art.
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