Culture / Entertainment

First Look — Meow Wolf Brings Its Otherworldly Immersive Art Experience to Texas

Inside the "Portal" and "Neon Kingdom"

BY // 07.13.23

Since debuting its original immersive art experience, House of Eternal Return, in Santa Fe in 2016, Meow Wolf has become one of the biggest attractions in New Mexico. It became so popular that the U.S.-based arts and entertainment company expanded to Las Vegas (Omega Mart) and Denver (Convergence Station) in 2021. And after digitally teasing something new for Texas last summer, Meow Wolf officially announced its next move — doubling down on the Lone Star State with locations in both Grapevine and Houston.

The first of the transportive Texan experiences is set to debut at Grapevine Mills (just 24 miles northwest of Dallas) on Friday, July 14, and is named “The Real Unreal.”

If you’re not familiar with the concept, Meow Wolf was founded in 2008 by a collective of local artists in Santa Fe. Each new location has been in collaboration with artists of the area and co-founders Sean Di Ianni, the late Matt King, Corvas Brinkerhoff, Emily Montoya, Caity Kennedy, Benji Geary, and Vince Kadlubek. Artists come from all different disciplines, including painting, sculpture, video production, VR, music and audio engineering, costuming, architecture, and more.

Meow Wolf Grapevine
Meow Wolf Grapevine has a house similar to the original Santa Fe location. (Photo by Jess Gallo)

Each Meow Wolf city has a different theme, but the idea remains the same — to immerse guests into another world of wonder and exploration. I’ve been lucky to visit the Santa Fe, Las Vegas, and Denver locations, spending hours wandering different rooms and exploring secret passages.

There is so much to see, visitors can even opt for a more immersive experience by following a story laid out for them. Santa Fe’s “The House of Eternal Return” begins with a mystery that occurred in an old Victorian house where a family had once lived. Guests are challenged to find out what happened. At Las Vegas’ “Omega Mart,” you are thrown into a trippy grocery store with supernatural products and alien ruins. At “Convergence Station” in Denver, guests can explore four stories of city streets and alien biomes (Denver is Meow Wolf’s largest location to date). You can opt into The Quantum Department of Transportation (QDOT) to explore a (five-hour-long) exclusive travel opportunity from the Denver station to Convergence of Worlds where memories are currency.

Don’t worry, it begins to make more sense when you get there.

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Meow Wolf Grapevine
Meow Wolf Grapevine also offers an event space called “Neon Kingdom.” (Photo by Kate Russell)

And if you’re wondering: why Grapevine Mills? So was I. So I talked to executive creative director of Meow Wolf Dale Sheehan to get the answer.

“Grapevine Mills checked our boxes from a business aspect, but we’re also excited about leaning into the mall culture,” he says. “It’s family-oriented and we want to play with what it means to be in a mall. What scares me the most is getting comfortable doing things one way.”

This isn’t the first time the company has taken over a building. Santa Fe is located inside of a former bowling alley, and the Vegas spot is in entertainment district AREA15. Denver was the first city to host Meow Wolf in a new build. It’s near Empower Field (Bronco Stadium) and surrounded by highways, but it still feels worlds away from reality.

“The objective is to find something that inspires us to do something different,” Sheehan says.

Meow Wolf Grapevine
The Arcade at Meow Wolf Grapevine boasts games created by local artists that you can actually play. (Photo by Kate Russell)

Last year, Meow Wolf had an open call for local artists who have a unique perspective on the world. “We want to see something that we’re delighted by and think visitors will be delighted by,” Sheehan said at the time. “We’re focused on emerging artists and those from underserved communities.”

Around 40 Texas artists were chosen to contribute to Meow Wolf Grapevine. Here are a few artists names you might recognize from Dallas-Fort Worth:

Adam Palmer, Alexander Revier, Brent Ozaeta, Dan Lam, Desireé Vaniecia, Drigo, Eric Trich, Carlos Donjuan, Carmen Menza, Josh Dodson, Katie Murray, Kwinton Gray, Leah Flook, Mariell Guzman, Mattie and Black Taffy, MOM, Morgan Grasham, Mwanza Dover, Ricardo Paniagua, Riley Holloway, Ryan Chen, Sergio Garcia, Sara Cardona, SM Sanz, Teddy Georgia Waggy and Alex Bhore, Yana Payusova, and Zeke Williams.

Meow Wolf Grapevine
Around 40 Texas artists contributed to Meow Wolf Grapevine. (Photo by Jess Gallo)

In 2024, the Houston Meow Wolf is set to open in the Fifth Ward, designated a cultural district by Texas in 2020, marking the company’s fifth permanent exhibition.

When I asked him how he would describe the experience to Texans who may not have heard of the concept, Sheehan gave me a very Meow Wolf answer. “There is no one way to describe Meow Wolf,” he says. “We encourage people to explore and play, and go in knowing that you don’t know.”

As for the attraction’s popularity, Sheehan attributes it to the company’s ability to go beyond what is usually expected in immersive experiences.

“We want people to carve out a story or experience of their own that isn’t pre-planned,” he says. “We create spaces to play together — with your community or with strangers.”

And isn’t that what life is all about?

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