Meow Wolf releases plan detailing its responsibility to Sun Valley and all of Denver

A photo booth created by Denver-based Secret Love Collective at Meow Wolf's community meeting to unveil its corporate social responsibility plan. Sept. 23, 2018. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

A photo booth created by Denver-based Secret Love Collective at Meow Wolf's community meeting to unveil its corporate social responsibility plan. Sept. 23, 2018. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

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Meow Wolf has come a long, long way from its early years of DIY and donations — so far that on Sunday it released its first-ever corporate social responsibility plan.

About 250 people gathered at Steam on the Platte in Sun Valley, right next door to the future site of Meow Wolf, to hear the plan straight from CEO Vince Kadlubek and community stakeholders. Satiated with samosas, tacos, spring rolls and more from the Sun Valley Community Kitchen, they settled in to learn how Meow Wolf will show respect for the community, for artists, for the environment and for an inclusive economy.

When we announced our site, we thought we were in the clear,” Kadlubek told the crowd. They quickly found that that wasn’t true. Community organizer Zoe Williams messaged Meow Wolf the same day to ask what the collective planned to do for Sun Valley and Denver at large.

Kadlubek replied, “I don’t know. Can you help?”

Those were the first steps down the road to a corporate social responsibility document — a journey that involved monthly meetings of a 15-member Community Advisory Committee made up of Sun Valley residents, community leaders, artists, nonprofit professionals and business owners, and more than 200 conversations between an eight-person Meow Wolf Denver team and community leaders and organizations.

The team at Meow Wolf had already decided against two potential sites in RiNo over concerns that moving in there would be irresponsible. So their duty to their new community was already on their minds.

As Kadlubek put it, Meow Wolf has to ask itself, “How do you move into a new city? How do you move into a community properly?”

The resulting plan is a set of goals, ideals and concrete steps that Kadlubek says they hope will be a gold standard. The full document is not yet available online. Below are some highlights provided by Meow Wolf.

Respect for the Denver community

The Community Advisory Committee will continue to meet monthly, and by the end of 2019, Meow Wolf Denver staff will have had more than 300 conversations with community leaders and organizations.

Meow Wolf has already donated $250,000 to Denver events, nonprofits and projects, and will donate another $250,000 in 2019 to projects that focus on Sun Valley, underserved youth and the arts.

The Denver outpost of Meow Wolf will be 90 percent ADA accessible. Kadlubek said the other 10 percent accounts for areas like stairwells.

There will be all sorts of discounts, including free admission passes for Sun Valley residents. In addition,  Meow Wolf will offer 10 percent reduced admission for Colorado residents, discount admission for seniors and veterans, and Colorado discount days with half-off admission.

They’ll also work to employ Sun Valley and other west side locals through programs that provide training, internships and more.

According to the plan, Meow Wolf pledges “to be a part of finding solutions by working with policy leaders and advocating for the local community,” with the following as priorities:

  • Access to affordable quality childcare
  • After school and summer opportunities for youth
  • Access to healthy, culturally relevant foods
  • Stable, safe and quality housing options
  • Employment opportunities for youth and adults
  • Safe, walkable neighborhoods and reliable transportation

A note on that last item: One attendee at the meeting asked Meow Wolf to help Sun Valley get a neighborhood EcoPass from RTD, to loud cheers of agreement from the audience.

Respect for artists

“We believe all artists should be paid a living wage for their work,” the document begins. There will be full-time, part-time and contract work in the design, build, fabrication and maintenance of the exhibition, and once it’s built, there will be ongoing full- and part-time job opportunities as well as contract work.

Forty percent of the new space will be dedicated to work by Colorado artists, prioritizing and recruiting a diverse group, and the gift shop will feature 100 Colorado artists by the end of 2021. Meow Wolf has adopted inclusive and proactive practices for working with artists who are people of color and is committed to preventing cultural appropriation in its spaces and events. An open call for gift shop artists will begin in October.

Meow Wolf’s DIY Fund is still in action and will continue to support Denver collectives.

Respect for the environment

Here are some quick hits as listed in the document:

  • 100 percent biodegradable and/or reusable serving materials,
  • 100 percent recycling at all locations
  • Selecting and utilizing local vendors and supplies
  • Implementation of LED lighting and energy-saving lighting controls
  • High-efficiency VRF heating and cooling system, energy recovery fresh air ventilation and smart building controls
  • Installing solar panels by 2025 and striving for 30 percent energy generation from renewable sources
  • Incentivizing employees to use public transportation or other alternatives to cars
  • Installing water refill stations and low-flow plumbing fixtures

Respect for an inclusive community

This part sort of rehashes much of what’s above.

Meow Wolf will prioritize hiring women and people of color in all areas, particularly leadership positions, and has committed to hiring 30 percent of its contractors from woman- and minority-owned businesses. The document notes that the latter is higher than the industry average, though at least one person at the meeting said it’s not high enough. Meow Wolf will also create a safe work space for LGBTQ people and enforce policies, procedures and pathways for employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

The collective says it will pay its employees a living wage, scaled to the Denver economy with advice on that from the Community Advisory Committee, and offer health insurance, flexible hours, paid time off, opportunities for advancement, access to higher education and supportive policies for parents and caregivers. There will be access to mental health care for everyone.

Next year, Meow Wolf will begin designing hiring practices that ensure jobs for Sun Valley and other west Denver residents.

Community response

During a Q&A, audience members asked about employment for low-income Denverites and people experiencing homelessness (Meow Wolf will offer opportunities), the overall vision (Meow Wolf Denver will be different, sci-fi), hiring more women and minorities in the building process and that neighborhood EcoPass (Meow Wolf will look into both).

Despite concerns, those who spoke were overall supportive of Meow Wolf, and the crowd agreed in applause.

“[Sun Valley] is a wonderful place. It’s diverse and multicultural and we have a high percentage of youth, we have senior citizens, we have vets, and we also have community,” artist Mary Lovejoy said. “… Meow Wolf is an example that should be taken by any company that … comes into our neighborhood. Meow Wolf included. Meow Wolf asked. Meow Wolf asked, ‘How can I be a good a good neighbor?’ And that’s what everyone wants when someone new comes into the neighborhood.”

There’s a lot more in the corporate social responsibility document, and we’ll share it here when it becomes available.

Correction: An earlier version of this article identified the wrong Steam as the location of Meow Wolf’s event. It was at Steam on the Platte.