Meow Wolf Directors Max BK & Sofie Cruse Speak On Their Immersive Taos Vortex Festival

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Meow Wolf has been gaining widespread acclaim for their art exhibitions, events, and their story in general. After being blown away by their first permanent art exhibition at Santa Fe’s House Of Eternal Return, my interests were piqued as to what they could pull off for their own personal music festival, Taos Vortex. The festival includes some incredible artists like Claude VonStroke, Flying Lotus, ZHU, Nick Murphy, G Jones, Justin Martin, GoldLink, and many more of our favorites.

There are plenty of major music festivals out there that curate art installations for their events, but we were very curious how a prominent art collective like Meow Wolf curates their music programming, art installations, and how they operate in general.

After getting in touch with the kind folks at Meow Wolf in regards to attending Vortex, we were given the opportunity to speak with them about their immersive festival. We got a chance to catch u with Max BK, the lead talent buyer and events director, and Sofie Cruse, art director, to gain some insight into how they make events like Taos Vortex happen. Check out the interview below to get the behind-the-scenes story of Taos Vortex and Meow Wolf’s growth over the years.

Meow Wolf Taos Vortex will take place August 16-18. Follow this link for more information. Do yourself a favor and grab tickets for this one.

TSIS: Could you tell us a little bit about Meow Wolf and what you guys have going on right now?

Max BK: Meow Wolf is an immersive art company, and part of an immersive art company is producing events. A lot of the shows that we do are at House of Eternal Return, and an addition to the shows that we do in our permanent exhibit, we do a number of off site events every year. Special events. 

House Of Eternal Return is Meow Wolf, Santa Fe. It’s our first permanent art exhibition. And we have a music venue that’s part of the exhibition.

TSISHave you guys ventured out into throwing other events as well?

MaxMeow Wolf has done a number of installations. We’ve been at festivals like Life Is Beautiful, Oregon Eclipse, we do a number of big, off site parties, big NYE parties in the past.

Sofie Cruse: I would say that we collaborated with some outdoor music events and branching out, but Taos Vortex is really our own personal project. It’s something that we’re really excited to grow with. 

Credit: Jess Bernstein

TSIS: From our understanding Meow Wolf started out as a visual art project. How did that evolve to incorporate live music into the picture?

Max: Meow Wolf has always done three things since the very beginning: installation art, parties, and live music shows. These three things have always been integral to what we’ve done as Meow Wolf. The first Meow Wolf DIY space actually started as a space to do music shows and then the installation of the art was to make the shows cooler. At this point though, what we’ve become best known for is our permanent art exhibit and our future permanent exhibits. We finally figured out a way to work as artists as professionals in our field instead of waiters, delivery drivers, and you know… retail specialists. 

Sofie: Totally. In Santa Fe we were working these side gigs in order to give ourselves the time to do these projects and make these parties the way we wanted them to be. It’s a gift to be able to produce events with Meow Wolf that are rooted in the depths of our passion for finding people like us who are just looking for a nice place to be able to get down!

Max: I think all of us came out of a desire to make Santa Fe interesting for ourselves and each other… and friends and strangers.

Sofie: Exactly. Outlets outside of fine art to give kids a place to go wild is still a major part of what our events team tries to do. Which is really rooted in that beginning DIY space that Meow Wolf was born in.

TSIS: Santa Fe in general seems to be focused on fine art and you guys really have found a way to capitalize on the fun aspect of art.  

Max: Absolutely. Meow Wolf Taos Vortex is an experience that’s meant to be touched and danced in and lived in and I think that’s our approach to all art. It’s not meant to be looked at on a wall, or for someone to usher you away if you get too close to it. We want to make it fun and to have people play with it. We want to create a space for people to create their own art and Meow Wolf Taos Vortex is that too. It’s a place for people to come and play and have fun. 

Credit: Jess Bernstein

TSIS: What are you looking for in an artist when curating an event like Taos Vortex, for both musical talent and installation artists?

Max: I think all these things are about synergy. How do these different pieces build on each other and amplify each other and create a positive feedback loop that just adds to the whole experience? I think a lot of our programming is like that. For the musical programming, we think “What does Meow Wolf sound like? What do these artists sound like? And how are we meeting each other in the middle? How are we going one step further with each other?”

Sofie: With the art installations, when it comes to curating, one huge thing that we have at our disposal is the fantastic artists on all of our teams. It’s working with that department and seeing the strengths of the artists that have availability and being able to get all those people together to create a process that can be constructive for the space that we’re going into. Sometimes we’re in a warehouse, but we’re in the middle of downtown Taos, the most beautiful location ever! So it works being able to make things that compliment that type of space. 

TSIS: What is it about Taos that made you want to hold the festival there?

Max: Taos is a destination. It’s a good destination for people in Denver, for people in El Paso… The size, the park, the mountains are all gorgeous. The whole setting in the background behind the stages… It’s a weekend getaway and it makes sense to have an experience like Vortex in a natural weekend getaway.

Sofie: Since it’s right smack-dab in the middle of downtown Taos, being able to go to events and being able to walk out and go to one of the amazing restaurants is such a great amenity that’s not often seen at outdoor music events like this. Everything just adds to the experience. 

Max: We want the event to be accessible. There’s camping on-site, but there’s also great hotels and Airbnbs right next to the site so people can just walk right to their room when their done. A site like that really lends itself to accessibility and getting to have some time to yourself too that’s away from the Vortex.

TSIS: We know a lot of work has gone into curating both the artists and the exhibits for Vortex. Do the musical artists and the art exhibits share some sort of common theme?

Max: I think that Vortex theme is different than House of Eternal Return just like how Meow Wolf Denver will be different from Meow Wolf Las Vegas. I think there is a connective thread that runs through all of these things, but Vortex has a theme that’s all to itself.

Sofie: I do think that there is a handshake that happens between installation and music. And oftentimes when I’m thinking about a music based event and an installation that goes with it. I think about the comfort level of the pass holders in terms of the experience and giving them options besides the dance floor experience as well. For the theme of Vortex in general, it’s giving people a really comfortable, wild environment where they can hang out with the art and experience music at the same time. People can get all mixed up in the best way.

TSIS: How many artists do you have working on the physical art that’s going to be there?

Sofie: It’s not the entirety of Meow Wolf because there are so many other projects that we’re continuing to work on, but we have an amazing team of people that are working on Vortex this year. Some of them worked on the project last year and are returning artists, and some of them are fresh. Some people it was their first day of Meow Wolf and they got to jump in and work on Vortex. We were lucky enough to have amazing talent available. At times it really comes down to just hands. It truly takes a village to make this happen and we are always grateful for anybody to jump in and right now, a couple weeks before the install, we’re grateful for any hands to jump on.

Max: Probably a few dozen Meow Wolf artists have worked on the art so far and then a couple dozen more will work on the installation, and of course we will work with collaborating artists from Taos and beyond to make the Vortex install happen. 

Sofie: We’ll have some outside artists as well that will be coming in to do performances and their own installs. We’re lucky to work with some of the same people we did last year because they did some really fun stuff for us and we just want to continue to collaborate.

TSIS: What are you guys most excited for this year?

Max: We’re going to have some other artists who are akin to [local art collective] Pussy Power like The Fungineers so we’re going to set up a whole immersive performance stage that people will be able to flip in and out of during the event. That’s a really exciting new area for us. We’re also doing two stages this year. We have the spire stage (the main stage), and the glade stage, a stage that’s in this super chill area on this meadow and we’ll have our sculptural huts around it. 

Sofie: Upgrades all around. I feel like we learned so much from last year and our capacity has grown and so what we can bring to the table this year from all the things that we gained is going to be a level-up all around and we’re really excited to see it capitalize. 

Max: It’s a whole new world.

Credit: Jess Bernstein