SANTA FE, NM — Meow Wolf, the Santa Fe-based corporation that produces immersive art experiences, has laid off 201 of its employees and furloughed an additional 56, leaving the staff at less than half its former size, just under 200 employees. A major source of income for the city of Santa Fe, as well as a top tourist destination and a driver for the influx of younger residents to the area, this downsizing feels symbolic to many who see Meow Wolf as a pioneer of the experience economy boom. At the same time, the company has been criticized for unfair labor practices, colonial narratives, and not living up to its promises to compensate artists fairly.
The employees let go were not just in Santa Fe, but also in Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Washington, DC, where new Meow Wolf projects are in the works. The company raised $158 million in 2019 to go toward its expansion. A statement from Meow Wolf leadership Jim Ward, Ali Rubenstein, and Carl Christensen said that the discharged employees will be given “generous financial severance packages,” and “months of support in many ways,” according to the Santa Fe Reporter. The details of the severance packages were not specified.
“Given the devastating economic impact of the pandemic and the uncertainty surrounding the time of recovery, in addition to the need to properly position the company for survival and future success […] we will have to part ways with a significant portion of our family through layoffs and furloughs,” the statement said.
In a post on Facebook, Meow Wolf founder Vince Kadlubek wrote: “We built a phenomenal, large, and communal company. Not just a company, legitimately a family. […] But the pressure of the House being closed and the global economy in question, we had to scale back and pivot strategies.”
Becky Guy, a project manager for the new Las Vegas project, was one of the employees laid off on Friday and said she understood the decision. She told Hyperallergic “Meow Wolf’s entire business model is based on this experience economy, launching into a new realm for the arts sector. […] What that does is leave a company pretty vulnerable when you have something like a pandemic.” She said that the Las Vegas project is still moving forward, but that the “team was pretty decimated. I think it’s an overall tightening the belt, a numbers game in order to save the company.”
In the past year, Meow Wolf has been accused of discrimination and found guilty of violating Santa Fe’s living wage ordinance, and has faced at least two lawsuits and seen a change in leadership. “I think lawsuits come with the territory when you get to a certain size and a certain prestige,” Guy said. “There’s also a financial impact of those things. If there’s a connection [with the layoffs], I think it was another factor that made it challenging financially before this pandemic hit.”
Guy also raised concerns about what the layoffs could mean for Santa Fe. “Meow Wolf has done so much for the state of New Mexico and the city of Santa Fe in bringing young people here. I think one of the biggest things that could come out of this would be a mass exodus […] It would be really sad to undo all that Meow Wolf has accomplished for the community.” While some would disagree due to the city’s rapidly increasing cost of living and widespread gentrification, it’s undeniable that Meow Wolf has been a major economic driver in the city for the past six years. How the company recovers from the effects of COVID-19 will have widespread repercussions in Santa Fe and beyond.
Rose B. Simpson Embeds Ancestral Histories in Clay
She has taken clay and used it to recall its ancestral roots in Pueblo culture and address the present history of postcolonial recovery and ongoing trauma.
Quiet Paintings at a Time of Sensory Overload
Where Kim Mikyung’s process suggests an obsessive burrowing into the self, Kim Hyung-dae casts his gaze upward and outward into the sky.
Mondays at Pratt Institute: Weekly Openings of Work by Graduating Artists
Free and open to the public, Pratt Shows celebrate the school’s graduating students. MFA and BFA work on view this spring in Brooklyn, New York.
Is the “Free the Nipple” Movement Too White?
Online representations of the activists lean White and thin, creating an image problem for the movement.
New “We ❤️ NYC” Campaign Misses the Mark
The recently unveiled design is meant to live alongside the iconic original and specifically address the city, but New Yorkers are not happy.
LSU School of Art Grants Highest MFA Stipends in the Southern US
With funded assistantships, full tuition waivers, and generous stipends, Louisiana State University helps students lay the groundwork for a successful lifelong art practice.
1,000+ Objects at The Met Linked to Antiquities Smugglers
A report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed hundreds of works once owned by people accused of or convicted of antiquities crimes.
Lunar Bead Necklace and Asteroid “Emoji” Head to Auction
Christie’s bizarre sale features other space rocks propped up on stands like sculptures.
School of the Art Institute of Chicago Offers Summer Art and Design Courses Online and On-Campus
Emerging and established artists can choose from over 50 Adult Continuing Education courses at one of the most influential art and design schools in the US.
Scientists Create the First Full Brain Map of a Fly
The achievement is a giant step toward understanding human neural networks.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Closes Over Climate Protest
The institution shuttered in advance of an action planned for the 33rd anniversary of its infamous art heist.
IDSVA Offers a Non-Studio PhD in Visual Arts: Philosophy, Aesthetics, and Art Theory
With no campus, the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts is a truly nomadic institution, existing everywhere our students and faculty are.
Remembering the Migrants Who Died in US Detention
Artist Jackie Amézquita will lead a caravan of trucks with the names of the deceased to LA sites representing systems of oppression and solidarity for immigrants.
Mark Thomas Gibson’s Cartoons See the US Going Nowhere
If Thomas Nast, who is considered the “Father of the American Cartoon,” has an heir, it is Gibson, who goes one step further and elevates caricature and commentary into art.