Tourist magnet, economic benefits and lots of surreal art

After years of speculation, stop-start construction and trial and error among state artists, Meow Wolf Denver cut the ribbon on Thursday at his new 90,000 square foot building at 1338 First St.

U.S. Senators John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, along with Colorado Governor Jared Polis and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, showed up to support the company at the late-afternoon event, highlighting the economic benefits and cultural potentials from the Santa Fe-based immersive art company.

“From my perspective, Meow Wolf in Santa Fe has been a great tourist draw and the highest percentage of visits to the interactive art exhibit has been from (outside) visitors,” said Randy Randall, Executive Director of Tourism Santa Fe.

There, Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return installation has welcomed more than 2 million visitors since it opened in 2016, the company said, including 265,000 since it reopened in March. A report from the New Mexico Department of Economic Development predicts that over the next decade, the company will have had an impact of $ 2.5 billion to $ 2.9 billion on the state’s economy.

In Denver, Meow Wolf expects more than a million visitors in the first year. The company, which has already invested $ 500,000 in the local arts community in the form of grants and non-profit sponsorships, hoped to open last year. She signed a lease for $ 60 million over 20 years. A spokeswoman said it was their biggest and most expensive project to date.

“There’s a lot more space to fill in this exhibit, so we’ll have a lot more opportunities for artists,” said Caity Kennedy, co-founder and creative director of Meow Wolf. “And then, of course, we’ll bring visitors and people from Denver who may not have seen anything like this before.”

Meow Wolf’s entertainment empire, which includes the new Omega Mart in Las Vegas, has attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in investment over the past five years, striking a lucrative happy medium between the immersive art gallery and the theme park. New Mexico-based “Game of Thrones” author George RR Martin was the first major investor to join us.

Andy Cross, The Denver Post

Erin Barnes, PR manager at Meow Wolf Convergence Station, plays music on The Mex, an interactive exhibit in Eemia Ice World at Meow Wolf Convergence Station, August 13, 2021.

The hybrid business, which started out as a DIY art-punk collective, employs hundreds of painters, sculptors, designers and manufacturers – including more than 110 from Denver and 200 of the company’s in-house artists – in service to environments trippy and elaborate and sci- fi traps at the Denver Exhibition. Despite the pandemic, the company encourages visitors to see and touch everything inside the four-story facility, dubbed Convergence Station.

The triangular building, just west of downtown between Empower Field at Mile High and the Auraria Campus, rises between Interstate 25 and West Colfax Avenue, positioning itself as a new landmark for the city. It’s likely, say boosters, given the economic impact it could have.

Meow Wolf Denver said more than 100,000 tickets had already been sold before it opened. They cost $ 35 for Colorado residents and $ 45 for general admission to out-of-state residents ($ 40 for children, the elderly, and the military). Timed tickets are required and can be purchased online at meowwolf.com/denver or in person.

Andy Cross, The Denver Post

As part of the Numina, The Swamp exhibit at Meow Wolf Convergence Station, August 13, 2021.

Convergence Station – which references both the Four Corners region and the Latinx and Indigenous culture in its Sun Valley neighborhood – consists of four anchor spaces, as well as a concert hall with a capacity 450 (the Perplexiplex), a café with 13 vendors and a cocktail bar. Individual rooms designed and built by local and national artists, such as Denver illustrator Sofie Birkin, longtime muralist Stevon Lucero, and the late Colin Ward, depart from the lobby and intertwine.

    • Numina, or the swamp, is a sprawling space with Technicolor, insect-eyed creatures, “living” trees and fantastic routes through dreamlike and interactive spaces. During a tour on Tuesday, CEO Alex Bennett called it “A living sixth dimensional planet that got us in.”
    • Emmie, or the Ice World, features an inside-lit plexiglass castle with a movable four-ton ceiling, interactive robots that can change lasers, and projection-mapped images (including one that looks a lot like Optimus Prime from “Transformers”) and more.
    • Street C is a “Blade Runner” dystopia that looks like an urban avenue in the retro-futuristic tradition. As the gritty “health district” of these converging worlds, it includes a working art gallery (currently selling Lumonics sculptures), but also odd screening rooms (with short videos courtesy of Denver Digerati ) and floating vehicles.
    • Ossuary, or the underground themed area, draws inspiration from the French catacombs and caves, as well as metro stations and other introductory spaces to present a set of elegant, albeit pleasantly confusing, moods. As with the rest of the installation, its mishmash of themes and images range from the majestic to the bizarre.

The art is often social justice-themed art and pays homage to revolutions such as the Denver-based disability movement, which culminated in the Americans with Disabilities Act of the 1990s, and Chicano cultures, Latin and native of Colorado.

Work continues in the hall ...

Andy Cross, The Denver Post

Work continues in the lobby of the Meow Wolf Convergence Station on August 13, 2021. (Andy Cross / The Denver Post)

“We are a social impact company that makes art. And we’re social impact artists, ”said Chadney Everett, Senior Creative Director of Meow Wolf Denver.

However, Meow Wolf executives are still holding their breath in Denver, despite the hype and runaway success in other markets.

“We don’t know if we’re right until people come in,” co-founder Matt King said in a media preview this week. “But we know we have dedicated fans. … People are so eager to solve the puzzles when they arrive that they open maintenance hatches in search of hidden secrets.

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