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Can an Art Collective Become the Disney of the Experience Economy?
Meow Wolf started as a loose group of penniless punks coming together as an art collective. Now it’s a multimillion-dollar dream factory thriving in creating installations for the experience economy.
In 1998, B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore announced in The Harvard Business Review the advent of what they called the experience economy. In an affluent society with an abundance of opportunities for consumption, Pine and Gilmore argued, companies no longer distinguished themselves merely by the price or quality of their goods or services; instead, the new competitive advantage was providing a 'distinct economic offering.'
Meow Wolf's House of Eternal Return opened in March 2018. They had planned for 125,000 visitors annually, in a city with a population of just 70,000; they got that many in the first three months. The House soon had plenty of immersive, interactive competition. Meow Wolf felt confident it was doing something more complex and rich than most of its experience-economy competition, but its members also knew that their out-of-the-way location meant they risked being relegated to roadside-attraction status.
As the company’s projects have become more expensive and expansive, and as it increasingly operates outside its own local context, it is no longer necessarily regarded as a beloved local underdog. Today, as Meow Wolfers and their investors eagerly (or anxiously) wait to discover whether the new projects will justify the company’s valuation, the rebellious spirit that animated Meow Wolf’s early years coexists somewhat uneasily with an increasingly professionalized atmosphere.
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