Reading through Museums in a Troubled World, specifically the chapter “It’s a jungle in here: Museums and their self-inflicted challenges,” I immediately thought of my beloved Meow Wolf. This Santa Fe organization seems to excel in many of the areas the author criticizes and brings up interesting questions about how we perceive museums and cultural organizations as functioning or not functioning.
A little background: Meow Wolf was established about 10 years ago, growing organically out of a community project of artists making things in a garage and inviting others to join them. Over time it became a bona fide art collective, unifying individual artist ideas in massive, maximalist installations around Santa Fe. They now run permanent art space in Santa Fe that is both an experiential artwork and an educational tool to teach people how to use various maker tools. Think of an otherworldly children’s museum with a lot of secret doors, unexpected musical instruments, an inter-dimensional detective narrative, and subtext of way more adult interfamilial strife and like, Nietzsche. This concept has become so popular that they’re anticipating expanding to another Southwestern city within the next year. They do all this without a hierarchical structure, as the concept originated and thrives on polyphony. For legal purposes, they do have a CEO, but this distinction is in name only (supposedly). Though their projects culminate in a singular installation, the individual voices within the space are evident and they regularly incorporate outside projects and exhibitions into their programming.
The questions I think Meow Wolf brings up for the purposes of our discussion this week stem from these, shall we say, alternative origins. First, do organizations need to originate from a point of collectivity, teamwork, and democracy in order to function that way in the future? In other words, is it possible for institutions to change their ways if they want to become less stratified? Secondly, what does it do to know that Meow Wolf is both for- and non-profit? The art space is for-profit, supposedly to show that art can be a financially sustainable pursuit, while the maker studio and classes are non-profit. What’s going on there? What does being a for-profit enterprise change about working in the public arts and humanities? Does it matter? And I suppose more holistically, are you all sold on this model or are you skeptical? If you’re skeptical, where does that skepticism come from?