Season 3 – Episode 05

Designing for Excellent Wow

with Meow Wolf Founder Vince Kadlubek

Photography by Gregory Berg

As humans, we yearn for artistic experiences that disrupt the day-to-day and wow us with a greater reality beyond our to-do list. That’s what draws us to the wonder of film and literature and art exhibits.

In the absence of such experiences, we fall down the rabbit hole of digital distractions, scrolling Instagram for the unpredictability, the excitement of discovery we’re not getting from our physical environment.

But what if we didn’t have to go to a gallery or a theater to encounter these transformative moments? What if artful experiences were available in ordinary places? What if you yourself could design for disruption and delight on a small scale in your own business and brand?

Today, Jeffrey explores the impact of artful, transformative experiences with Vince Kadlubek, cofounder and executive advisor of Meow Wolf, an award-winning immersive arts production company out of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Vince explains how he went from struggling artist to head of a company valued at nine figures, describing how he thinks about the tension between art and commerce. He speaks to what he calls the crisis of imagination, discussing why people are hungry for imaginative analog experiences and what businesses can do artfully in response to the crisis. Listen in for insight into how the emerging experience economy is changing the way businesses engage with customers and learn the design parameters Vince uses to create the kind of reality-bending, transformational moments that make for an excellent life.

Our Guest

Vince Kadlubek

Vince Kudlubek is the co-founder and CEO of Meow Wolf, an art collective and award-winning Arts Production Company. Once a broke, hard partying poet, Vince’s turning point came in 2013 when he was arrested for stealing video games to sell for extra cash. Though the charges were dropped, Vince decided he was through with that life of scraping by and scamming the system. He dedicated himself fully to Meow Wolf and brought the company from the brink of extinction to the multimillion dollar company it is today. Vince is deeply committed to supporting local growth as well as bringing unique, transformative immersive art experiences to the world.

» Meow Wolf

Key Takeaways

[0:02] The human desire to be moved by artistic experiences

  • Want to be surprised, disrupt day-to-day doldrums
  • In lieu of such experiences we seek digital distraction
  • Potential to design artful moments in business/brand

[5:17] How Vince’s creative genius expressed itself early on

  • Desire to serve + engage creatively (host sister’s sleepovers)
  • See world with critical eye, ironic commentary on capitalism

[8:34] What moved Vince to disrupt the mainstream Santa Fe art scene

  • Disconnect between gallery owners and creative energy of city)
  • Experience at Warehouse 21 inspired to uplift true creative spirit
  • Opportunity to save economy by appealing to Gen X tourist

[16:23] The early days of the Meow Wolf arts collective

  • Dumpster dive for materials at Salvation Army and Goodwill
  • Build large sculptures from trash out of necessity

[20:20] The turning point when Vince was arrested for shoplifting

  • Doing media literacy art program in Santa Fe elementary schools
  • Caught stealing video games at Walmart to fund project
  • Arresting officer supported in court, got into 12-step program

[26:36] The mammouth growth of Meow Wolf in the last four years

  • Took business course in creative startups, shift to for-profit
  • Wrote business plan and pitched to George R. R. Martin
  • Opened House of Eternal Return ($9M revenue first year)
  • Currently expanding art attractions to other cities

[34:35] The opportunity around our shift to an experience economy

  • Disrupt default drive for mere efficiency or profit
  • Use creative spirit to design memorable events for customers
  • Engage on physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual leve

[37:10] How Vince reconciles the tension between art and commerce

  • Used to strive for predictability, efficiency in value exchange
  • Addicted to unpredictability again with advent of internet
  • Gives creativity opening (billions willing to pay for experience)

[43:04] Why people are hungry for memorable analog experiences

  • Built reality needs art + imagination to compete with phones
  • Creative economy will transform how we think about value

[46:44] Vince’s description of the House of Eternal Return

  • Through dark hallway to front yard of Victorian house at night
  • Visitors have agency to go anywhere they want from there
  • Access to portals to other worlds (e.g.: refrigerator = hallway)

[52:03] The design parameters for creating transformative experiences

  • User must own experience
  • Operate on gradient (blended vs. singular aesthetic)
  • Create transformation with dimensionality, subspaces
  • Get people out of comfort zone with movement
  • Take from known to accessible unknown

[59:17] How Vince is contending with the art of saying NO

  • Any idea = good idea in isolation
  • Look at opportunities in context of defined framework

[1:03:00] The questions that arise out of today’s conversation with Vince

  • How are you assuming creative agency of your life/business?
  • How does your brand foster creative agency in its customers?
  • How could your brand help people stay open to uncertainty?
  • How could your brand design transformational moments?
| VIRTUAL ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE

Season 3: Gregory Berg

Gregory Berg is a veteran photographer, multimedia storyteller, and the host & producer of Life on Purpose, a podcast that explores how to lead a more intentional life. Since he began his career as a professional photographer in 2004, Gregory has traveled the world seeking to capture the light and beauty that connects us all.

Gregory’s quest has led him to visit breathtaking destinations and photograph amazing humans, including world champion skateboarder Tony Hawk and distinguished entrepreneurs at Camp GoodLifeProject, a summer camp for adults where he has served as a photographer for the past five years.

After realizing the power of mindfulness and intention to infuse creative expression with transformational power, Gregory has developed projects (coming soon) to share this revelation with others. In the meantime, he posts stunning iPhone photography with his reflections on the world around him each day on Instagram.

For a brief primer on mindful photography, see his post written for Digital Photo Mentor. To see more of Greg’s photography, visit his website: ensophotography.com.

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