Colorado's DIY cultural projects are receiving some help — from New Mexico.
Local orgaizations such as Suspect Press, Birdy magazine, Rhinoceropolis and Colorado Creative Strategies have all received funding from Meow Wolf, the Santa Fe-based arts-and-entertainment company that will be opening a 90,000-square-foot Denver installation in late 2020. Last month, Kaleidoscape, a Meow Wolf-designed ride, debuted at Elitch Gardens. Now Meow Wolf has announced the 132 groups (out of more than 300 applicants around the country) that will receive assistance from its next round of DIY Fund grants.
Meow Wolf's founders have long touted their scrappy beginnings as a collective, which they're trying to transform into an empire that challenges the traditional art-world economy, with large-scale projects slated for Las Vegas, Denver, Phoenix and Washington, D.C. But the group hasn't given up on its creative roots, and is focusing current funding efforts on small, DIY efforts.
Twenty of the grant recipients are based in Colorado. But at least one of them, Georgia, the garage gallery run by poet Sommer Browning, has declined the award, though it is still on Meow Wolf's list of recipients.
Browning was one of the artists behind last fall's "CASA BONITA IS BETTER THAN MEOW WOLF" bumper sticker project. "I had no idea they posted the recipients," she says. "I refused it March 30, and they said okay. I just wrote to them asking if they’d remove my name."
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In the announcement of the new grants, Meow Wolf explains the purpose of the DIY Fund, which is entirely funded by the organization: "Grants are used for rent, infrastructure, safety improvements, materials, equipment, and community programming." It focuses its funding efforts on groups working toward "systemic social change and well-being through the arts," according to the explanation, and hopes the money helps develop emerging arts leaders nationwide.
Lumonics School of Light Art, the Denver studio founded by nonagenarian artist Dorothy Tanner that offers light-art workshops, is another of the grant recipients this round. "We would like more Coloradans to utilize our school for self-empowerment," says Lumonics administrator Barry Raphael.
Also in the Meow Wolf mix: Moon Magnet Studios, a group helmed by visionary Reed Fuchs that's known for its wild parties, projects and events that push musicians to try new things beyond their perceived mental limitations.
Inclusivity and collaboration, two elements essential to the DIY community, are embodied by Letterpress Depot, a recipient that works to create a living museum and help people put their voices onto paper. "Our goal is to create a regional hub where students, artists, designers, printers and neighbors can come for inspiration," explains Tom Parson, Letterpress Depot's executive director.
Edge Gallery plans to use the Meow Wolf money to fund basic operations and programming, and to create a Denver exhibit of works by refugees and displaced artists in collaboration with the International Rescue Committee. Says Edge member Gayla Lemke, "The funding from Meow Wolf helps us provide opportunities for these voices to be shown in a professional space without the financial barriers that can often exclude some artists from participation."
Band of Toughs, another awardee, describe itself as a "collaboratory" and "outside-the-box" theater company. The troupe "creates well-being through the arts by providing accessible, entertaining, inspiring performances, and also by inviting both performers and audience to be part of the creative process," says member Cynthia Ward.
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"Meow Wolf brings an injection of energy to the theater community in Denver," Ward adds. "They have already hosted some meetings among local immersive-theater artists, bringing them together and sparking new initiatives. Having them here will likely also raise the profile of this type of theater work. Hopefully this will bring more people out to see theater, particularly non-traditional theater."
The nineteen local recipients of the current round of Meow Wolf DIY funding:
Band of Toughs, Boulder
The Boulder Creative Collective, Boulder
Block 1750, Boulder
7th Circle Music Collective, Denver
Birdseed Collective/Alto Gallery, Denver
Moon Magnet, Denver
Sent(a)Mental Studios/HAVEN YOUTH PROJECT, Denver
Process Reversal, Denver
Like Minded Productions, Denver
Kanon Collective, Denver
Collective SML | k (small k), Denver
Spectra Art Space, Denver
Edge Gallery, Denver
Letterpress Depot Inc., Englewood
Ceraso Gallery & Studio, Lafayette
Young Bloods Collective, Steamboat Springs
"There is high-quality original work happening in and around Denver," Ward concludes. "It will be great if more people learn about it [and] get to enjoy it as a result of Meow Wolf coming into Denver."