Meow Wolf exterior, courtesy Meow Wolf

Meow Wolf: Students Help Bring Denver’s Newest Art Experience to Life

June 30, 2021

This fall, Denver will welcome a one-of-a-kind art experience that’s been in the making for 10 years. COVID might have slowed down the timeline for the new Meow Wolf installation, but the enormous building at the intersection of I-25, West Colfax Avenue, and Auraria Parkway is on track to open with its flagship immersive artwork, as well as a 450-person music venue, café, and retail space. Among those who are making the vision come to life are a group of CU Denver students. 

“Meow Wolf was looking for different interns in different categories—everything from field art directors to creative directors to design and technical directors—and we said we would love to partner with you on this,” said Michelle Carpenter, professor of digital design in the College of Arts & Media (CAM). “CU Denver really stepped up, and we ended up getting 16 out of the 20 internships that were offered.”

Meow Wolf is a B Corp that prides itself on creativity, contributing to the community, and doing its part to better the environment. Just a five-minute walk from CU Denver’s campus, Meow Wolf’s primary goal with its internship program is to provide opportunities for local students to gain hands-on art and production experience, said Danika Padilla, senior director of social impact at Meow Wolf. “We hope that students will learn about the importance of immersive storytelling, and how to successfully create and build permanent art projects,” she added.

A peek inside as work progresses in advance of Meow Wolf’s fall 2021 opening. Photo courtesy of Meow Wolf.

After a rigorous interview process, the juniors and seniors in CAM were selected to work with Meow Wolf on a monthly basis for a year for college credits or as an experiential learning internship. The collaborative environment provides opportunities for cross-disciplinary learning and professional development, Carpenter said. “In CAM, we teach our students to be forward-thinking and agile. We want them to be adaptive to technologies that might be emerging in the future,” she added. “This internship really allowed them to do that. Meow Wolf is very cutting-edge.”

The 90,000 square-foot space—the company’s largest installation to date—will showcase the work of 110 local artists, including architecture, sculpture, painting, photography, video production, cross-reality, music, audio engineering, narrative writing, costuming, and performance. The company promises an immersive and interactive experience that “transports audiences of all ages into fantastic realms of story and exploration.”

Graduate Chelsea Minter-Bradley has spent her first four weeks as an intern at Meow Wolf working on the opening exhibition and partnering with local vendors in the Denver community. One of her projects revolves around interactivity and the guest experience. Instead of using plastic cards similar to a hotel card that were previously used by customers, Minter-Bradley’s leading an effort to find a new card that is recyclable and environmentally friendly.

“I have to look at not just the material of the card, but also where it is manufactured. For example, a plane trip from a Singaporean manufacturer is a bigger footprint than a printing facility in Las Vegas,” said Minter-Bradley, who in May earned a degree in art practices with an emphasis in sculpture and photography. “In this effort, I partner with many different disciplines within Meow Wolf, including writers, hardware designers, producers, creative directors, and graphic designers.”

One of her favorite experiences so far has been working with local food vendors to create a sense of community in the workplace, she said. “Partnering with our food vendors enables us to promote the local Denver economy and come together in a shared experience—food!”

Student intern Claudia Valenzuela found out about the internship from her professor, Carpenter, who emailed her students encouraging them to apply. Valenzuela remembers the first day she walked into the Meow Wolf building. “I was thinking to myself, this is crazy. There’s so much going on everywhere. Seeing the amount of progress they’ve made since that day is incredible.”

Valenzuela, a junior studying digital design, is a field art direction intern. She helps artists install their work and makes sure the vision aligns with the creative directors’ goals. She said it’s inspiring working with the other artists and thinking about her future in the art industry. “It’s even more inspiring getting to know the artists as individuals and seeing what inspired their work,” she said.

Valenzuela commends CU Denver for thinking of the unique internship program that allows students to be part of something so groundbreaking for the city of Denver. “This is an opportunity for people who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance, especially so young, to be able to work for an organization that has completely blown up since it first began, and an organization with such humble roots.”

After one of the most challenging years in modern history, Meow Wolf is the creative escape many people need, Padilla said. “Through interactive play and discovery, our participants will have an opportunity to get outside their day to day lives and see the world through a new perspective,” she added. “There is no right or wrong way to experience Meow Wolf, and each guest will have their own unique journey.”

When the space opens this fall, Padilla said, guests will see a dazzling array of colors, materials, and the voices of hundreds of artists—thanks to the help of CU Denver’s very own students.