The latest in a series of moves by Meow Wolf to support Denver arts has arrived in the form of $125,000 of funding for Suspect Press literary magazine.
Suspect Press announced that it will be receiving the money from the Santa Fe-based artist collective over the course of two years, and much of it will be used for artistic and marketing projects the magazine will produce for Meow Wolf’s incoming Denver installation. The rest will help kickstart book publishing at Suspect Press, starting with senior editor Josiah Hesse’s second novel, “Carnality: Sebastian Phoenix & The Dark Star.”
It’s a pretty big deal for the magazine, Hesse said, “Considering that we started out as a fold-and-staple zine that had a budget of maybe a few hundred dollars and we were only printing about 500 issues. We’ve had a lot of growth since then, but this is a pretty astronomical leap.”
It’s also good timing for the small team at Suspect Press, who in April learned that one of the magazine’s founders and financial supporters, Dan Landes, would be leaving Denver for Mexico. Operations weren’t completely dependent on the funds Landes’ vegetarian restaurant City O’ City was bringing in, and Hesse said they would have bounced back anyway, but a boost certainly doesn’t hurt.
Suspect Press has been publishing since 2014, operating out of a small room above City O’ City. The current staff includes Hesse, editor in chief Amanda EK and art director and comix editor Lonnie Allen. They sell ads, pay contributors and put out 5,000 copies of each issue for free in Denver coffee shops, bars, tattoo parlors, dispensaries and vintage clothing stores.
One of their main goals has always been to pay contributors more, and this money could help them along the way. At the very least — and this is a big “very least” — it means they can give local artists more paid work.
“The magazine is going to continue on as is with a pretty similar business plan,” Hesse said. “If we’re getting more ad revenue, we’re going to pay our contributors more. But we’re also going to be doing a lot of projects with Meow Wolf, creating some literary content for their exhibits, creating some artistic marketing campaigns with them, they’re going to sposnor some of our events. … Utilizing the Denver arts scenes’ cartoonists, writers that we know and love — we’re going to put them to work on some of these creative and marketing projects.”
“This windfall of money is going to artists to make art and not into our pockets for our own benefit,” he added. “Me and Amanda own the company, but we just see ourselves funneling this money to local artists.”
Meow Wolf’s goals are the same. In the seven months since the company announced it would be building a 90,000-square-foot immersive art space in Denver’s Sun Valley neighborhood, it’s hired six full-time employees, supported more than 30 organizations and spent $250,000 on local marketing partnerships like this one. It’s DIY Fund has helped out a number of Denver spaces, including Rhinoceropolis and Glob, Fusion Factory and Deer Pile — the latter of which lost its rent-free space down the hall from Suspect Press when Landes sold City O’ City (though they were planning a move anyway).
“We’ve been exploring various marketing strategies and we plan on having a multi-tiered approach for how we’re going to market Meow Wolf and how we’re going to market the exhibit in Denver,” said Vince Kadlubek, co-founder and CEO of Meow Wolf. “We thought it was important to really have a strong announcement behind alternative media. We are supportive of it. We like the creatives, the impetus for creative content that Suspect has.”
They’ve also been talking with Birdy, another Denver literary magazine, and Kadlubek expects they’ll have something ironed out in the next few weeks.
Among the other projects and events to get a branding and financial boost from Meow Wolf: the “Special Guest” exhibit at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, Denver Zine Fest, the Temple Tantrum Block Party, the Colorado Black Arts Festival, the Latino Cultural Arts Center, the Denver Independent Comics & Art Expo and Sun Valley Days.
It’s a different approach than the one Meow Wolf is taking in Las Vegas, where they’ll be the anchor tenant of mall-like development called AREA15, occupying 50,000 of 126,000 square feet. Meow Wolf’s outreach there will focus more on “social impact issues,” Kadlubek said, with a more broad focus on economic inequality. In Denver, on the other hand, they’re more narrowly focused on the creative community.
“There’s so much more creative economy in Vegas — it’s possibly the biggest in the world,” Kadlubek said. “Denver doesn’t have a creative economy. It does somewhat. And yet it has an incredible amount of creative wealth (in people). We felt we need to provide much more of a support system in Denver.”
And that doesn’t mean Meow Wolf is ignoring Denver’s own issues of inequality and gentrification. In the next month or so, Kadlubek said, they’ll be releasing a corporate responsibility strategy, “something we’ve been developing with a group of community activists in Sun Valley who are helping us put together our strategy for how we’re going to move into the Denver community.”
The group, called the Meow Wolf Community Action Committee and headed up by activist Zoe Williams and Denver Meow Wolf Staffers, has been building a plan that covers environmental impact, economic impact, neighborhood impact and a commitment to certain labor standards, among other things.
Exactly what for Meow Wolf’s work with Suspect Press will take is under wraps for now, but Hesse is already talking about plans for Suspect Press’ book publishing future. EK has her own book in the works about her Midwestern youth and purity culture in the ’90s, and Hesse will be collecting stories from former Evangelicals for a collection while he’s on his book tour. They’re also hoping to publish a Best of Suspect Press volume and some graphic novels from local artists like Allen and Cori Redford.
Hesse’s novel and Suspect Press’ first book release will be celebrated with Tattered Covers’ first-ever after-hours party at 9 p.m. Friday. It will be hosted by local comedian Christie Buchele and feature literary performances by Lonnie Allen, Daniel Landes, and Amanda EK. To cap off the night, there will be a secret, large-scale, theatrical musical act. Tickets are $15 and include a copy of the book and free beer from Ratio Brewing Co. Admission is 21+. You can get tickets here.