The sparks of inspiration at Meow Wolf
An exclusive interview with the Senior Creative Director, Chadney Everett
Author’s Note: This Article was originally written and published with the Trail-Gazette.
I had a chance to sit down for an exclusive interview with Chadney Everett, the Senior Creative Director of Meow Wolf, Denver, to talk about the creative process behind the hugely popular themed maximalist art experiences. These experiences weave science fiction and cultural storytelling into an art-drenched environment, creating a novel-like adventure for the participants.
There may be misnomers around the creative and world-building process of a themed art experience like Meow Wolf. Some people may assume that the background story to these exhibits is already set before they begin building out the spaces they inhabit.
But according to Everett, "It all happens together. We will often have spaces that are informed by a narrative, and, just as often, we will have a narrative informed by the spaces we are working with. So the narrative grows and changes as the development of our projects do. We haven't yet started a project where we have a narrative we are building to."
He adds, "I can tell you with the house in Santa Fe. (Which he worked on the story team for and was the lead designer/art director for.) When we are collaborating with artists, which is at the core of what we do. We are interested in seeing their work for what it is. We want their authentic work, and we are working with them because we like what they do. We don't necessarily want them to respond to anything we are doing (with story and location.) With the story for the house, as the artists' spaces were coming in, we on the writing team responded and adjusted the storyline to incorporate art into narratives. Because, at the core of the narrative, we had an idea that everything that exists in the exhibit sprang from either the house itself or the minds, lives, and imaginations of the people who inhabit it."
He adds, "Every time something new would appear in the exhibit, we would have to reverse engineer it back into our story. So, that was a pretty complicated process, and one we will probably never do again Because it was not the best way to craft a narrative."
Everett goes on to explain, "But, there still is some element of that in what we do now. In that, we are a company of maximalist artists. This means there are a lot of 'Yes…and?' So we are making adjustments to the storylines up to the last day before we open an exhibit."
He describes the creation of the space on their Denver Project "Because we are artists, not architects, we are not building to a plan, we are following inspiration, so we are building to a plan to a degree. It's a lot like the process of writing a novel."
Everett refers to author George RR Martin (author of the wildly successful novels and HBO series Game of Thrones), who has been a massive supporter of the Meow Wolf projects and helped them acquire their property in Santa Fe.
Martin has a great quote where he says in writing there are architects and there are gardeners (like Martin himself is in his writing process). The gardener discovers the story through character development and meanders through the story by getting to know those characters, and the story reveals itself in that way. Then there are the architects who need to understand the plot before they start writing. They need to understand where it is all going before they start writing.
Everett says, "in essence, we are a combination of the two.
We have been working on the story behind the Denver location for quite some time. But it was only locked down a few months ago. These stories grow and evolve with our exhibit. So as one grows, so does the other.
Everett comes from the fine art world, having been a fine artist, gallery artist, and portrait artist. He also has worked in film and television for many years, in art departments and eventually becoming an art director on some smaller films. He has also written a smaller award-winning play.
"We are a B Corp. Because it captures a lot of what we believe in, and we did not want to go into a neighborhood as a gentrifier or have a negative impact.
The new project in Colorado was greatly influenced by the 'convergence' of the many cultures that makes up the Denver community. Everette says that culture has fundamentally affected the storyline at "Convergence Station."
Locations in Colorado were not the first places they were looking at for their new project. They were looking at possible locations across the US, including a few places in Texas.
Part of the decision to locate the new project had to do with Meow Wolf being a B Corp. Everett says, "We are a B Corp. Because it captures a lot of what we believe in, and we did not want to go into a neighborhood as a gentrifier or have a negative impact. It was when we found our partners here in Denver that we knew we found the perfect location. Many of the Meow Wolf team have long-time friendships and collaborations with Denver artists. So the connection we have in Colorado is decades old for many of us."
The new exhibit is located in the Sun Valley neighborhood, and it is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Denver, with a large immigrant community, which inspired the Meow Wolf team. This story of immigration and diversity in community is at the heart of the Convergence Station storyline.
"The story we tell in our exhibit is of four worlds that have unwillingly converged into a new place together, after being torn away from their homes and brought together in a new place. It is the story of immigration and refugees," Everett says. "We have people in those converged worlds, such as the inhabitants of C-Street who are happy to leave where they are from and make new lives for themselves here. There are also the people of an ice world who long to return to their homeworld and reconnect with their people. This theme is an example of how our location here in Denver informed our narrative."
Another aspect of the storyline in Convergence Station is the value of memories, which have become an economy in the new convergence where there is value in the rescuing of lost cultural memories.
Everett explains, "When we think of all these alien cultures coming together as they have in real life Sun Valley, it inspired us. When you have a melting pot of cultures, your memories become one of the most valuable things you have." He says this concept has been central to the Denver project. Another part of the storyline that includes Denver is the historical relevance of activism in Colorado history. There are references to the Gang of 19 and the Americans With Disabilities Act that resulted in part from protests in Denver by disability activists who threw themselves in front of buses, blocking the intersection Colfax and Broadway for two days, to bring public attention to the discrimination faced by the disabled community. These events have been, in part, written into the mythology of the project.
We are very much interested in being a positive partner in the Colorado and Denver community. We are looking at how we can help support other art organizations and artists and benefit the community.
For our last question to Everett, we asked about the potential for creative storytelling and art to help manifest change in the future and whether that was something the Meow Wolf creative teams strove for as part of their process.
"Being able to do things on such a large scale lets us potentially have impacts on a larger scale. So, that is something we take very seriously. Again, we are a B Corp, which you have to re-prove your eligibility for each year. We are the only themed entertainment company in the US with this designation. This means profit isn't our only priority. We also consider the social impact, which is essential to us, environmental concerns, etc., so we don't attract investors who are not interested in those things. We strive to be diverse and inclusive. For the Denver exhibit, we didn't just want to have rooms filled with the work of straight, white, male artists. So, we were sure to find diversity in our artists. We are very much interested in being a positive partner in the Colorado and Denver community. We are looking at how we can help support other art organizations and artists and benefit the community.
Meow Wolf Denver will be opening their Convergence Station Exhibit in Denver on September 17th, open from 10:00 am until 10:00 pm Sunday through Thursday and from 10:00 am until 12:00 am on Fridays and Saturdays. Hours are subject to change.
Tickets are available for pre-purchase for $45 for General Admission ($40 Children / Seniors / Military), and $35 for Colorado Residents. Visitors are required to pre-book a time slot for entry.
Tickets and more information can be found on their website: www.meowwolf.com