Meow Wolf Grapevine, public spaces and the gray box versus the hyperreal

Among the worst crimes of humanity is the humble strip mall.

A memorial to the fallen public square, the American strip mall, can be found everywhere. These retail sprawls once served the massive consumer appetites of our cities and suburbs. But now, in the age of Amazon, these liminal hulks squat in our cities, taking up space like some sort of malevolent dark matter. These buildings made sense in the retail booms of the 1990s, but even in their heyday, it was expected that the stores would phase in and out of business like specters. None of this was meant to be permanent, which makes the empty buildings seem even more hateful. What was the plan going to be afterward?

Yeah, I don't like strip malls. This is why I love what Meow Wolf is doing. For those unfamiliar, Meow Wolf is an arts and entertainment group that creates immersive, interactive experiences in unconventional spaces. They're transforming these dying buildings into interactive art spaces, or 'portals,' slowly restoring wonder in young imaginations and retaking the spaces back for the betterment of the community. Not coincidentally, the ticket prices are a little up there. Many artists needed to be wrangled, and an awful lot of effort goes into the creation of these installations. I can also imagine these places are making a total killing profit-wise, although I'm willing to bet that's primarily due to gift shop merch like with many other galleries.

There are plenty of other articles talking about the gallery experience and I don't know that I have anything interesting to add from that perspective. The new installation at Grapevine is incredible; having never experienced a MW before. Your mileage may vary if you've had the opportunity to go to OmegaMart or one of the other portals; I don't know - what I do know is that I'm not alone in seeing the success of Meow Wolf.

I'm not alone in knowing that strip malls are currently overextended and need rezoning, given the retreat from the office and the restructuring our lives are undergoing. One consideration, especially in Texas, is that we have a power grid propping up the maintenance of thousands of barely occupied corporate office buildings. The people footing the bill for these empty, energy-consuming buildings must be questioning the financial sense of it all.

Another thing - I think the young people like this stuff! I'm getting old, so I can't speak, but I saw lots of tiny folks in there spending money and buying memories and experiences because that's what they buy and this is pretty good for an experience, objectively speaking. When I look at the super-saturated colors and skewed wall perspectives, I'm reminded of musical artists like Netta ( that have visuals in their videos that have this plastic, toy-like quality that is made to encourage you to engage with it. Like a visual scream, it's made to be too loud to ignore, and you're forced to form an opinion on it, like it or not. A fine oppositional argument to all these chilly, gray buildings being foisted on us.

A very interesting cultural clash is occurring between these neon cohorts and their normie yuppie counterpoints that are out there converting delightful mid-century modern homes into gaping gray boxes made to suck rent out of people. Personally, I love watching it. Very neat. Ya'll fuck each other up.

This weird dualism is in our zombie markets right now as well - Americans are somehow managing to weather this recession without collapse, seemingly buoyed by the promise of added productivity of AI across all industries that has no current way of being measured. These are exhilarating times for those of us who work among the margins and poke and prod for new trends, emerging markets, and though I hate the term ugh paradigm shifts. So much is currently in flux that just about any future is possible - and this is a feeling that the Meow Wolf installations seem to be capturing right now.

Meanwhile, I'm on vacation! And I'm starting to wonder if I've had it with doing fractional CMO stuff. I miss automotive, and I miss making big stupid advertisements sometimes. I also would sort of like to take my experience and do something entirely different. Maybe I'll figure it out on the beach. But one thing's for sure, the future of our public spaces is changing, and it's exciting to see where it's headed. Robert loves you; until next time.