Visitors to the Mile High City can lose themselves in the intergalactic funhouse that is Convergence Station, the third permanent exhibition from art collective-turned-multimillion-dollar arts production company Meow Wolf.
Nestled on an oddly-shaped lot between two arms of freeway overpasses, the new immersive art attraction fills a 90,000-square-foot custom-built facility, with four floors of interactive art installations that promise hours of exploration. (For context: it’s larger than both the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.)
Founded by a group of young artists in Santa Fe in 2008, Meow Wolf got $3.5 million in funding from Game of Thrones author and local resident George R.R. Martin to open its first permanent location in 2016. The House of Eternal Return was an immediate sensation, drawing crowds eager to experience—and take photos amid—its immersive environment of what appears at first glance to be an abandoned family home, but is somehow tied to portals to other dimensions.
The project’s success presaged the explosion of interest in immersive experiences, which in recent years have multiplied worldwide and become the most popular way for the general public to experience arts and culture.
Meow Wolf launched ambitious plans to expand to other cities around the country, and a second location, Las Vegas’s Omega Mart, opened in February of this year. (The pandemic scuttled outposts in Washington, D.C., and Phoenix, but the founders promised Artnet News that other ventures are on the horizon.)
A room by Andrea Thurber at Meow Wolf Convergence Station, Denver. Photo by Kennedy Cottrell.
Like its predecessors, Convergence Station is more than an art show. It’s a world unto itself—or four of them, to be precise, each representing a parallel universe that, as the lore goes, merged during a mysterious cosmic event back in 1994. There’s an frozen planet trapped in a 1,000-year ice age, a trash-filled city, a mysterious network of catacombs, and a six-dimensional being taking the form of a cavern that calls to mind Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock.
The installations are all constructed around Meow Wolf’s elaborate, Marvel-style mythology. According to the lore, the Quantum Department of Transportation, or Q-DOT, opened the Convergence Station as a tourist destination for intergalactic travelers. But mysterious weather events called memory storms forced it to shut down. The memories of denizens of all four lands have fragmented and scattered, and the resulting free-floating “mems” have become a valuable form of currency in the Converged Worlds.
Should you wish to explore this complicated backstory, you can get a Q Pass card (which will either be free or cost $1) and tap into the Convergence Exchange Network devices. Piecing together matching mems will reveal short pieces of animated content that begin to unfold the backstory of the characters and the deeper mystery of how the convergence came to be.
David Ocelotl Garcia and Cal Duran, Earth Spirits of the Subconscious Mind at Meow Wolf Convergence Station, Denver. Photo by Kennedy Cottrell.
“Part of what makes Meow Wolf different than a selfie museum is that we have this narrative that has been developed for years,” Joanna Garner, the senior narrative director, said at the press preview. “We’re running a writers’ room in some ways like you might for a TV show.”
A team of actors/docents will be on hand to help guests navigate the complex plot, but visitors are also free to take in the spectacle on a purely sensory level.
“We’re okay if people walk in and totally have no idea what’s going on,” Meow Wolf cofounder Matt King told Artnet News.
Bringing the complicated vision to life was an in-house staff of about 200, including programmers, writers, sculptors, painters, designers, and fabricators. (More than 100 Colorado artists were also chosen via an open call to contribute work to the display.)
Some of the 70 or so installations pay tribute to local history, like a real Denver bus parked on the streets of the trash world, C Street, that is a nod to the Gang of 19. Back in 1978, a group of disability activists blocked traffic for 24 hours, calling on Denver to make city busses wheelchair accessible—which it did, 12 years before it was federally mandated.
Kalyn Heffernan with Gregg Ziemba, Wheelchair Space Kitchen at Meow Wolf Convergence Station, Denver. Photo by Kennedy Cottrell.
On the other side of the bus, Kalyn Heffernan, a local artist and musician who uses a wheelchair, collaborated with Gregg Ziemba on a fantastical kitchen space that speaks to the experience of people with disabilities. There are inaccessible lockers high up on the walls and a mirrored disco ball that activates only when a wheel chair rolls under a table.
It’s a commentary on how “people with disabilities have to adapt to a world that wasn’t build for us,” Heffernan said at the press preview, describing her theme as “cripping the future.”
The company has not revealed the cost of the latest project, except to say that it is their most expensive and ambitious production to date. When the Denver location was first announced in January 2018, it had a projected $50 million price tag, not counting a 20-year, $60 million lease on the property.
The cathedral deep within Ice World at Meow Wolf Convergence Station, Denver. Photo by Kate Russell.
Meow Wolf is predicting its Denver location will have more than a million annual visitors. In the first 24 hours after tickets went on sale last month, would-be attendees purchased 35,000 tickets. The Santa Fe flagship has welcomed over 2 million people since its 2016 launch, with 265,000 visiting since the space reopened in March. In Vegas, Omega Mart has sold 600,000 tickets to date.
Despite concerns about large indoor gatherings, the pandemic seems to have done little to blunt the appetite for the so-called experience economy—and perhaps that’s no surprise.
“After the last 18 months we’ve all been through,” Ali Rubinstein, Meow Wolf’s chief creative officer and co-CEO, said at the press preview, “all of us are really craving physical experiences to get out of the virtual world.”
See more photos from Convergence Station below.
The Salwan at Meow Wolf Convergence Station, Denver. Photo by Kennedy Cottrell.
C Street at Meow Wolf Convergence Station, Denver. Photo by Kennedy Cottrell.
The catacombs in Ossuary at Meow Wolf Convergence Station, Denver. Photo by Kennedy Cottrell.
The Crystal Future room at Meow Wolf Convergence Station, Denver. Photo by Kennedy Cottrell.
Ice World at Meow Wolf Convergence Station, Denver. Photo by Kennedy Cottrell.
Midge Mom at Meow Wolf Convergence Station, Denver. Photo by Kate Russell.
C Street at Meow Wolf Convergence Station, Denver. Photo by Kate Russell.
A room by Justin Camilli at Meow Wolf Convergence Station, Denver. Photo by Kennedy Cottrell.
Work by Sofie Birkin at Meow Wolf Convergence Station, Denver. Photo by Kennedy Cottrell.
The Library at Meow Wolf Convergence Station, Denver. Photo by Kate Russell.