Celebrating 5 years of House of Eternal Return

A lookback on the past five years of Meow Wolf with Meow Wolf Co-Founder and Director, Vince Kadlubek. 

Oh what a phenomenal ride this has been, and it is only getting started. 

Five years ago today, I stood in the front yard of “The House” and watched the first groups of participants enter our wild creation. Even though Meow Wolf had worked together for many years prior, House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe, NM was the first permanent project we had ever attempted, and we had no idea how it would be received.

On that first night, I walked around the exhibition and observed people’s reactions. Some folks were confused, some were in awe, some were uncertain as to what they were “supposed to do”. I heard a father say “I’m not sure I totally get it, but I know I love it”. I heard a grandmother laugh loudly when she opened the refrigerator door. And I watched an 8-year old girl walk into the forest, drop to her knees, raise her arms up and proclaim “I’ve been waiting my whole life for this!”.  

After doing a full loop around the space, I walked over to Sean Di Ianni and stood next to him in the front yard of The House. I was in a total disassociated daze, as if the timeline of the dream had caught up with the timeline of our lives, and I said “Sean, it’s working. I think it’s working.”

Since then, the trajectory has been ferocious. We’ve had remarkable successes, truly divine shared experiences, deep frustrations, eternal new friendships, and incredibly painful moments along the way. “Growing pains” would be putting it far too lightly.

After the success of The House, we felt like anything was possible. In realizing this, we consciously chose to reach for the greatest heights we could imagine, attempting to become the kind of creative company that only comes around once in a generation. We chose to not just be a ‘cool thing to do in Santa Fe’, but instead to attempt a global paradigm shift in how humans engage with creativity. We chose to try to change the world through the power of the imagination.

In the midst of this meteoric rise, Meow Wolf suffered some tough losses. I want to take a moment to acknowledge all of the folks who put time, effort, spirit, and passion into these past 5 years yet are no longer with the company. The magnificence of our exhibitions are because of you too, and my hope is that everyone can feel pride and can see their contributions in these remarkable exhibitions. And also to acknowledge all of the brilliant folks who are with us today, the daily commitment and genius that is provided to Meow Wolf is collectively what creates the remarkable, next-level experiences that are literally transforming people’s perceptions. It is happening in Vegas, just read the Tweets and Instagrams from those who attend Omega Mart.

Within the turmoil of constant growth and change, y’all are creating work that is positively shifting perceptions of reality, bringing the word ‘possibility’ back into folk’s vocabulary. Fuck yeah. That’s the north star: Utilizing creativity to promote the concept of possibility in the lives of others.

This 5th year anniversary provides a nice space to recollect and remember so many of the dreamlike moments that we’ve experienced. I encourage all of you to do the same! Whether you’ve been an employee of the company, or a contractor, or a construction worker, or even one of our fans. What are some of your most memorable moments with Meow Wolf over the past 5 years?

I certainly have a few! :)

In 2017, Meow Wolf received a THEA Award from the Themed Entertainment Association for our House of Eternal Return project. At that ceremony, two of our co-founders, Sean Di Ianni and Caity Kennedy, accepted the prestigious award. Caity said strikingly poignant words that still ring dear in my heart, stating “This culture of love and ambition has set Meow Wolf on the remarkable, exponential trajectory that has brought us here tonight, and has positioned this crew of oddballs and dreamers to surpass our wildest hopes, leaving no weirdo behind.” Let us strive, over the next 5 years, to hold these words even more dear, as it is the culture of Meow Wolf that produces our magic.

One of the highest forms of fulfillment comes from the opportunity to share your own creative expressions with an artistic influence that has deeply inspired your work. In 2018, I was lucky enough to sit next to Wayne Coyne, the genius behind The Flaming Lips, inside of “The Timeworm”, a circular spacey room at The House. It was just Wayne and I, nobody else. We shared a moment of silent awe together, I was terribly nervous to say anything. He broke the silence, turning to me and saying “Meow Wolf has created something remarkable here”. This statement, coming from the person behind Yoshimi, the person behind “Do You Realize?”, absolutely blew my mind.

And on February 20th of 2019, probably the single most significant moment of the past 5 years occurred when I received a phone call that completely changed Meow Wolf’s future. For over a year, we had embarked on a painstaking effort to find investors for our ambitious and absurd projects in Vegas and Denver. We had a lot of interest, but ultimately we found ourselves nearing the end of the line without a true lead investor. We were running out of money. The Meow Wolf dream was starting to fade.

But on that particular afternoon in the middle of a rather tense board meeting, my cell phone rang and it was a number from New York that I recognized. “Vince, we are honored to officially put in a term sheet to be Meow Wolf’s partner on this amazing journey”. Thanks to that call, combined with the gargantuan efforts of our entire Meow Wolf team, many millions of participants will get to walk through the magnificence of our Vegas and Denver projects in the years to come.

Ultimately though, my dearest memories of the past 5 years were our countless ‘All Shrimps’ meetings. First held in The Learning Center, then in Fastenal, and ultimately at Scottish Rite Temple, those gatherings were pure magic. Every month or two, our growing company got to feel each other’s energy, humor, honesty and vulnerability. We witnessed the growth right in front of our eyes as more and more folks were joining our team.

Funny to think that company-wide meetings were some of the most memorable times, but the energy was truly palpable. Project updates, philosophical musings, wonderfully witty presentations, random performances, Benji in his truest form, so much pizza and mezcal lavender margaritas, the lovely energy of some of the greatest humans on this planet who were all sharing in this rollercoaster ride together. Of all the memories, it is the magic of those All Shrimps that resonate the most deeply for me. Thank you to everyone for your contributions to those vibrant times as we grew into the unstoppable company we are today.

On this date 5 years ago, we were all wondering if any of this was going to work. And now 5 years later, we have opened our 2nd permanent exhibition in Las Vegas, NV, the transcendent opus called “Omega Mart” that may be one of the most incredible works of storytelling and multimedia art this world has ever seen. And later this year, Meow Wolf Denver will astound audiences on a potentially even greater scale, as a truly unprecedented piece of mindboggle beyond anything that currently exists on this planet.

Yes, these are big words, certainly. But that is one of the most predominant takeaways for me over these past 5 years: Our Audacity. Meow Wolf, across the organization, carries an audacity that is so admirable in today’s world, willingly reaching beyond the possible, beyond the safe, beyond the reasonable and into the realms of the unprecedented.

As we venture into the next 5 years in front of us, with many changes undoubtedly yet to occur, may we never lose that courageous audacity. Be audacious in our creative endeavors, always pushing beyond the boundary of what is possible. Be audacious in our storytelling, exploring concepts and themes that others in our position may shy away from. Be audacious in our commitment to justice, setting the gold standard for how corporations should operate. Be audacious in our empathy and understanding, providing radical space for dialogue, acceptance, and true collaboration. And be audacious in our vision, to not only create a successful arts company but to more importantly inspire creativity in people’s lives so that the imagination can transform our world.