Meow Wolf's artist-driven dark ride, Kaleidoscape, opens to the general public at Elitch Gardens this weekend. Season pass-holders had the chance to experience it last weekend, and while they suffered through brutal lines in the process (as people are likely to all summer long, since even regular rides can have waits of 45 minutes to an hour), Kaleidoscape is worth the hassle.
Here are twelve things to know before you hop on board:
What's Meow Wolf?
Meow Wolf's story goes like this: It started as a scrappy DIY arts collective of dumpster divers just over a decade ago and turned into a multimillion-dollar company after Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin gave the group an infusion of millions of dollars to turn an old Santa Fe bowling alley into a massive, sci-fi-themed immersive art installation called The House of Eternal Return. The installation opened in March 2016 and became a bucket-list destination for travelers, also helping to build up Santa Fe's midtown neighborhood. Meow Wolf has experienced massive growth and is now working on projects in Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.
Why are artists working at an amusement park?
Meow Wolf's founders are allergic to art-world snobbery and believe art should be more of a populist experience. Matt King, for example, had lifelong dreams of building amusement park rides, and describes the Meow Wolf dark ride at Elitch Gardens as a dream come true. The Santa Fe business recruited a number of Denver artists to work on site-specific installations that make up Kaleidoscape.
Which Denver artists are involved?
The Denver artists who worked on Kaleidoscape include Frankie Toan, Laleh Mehran, Kenzie Sitterud, Michael Ortiz, Chris Coleman, Brick Suede and Katie Caron. Toan is a DIY artist who works with found materials to create installations, interactive works and plush sculptures. Mehran, the daughter of Iranian scientists, works at the intersection of video, performance and geometry, and teaches emergent digital practices at the University of Denver. Sitterud, an artist-in-residence at RedLine, explores the relationship between queer identities and domesticity in massive installations and design projects. Ortiz is known for murals and street art projects; he heads up the RiNo-based art collective Like Minded Productions. Digital artist Chris Coleman also teaches in the emergent-practices department at the University of Denver and makes multimedia works. Katie Caron, who is represented by Havu Gallery, heads up the ceramics and sculpture program at Arapahoe Community College and explores escapism through art. Brick Suede appears to work in relative anonymity: If you're out there, tell us more about yourself.
So a bunch of artists built a dark ride? Is that even safe?
They didn't build the ride from scratch. Kaleidoscape is a remodel of Ghost Blasters 2, which has been at the amusement park since 2008. Kaleidoscape runs on the same tracks, uses the same carts and even the same guns from the original ride. Other sculptural elements of Ghost Blasters 2 were incorporated into Meow Wolf's ride, while most of the installation is original to this piece.
Isn't Elitch Gardens being torn down to make way for a new development? If so, what's happening with Kaleidoscape?
All things come to an end — even the new ones. And while in a few years the River Mile development will require that Elitch Gardens moves from its current location (both are owned by the same company), there's no guarantee that Meow Wolf's ride will survive the transition, so come see it now. While Elitch Gardens' future home is uncertain, Meow Wolf's isn't: With the help of Elitch's owner, the collective is building a 90,000-square-foot facility in Denver at the intersection of I-25 and Colfax Avenue.
What's that big Denver facility going to be like?
Meow Wolf has recruited dozens of artists from Denver and beyond to work on the 90,000-square-foot space; most have signed non-disclosure agreements and refuse to talk about the specific narrative elements and design of the installation. Meow Wolf tells Westword that the Elitch ride will give the city a taste of what's coming and what story the Denver installation will attempt to tell.
So what's the story of Kaleidoscape?
Meow Wolf prefers for every rider to explore the narrative elements of the ride and come to their own conclusions. But we do know a few things: The ride is part of a public-transit system through the multiverse, Meow Wolf's fictional world where endless universes offer infinite possibilities for wacky art installations and interactions — some sublime, others puzzling, many just plain odd. Take a ride and decide for yourself if there is a strong storyline; you're likely to be so distracted by all the sci-fi psychedelia that the idea of narrative falls to the wayside.
Does Kaleidoscape cost visitors extra money?
Nope. Like most Elitch rides, it comes with the price of admission. Meow Wolf does have a gift shop adjacent to the ride, and you can buy all manner of merchandise there.
Will it make riders ill, and who can ride it?
It's a tame ride — boring, even, if it weren't for all the dazzling sights, sounds and interactive elements. If you're between 32 and 42 inches tall, you have to be accompanied by an adult. Riders over 42 inches can get on board alone.
How is Denver responding to Meow Wolf's arrival?
Denver is responding with a mix of excitement and trepidation. Some are eager to have the massive installation open, giving families, art lovers and people seeking an uncanny experience yet one more thing to do in the Denver area. Others are nervous about the impact that Meow Wolf will have on Denver's arts economy, fear that the project will contribute to the overall gentrification of the city, and suck up the resources and energy of local artists who might otherwise be creating their own Denver-based projects. Those concerns led to the bumper sticker made by local artists Esteban Peralta and Sommer Browning that read: "CASA BONITA IS BETTER THAN MEOW WOLF."
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Is Casa Bonita better than Kaleidoscape?
Get on board the ride, visit Casa Bonita and let us know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How can wannabe riders find out more?
For more about Meow Wolf and Kaleidoscape, read our recent cover story on Meow Wolf's wild ride into Denver. Visit the Elitch Gardens website for more details on the amuseument park.