Bring Your Imagination to the Art Motel

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By Zoneil Maharaj

Santa Fe art collective Meow Wolf is on a mission to create the coolest stuff you’ve ever seen. “It’s not our official mission, but it’s what we do,” says Diane Stern, Meow Wolf’s project management director. Attendees of this year’s Life is Beautiful Music & Art Festival will get to experience a lot of the group’s work firsthand.

The company, which fuses technology and art in their interactive installations, gave Las Vegas a small sample of what they could do in 2015 when members took over five rooms of the Art Motel. Those rooms, which featured a laser harp, free-play arcade machines and more, were a hit with festivalgoers. The collective has since built the highly praised House of Eternal Return, an explorable 20,000-square-foot immersive art exhibit, in their New Mexico hometown.

Now, Meow Wolf is bringing a completely new installation to Life is Beautiful with a total takeover of the Art Motel, thanks to a sponsorship from Zappos. And Stern promises an experience that rivals the headlining acts.

“With all of our work, it’s about reinvigorating a sense of wonder and play,” Stern says. “It’s really creating art that is accessible and touchable and interactive—that you don’t just have to stand back and look at, that you can actually be inside of.”

More than 50 members of the Meow Wolf team will convert the abandoned motel at 225 North Seventh Street into a digital wonderland of art, custom-made sound, lighting and projections. The collective will revamp 17 rooms and the space’s 5,900-square-foot courtyard. Four additional rooms, curated by Meow Wolf, are being designed by local artists Nova May, Joel Spencer, Miguel Hernandez, Brett Bolton, Eric Vozzola, Spencer Olsen and Miguel Rodriguez, among others.

A rendering of the Black Hole Projection Room by Las Vegas artists Spencer Olsen, Miguel Rodriguez, Eric Vozzola and Brett Bolton.

“This has become such a great playground for artists to get to express some of the ideas that they’ve had for a while,” Stern says. “It’s a great opportunity for us to try them out. … Do they work with big crowds of people? Are people really engaging in them? Are they as liked as we think they’re gonna be?”

The courtyard will become a geometric forest with massive interactive huts, pyramids, paintings, original music and more—all underneath a canopy of vines to provide some much-needed shade, according to Stern. They will also paint a mural along the Seventh Street facade.

The Meow Wolf crew setting up the Art Motel.

“Las Vegas elicits a lot of feelings in a lot of people, and it was really inspiring to go Downtown to see just how much art there is already, and to see how much care has been put into that. It’s really exciting for us,” Stern says. “We’re gonna paint the front of the building, and that mural is gonna be there among so many other incredible murals for hopefully quite a while.”

The rooms will be a smorgasbord of different elements, with some rooms featuring interactive buttons and motion-responsive video projections. Stern describes one as an upside-down aquarium and another as “a forest room with an interactive floor.” There’s one simply dubbed “Slime Room 1.0,” and another featuring fighting pillow monsters that festivalgoers can control. “Their arms are gonna be hooked up to pulleys, so you’ll be able to box with them. It’s like the other side of a pillow fight. Like, what if the pillows are the fighters?” Stern says.

For what else is in store, one will have to come and find out for themselves. And the Art Motel is only available to experience during the festival—it all comes down once the weekend ends.

“I know a lot of people will be rushing through on their way to bands and all of the festival goings-on,” Stern says. “I just encourage people to create a little bit of time in their schedule to really take it in.”