Meow Wolf: An Inside Look at One of Today’s Most Unique Interactive Attractions
Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Friday, June 3rd, 2016
Meow Wolf has been called a theme park for people who love Disney World, but want something a little weirder. When you combine the forces of Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin as landlord and an artists’ collective as tenants, you get a boundary pushing interactive experience that’s setting a new standard for what attractions can offer their guests. Meow Wolf takes people through an explorative journey of art, education, and creation and shows how interactivity and storylines can be combined in whole new ways.
Perhaps the best way to understand Meow Wolf is to see how they describe themselves. They “create immersive, multimedia experiences that transport audiences of all ages into fantastic realms of storytelling. Our work is a combination of jungle gym, haunted house, children’s museum, and immersive art exhibit. This unique fusion of art and entertainment gives audiences fictional worlds to explore.”
Approaching the strip mall-like former bowling alley in Santa Fe, New Mexico, it’s hard for guests to really imagine what they’re about to experience. The imaginative space is the result of a collaboration of over 100 artists and volunteers. The entire complex is comprised of several elements, including a children’s museum, an art gallery, jungle gym, and fantasy novel come to life. This broadly conceived space creates new opportunities for engagement, interaction, and creative expression through creative exploration, makerspace elements and simple artistic appreciation.
The explosive visuals of Meow Wolf set it apart. When you first pull in to the art complex parking lot, you can’t help but notice the giant spider and robot statues. TaranTula is the brainchild of Taos artist Christina Sporrong, which joined Christian Ristow’s 30 foot tall robot sculpture, entitled “Becoming Human.” Both images shepherd guests to the next part of the exhibit, while setting the tone for the fantastical and mind bending experience that’s about to occur.
13,000 square feet of the complex is dedicated to Make Santa Fe. Make Santa Fe is a non-profit workspace where artists in the community can access tools, resources, and workshops, in order to invent or create anything they can imagine. It serves as an expressive resource for a diverse community and reinforces the maker community in Santa Fe. At the same time, there’s equipment and opportunities to help kids learn about fabrication and other elements of maker culture as well. The Make space provides a workshop for the artists that created Meow Wolf and also help inspire another generation of creators.
The main attraction at Meow Wolf is the House of Eternal Return. It features a wild form of non-linear storytelling, as visitors follow along with a narrative while exploring the various installations that make up the twisted interior of a Victorian house. Something mysterious has happened inside and guests are invited to solve that mystery. Every visitor is invited to choose their own path in the 20,000 square foot exhibition, by walking, climbing, or crawling through imaginative and unexpected environments. The space is designed with different levels of tactile and intellectual engagement in mind, as the children can play with the art while adults can have an experience with the narrative depth of the story.
The Victorian setting for the experience is unique. It has authentic elements of a Victorian home blended with more fantastical designs. Nothing’s off limits. Guests can (and in fact must) interact with the story in part by touching the setting and the props. The only rule is not to break anything. Each room of the house contains clues. An RFID-powered video system plays old “cassettes” that provide an idea of what happened. Guests visit the dining room, where an intergalactic episode occurred.
From there guests can search the house room by room for related clues, tinker in a Mad Science Lab or climb through secret passages into the interdimensional worlds that opened up when the “mystery event” took place. The Meow Wolf team created everything from an enchanted forest to a space ship. As guests wander through the space, they quickly connect with the deeper story of a family with special powers and an incident gone horribly, horribly wrong.
So why combine art, technology, and play in Santa Fe? The Meow Wolf Art Complex stands as a beacon of the arts to the community, which is home to some of the most creative artists, scientists, and industrialists in the country. The city is teeming with ingenuity and Meow Wolf brings it all together. The project has found a way to harness the inspiring energy of the city, and use it as a means to giving back to the community. The presence of world-class institutions has endowed the area with frontiers of the digital age in both industry and science, and Meow Wolf is connecting these people with the greater community.
For entertainment designers looking at the Meow Wolf complex as an example of what’s possible, there are several big lessons. The first is that it’s possible to create something truly immersive and fantastical without the budgets and brand of the big theme parks. At the same time, it encourage us to think bigger with the attractions that we create. A great experience with beautiful art and cutting-edge technology isn’t enough. A storyline is a must-have today, but on its own is unlikely to make an experience really stand out. Instead, Meow Wolf is a living argument for blending all these things together with deeply participatory elements. Imagine something amazing and then give guests the tools to co-create it with you every time they visit.
Images sourced courtesy of Meow Wolf, Imgur