Episode 205 – Vince Kadlubek talks about crisis of imagination, giving agency to your guests, and adventuring into the unknown
Vince Kadlubek is the Founder and Director of Meow Wolf. Meow Wolf has expanded from its original location in Santa Fe to two new locations in the past year: Las Vegas and Denver. Meow Wolf is an immersive, multimedia, story-driven experience rooted in artistic expression.
In 2008, before Meow Wolf was conceived, Vince was living with his parents and working as a food delivery driver. He was also part of Santa Fe’s local art community. He and his fellow artists longed to have a place where they were free to express themselves. So instead of waiting to be invited to a gallery or show, Vince and some of his friends set up temporary workspaces and exhibitions in warehouses around the city. From 2008 to 2015, Meow Wolf acted as a side project for many of Santa Fe’s artists, including Vince, where they could make and display their creations. In 2015 Vince decided it was time to get serious, make a business plan, and convert the original Meow Wolf idea into a permanent, admissions-based attraction. He pitched the idea to George R. R. Martin, and Martin’s support led to the opening of the House of Eternal Return, Meow Wolf’s first permanent attraction. At the same time, Vince became Meow Wolf’s CEO. Upon deciding to expand to new locations in Denver and Las Vegas, Vince chose to hire more team members who could collaborate and bring these big ideas to life.
One of Vince’s key goals for Meow Wolf’s attractions is that they inspire exploration, discovery, and imagination. Vince has stated that there is currently a “crisis of imagination.” He explained further by pointing out that most people are obsessed with memories and things from the past and focus a lot less on imagining what the future could be. Vince went so far as to expand this to the current global climate crisis, pointing out the tendency to talk more about how we have gotten to the current state and less about envisioning how to get to a better future. Vince aims to create elements of mystery and adventure within Meow Wolf’s art experiences that inspire visitors to leave with a desire to create their own content.
Meow Wolf’s attractions accomplish Vince’s goal of encouraging exploration by first having guests enter a familiar environment before sprinkling in out-of-place elements that lead to an entirely unknown landscape. In Santa Fe, guests walk right into a normal-looking home, and in Las Vegas, visitors wander into a fully-stocked grocery store, complete with employees. By first letting guests explore something familiar, they become more comfortable exploring and interacting. By the time they discover something otherworldly, most visitors are ready to dive in headfirst to the unfamiliar. Vince referred to those moments of crossing from the known to the unknown as transformative moments, and they are another key element of Meow Wolf’s experiences.
These transformational experiences are a key offering of themed entertainment. In a world where we can experience so many different things within the comfort of our own home, it has become harder and harder to convince people that a location or attraction is worth visiting. Vince stated that these transformative moments are vital to creating experiences that make people want to put down their phones and engage with the world around them. Making a place that is safe to explore and play is something that Meow Wolf excels at. They have even created spaces that are enjoyed by guests of all ages, though a young guest may interact in a completely different way than an older guest. That’s part of the magic: that every visitor can have a completely unique, unscripted experience within the same attraction. Vince argues that all of these aforementioned conditions are what help Meow Wolf’s guests break out of their normal way of thinking and start dreaming of what is around the corner.
Vince admits that creating these unique art experiences isn’t always easy or efficient. While the beginning of the project is very focused, the middle stages of development expand to allow for as much creativity as possible. Meow Wolf attractions are the compilation of hundreds of artists coming together to make something new and exciting. For a lot of the project development process, the focus is on “what” the team wants guests to experience and “why.” Once these are nailed down, then the tough questions of “how” to enable this grand vision are tackled. This is when the project has to shrink back down to a more narrow, executable plan. Before that shrinkage, though, project phases that pump in even more diversity of ideas are explored. This helps ensure that the most magical experience possible will be created by the time everyone on the project is told to put their pencils down, which typically doesn’t happen until the very second that the new attraction is being opened to the public.
If you’d like to contact Vince, you can reach him at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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