When Meow Wolf selected Denver for its most ambitious project to date, the Santa Fe-based arts collective was considering several locations across the city to build a new immersive arts space. According to Vince Kadlubek, Meow Wolf CEO and co-founder, the company narrowed its options down to three locations, two of which were in RiNo. But Kadlubek says as he spent time in RiNo, he wondered, “Is this really where we want to be bringing 1.5 million people each year?”

RiNo was already flush with growth and a burgeoning art scene, and Kadlubek wasn’t convinced Meow Wolf would have the right influence there. The third location, and the one that Kadlubek and his team ultimately selected, sits just south of Elitch Gardens at the intersection of of Colfax Avenue and I-25 in Sun Valley, one of Denver’s oldest and historically poor neighborhoods. “The overall impact [in Sun Valley],” Kadlubek says, “Was just going to be a bit more responsible, to be honest.”

While Kadlubek believed the popular arts collective might have a bigger impact outside RiNo, it was the Sun Valley community members who stepped up and held him to his word. He recalls, shortly after announcing the Denver location, he received a firm Facebook message asking precisely what Meow Wolf was going to do to help the people in Sun Valley. That Facebook message came from Zoe Williams, a community activist who has worked with Meow Wolf over the past four months to form a 15-person community advisory committee and ultimately to develop a corporate social responsibility (CSR) document, which was unveiled at a private event Sunday afternoon.

The community advisory committee, in conjunction with Meow Wolf’s eight-person Denver team, created a plan for social responsibility that focuses on four tenets: Respect for artists, respect for the environment, respect for an inclusive economy, and respect for the community. In addition to paying artists living wages for their work, Meow Wolf is dedicating 40 percent of the Denver exhibit space to the work of artists from Colorado. And in building their 90,000-square-foot space, the arts collective will endeavor to minimize its environmental footprint by using 100 percent biodegradable materials for all produced events, striving for 30 percent energy generation from renewable sources, as well as implementing several other carbon-reducing measures.

Regarding an inclusive economy, Meow Wolf Denver will prioritize hiring women and people of color to work throughout the company and has committed to having 30 percent of subcontracts come from women- and minority-owned businesses. Meow Wolf will also design hiring practices to ensure residents in Sun Valley and neighboring zip codes have an opportunity to work in the new space.

As for the “respect for community” aspect, the plans are ambitious, if a bit vague. According to the CSR document, Meow Wolf’s focus is to “direct donations to and from strategic partnerships with organizations and nonprofits [which] have existing programs that focus on underserved and marginalized youth.” In 2018, according to the CSR document, Meow Wolf has donated $250,000 to Denver events, nonprofit organizations, and projects, and plans to donate an equivalent amount in 2019, with a focus on the Sun Valley neighborhood. Among the community goals, the CSR document says Meow Wolf Denver will invest “a percentage” of profits directly back into the community. When asked what specific profit percentage the company plans to invest, Director of Community Development Danika Padilla said Meow Wolf is not yet disclosing that number.

Construction on the Sun Valley location was originally slated to begin during the third quarter of 2018, but Padilla says there is still no ground-breaking date set. The projected opening is late 2020.

Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard is a Denver-based writer and a former editor on 5280's digital team.