May 31st, 2018
Franchising a Movement
Meow Wolf the wildly popular multi-media entertainment company out of Santa Fe, New Mexico is now launching a music festival as part of its growth strategy.
The so-called Taos Vortex will be a two-day event in Taos, New Mexico, akin to Burning Man and Coachella - probably tamer and on a smaller scale with bands featured including the Flamming Lips and Dr. Dog. Not a stellar line-up but the event appears well organized if not formulaic, with plenty of add-on features and experiences for attendees including a "glamping" option for those that want to avoid the hassle of bringing their own equipment.
Remember the name. Meow Wolf is an "arts and entertainment group" operating an immersive multi-media art installation. Visitors come to enjoy the interplay between art and tech. The full experience lasts between 2-3 hours. The name has no intrinsic meaning. It came from drawing two words out of a hat.
The company launched in 2008 as an art collective and now has around 200 artists across different disciplines including architecture, sculpture, painting, photography and video production, virtual and augmented reality, music and audio engineering, narrative writing, costuming and performance, and more.
Game of Thrones Money
In 2015, Santa Fe Resident and Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin, invested $3 million in the project. The investment included the purchase of a 20,000 square foot bowling alley that became the permanent space for The House of Eternal Return. The for-profit company brought in $6 million in revenue during its first year - according to a recent article published by Artsy.
The company has plans to build two more unique spaces in the next two years, in Las Vegas and Denver in 2020 in a 90,000 square foot facility across the river from Mile High Stadium. From there, founder and CEO Vince Kadlubek said the goal was to launch one new installation in a different city every year. Meow Wolf is kid friendly but the company also appeals to adults.
Our sense is that the exhibits will grow more sophisticated over time. The fact that Meow Wolf has succeeded with all ages speaks to the power and popularity of the genre as a medium for exploration.
Not The First
Meow Wolf is not the first of its kind. There are other immersive art experiences from which the company has found inspiration: Kusama’s “Infinity Rooms,” James Turrell’s light installations, enveloping animations by teamLAB, Wham City in Baltimore and the Do LaB in Los Angeles, the Burning Man festival, and Sleep No More in New York City. Many others likely exist.
We also point to lesser-known local installations that have been around for decades - including Alex Jordan's House On The Rock in Spring Green Wisconsin and the Saint Louis Children's Museum and The Magic House, St. Louis Children's Museum, and adult nightclub House of Yes in New York City.
Meow Wolf is different because of its high production value, R.R. Martin's endorsement, and a smart and coordinated product, branding and public relations strategy that will likely propel the brand as the one that captures the world's imagination.
Not The Last
These are still early days for the format. In the recent Artsy interview, Kadlubek said that he sees a future where the "lines between things like art, theme parks, role-playing games, and augmented reality will be blurred." Kadlubek calls it "alternative reality" which for Meow Wolf means "providing a multitude of alternative reality experiences that are, for the audience, spontaneous and unpredictable."
Another quote from Kadlubek: “People go to a location, they have an experience, and then they go home. The ultimate goal is for time spent in these spaces to actually change real life—to “subvert” the everyday."
Kadlubek sees Meow Wolf and similar installations as precursors to a much bigger trend. “I don’t even know if it’s art anymore. There’s a whole way of being that’s going to be shifting soon.”
Transcendentalists Demand Freedom
Transcendentalism is a trend and movement.
What caught our attention was Meow Wolf's fresh style. The mixing of digital with analog mediums, different earthly and cosmic realities, time travel past and future, and surrealism both dark and playful rings true and authentic - not contrived. Its audacity tells an imaginative, collective yet coherent story.
Those that appreciate the work also probably love what they do in life and are happy that others have found that passion, too. Those that snark are confounded and secretly wonder whether they too could make a living creating something magical.
The word transcendence and term transcendentalism came to mind. Meow Wolf's satirical flavor is also clearly reflective of a community and mindset looking to break with standard convention.
There is a historical pattern and connection to travel. The original transcendentalists were inspired deeply by advancements in technology and mobility. The railroad was to Emerson what the car and highway systems were to Kerouac. Just as mobile computing and spatial computing will be for the next wave of transcendentalists.
Thoreau's Walden, Emerson’s Self-Reliance, Fuller’s Summer On The Lakes, Twain's Huckleberry Fin, London's Call Of The Wild, Kerouac's On The Road. The Gold Rush, Lindbergh's first flight over the Atlantic, the Titanic tragedy. Risk and reward. Love and adventure. These classics and modern legends seeded our love affair with travel and idolized a select few for their novel ideas.
The difference between then and now is that everyone has the freedom to be revolutionary. Everyone can publish and distribute their own vision and version of truth. Technology and multi-media is that new conduit. The next wave of transcendentalists is already here.
What the new transcendentalists fear the most is getting stuck doing something that they hate. Its a newly found freedom prompted by a strong economy and distruptive tech.
What are we transcending? Everything. Who is transcending? Everyone.
Some say that space travel is the final frontier. We think it is the mind and the boundless exploration of the human imagination. How far will this transcendence from the real into the digital go? How will today’s travel brands compete with the fantastic worlds that will eventually surround us?