Community Input for Community Impact

Nov 14, 2018

Recently, I attended a Community Advisory Committee meeting at the Sun Valley Community Kitchen for Meow Wolf Denver. The group is a 15-member cohort of Sun Valley residents, community leaders, artists, non-profit professionals and business owners that meet monthly to advise Meow Wolf on best practices for Denver.

One way to describe a Community Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting for Meow Wolf Denver is to start with the idea of double Dutch. If you’ve ever witnessed a double Dutch game, you know that there’s a balance of input and output then, a cue for action. At a CAC meeting, this cue for action is followed by the rhythmic exchange of solutions and ideas. It’s contagious.

The origin of Meow Wolf’s CAC began with an infamous Facebook comment from local organizer Zoe Williams who responded to the Meow Wolf Denver exhibit announcement by asking, “what are you going to do about the people in Sun Valley?” In Meow Wolf CEO Vince Kadlubek’s introduction speech at the Corporate Responsibility unveiling, he referenced this moment. Almost one year later, Meow Wolf is presenting the Corporate Social Responsibility strategy for Denver that was crafted with input from the individuals who serve on the Community Advisory Committee (CAC), which is facilitated and led by Zoe Williams.

As someone who was born and raised in the Mile High City, the goals outlined in Meow Wolf’s Corporate Social Responsibility Pledge give me chills. Over time, I’ve witnessed the toll Denver’s sudden growth has posed on our environment, artists, communities of color and housing affordability. I can’t help but acknowledge the benefit of implementing these goals. I also imagine a world where similar goals are the standard. Regardless, when a company like Meow Wolf humbly acknowledges the impact they could have on economic growth, environmental degradation and income inequality and they address these issues as a central component to their presence – they enter a space of sustainability that is occupied by few companies. As Meow Wolf’s CSR mission states, “a primary metric of our success … is our lasting community impact.”

In the Corporate Social Responsibility document presented at this meeting, Meow Wolf first commits to strengthening Denver communities by way of engagement and philanthropy. This first section outlines the responsibilities of the CAC, as well as a commitment by Meow Wolf to people with Disabilities (Denver’s Meow Wolf exhibit location will be 90% ADA accessible). Coloradans can expect discounted admission, with additional discounts given to Sun Valley residents, seniors and veterans.

To respect art means to pay artists and Meow Wolf pledges to provide paid opportunities for a diverse group of Colorado artists. Selected local artists will be featured in the gift shop and 40% of the Denver exhibit will be reserved for local Colorado talent. Meow Wolf is committed to being the catalyst of change for the perceived societal value of art. To further expand Meow Wolf’s commitment to safe spaces, they pledge to limit cultural appropriation and increase inclusivity of historically excluded populations.

Meow Wolf pledges to grow with environmental stewardship as a pillar to their strategy. The Denver site will include materials that are biodegradable and/or reusable; recycling centers and staff training on sustainability and closed loop waste management; a revamp of energy usage that incorporates energy saving lighting controls, LED lights, high efficiency heating and cooling. Water usage has also been examined for the new site and Meow Wolf plans to use low flow plumbing fixtures, and landscape with drought tolerant and native plant species. Additional carbon reduction measures, like proximity to transit and pedestrian accessibility will accompany the Denver location.

Lastly, Meow Wolf anticipates being a major employer in Denver and they aim to do so with respect for an inclusive economy. Meow Wolf will prioritize entry level and middle skill opportunities at the venue, with gender and racial equity in hiring and vendor selection. People with disabilities will be provided pathways for employment. Local hiring processes will be designed to include people of nearby zip codes and communities. Members of LGBTQ communities and people of diverse backgrounds will be welcomed to work in a safe space that affirms their individuality. Meow Wolf understands the necessity of living wages scaled to the Denver economy and will determine pay with input from the Community Advisory Committee. Mental health care, opportunities for advancement, access to higher education and supportive practices for parents/caregivers and commuters will be provided.

If Meow Wolf fulfills the goals outlined in their statement, Meow Wolf Denver will be a business leader in championing fair, equitable and inclusive employment practices. As a Denver native, I know firsthand the positive impact this could have on the Mile High city.

I left the Community Advisory Committee meeting that night feeling excited about what’s to come. When there’s a group driving the initiative like the people I witnessed that night representing Denver, I know the impact will be weighty and hopefully, widespread.