The Evolution of Interactive Art

A statement that may or may not seem like a bold one: art and the nature of art is evolving rapidly in the context of 2017. At the risk of oversimplifying the shifts and evolution of a complex, multifaceted ecosystem, I do think it’s fair to say that in the past few years, we have seen a profound shift in the way art is being produced and consumed. The rise of democratic art installations is one example of this, and I’m fascinated by the financial and commercial success of Meow Wolf, a 100+ artist collective in Santa Fe.

 Photo via meowwolf.com.

Photo via meowwolf.com.

I think we all agree that art no longer has an exclusive place on museum walls and in the homes of the elite. There are tons of reasons why: Instagram, politics, Millennials... I could go on. Interactive installations that spread to much wider audiences than a traditional museum crowd are highly visible examples of this. While of course interactive art is nothing new, we generally associate it with museums and academic institutions - in part because they can afford to back it and produce it.

But the success of Meow Wolf dispels the notion that interactive art initiatives need to be supported by endowment-backed institutions. Last year, they raised over $1M on crowdfunding platforms and a substantial $7M through an investment round, and were able to permanently install House of Eternal Return, a multi-room attraction housed in an old bowling alley. The installation welcomed 400,000 visitors in its first year, brought in $7M in revenue and now employs more than 150 people. It also uses a revenue sharing model that ensures that each contributor to the collective is being compensated fairly.

 House of Eternal Return

House of Eternal Return

The whole project is inclusive, entertaining, and democratic - it’s an immersive experience that has no specified target audience. There is an admission fee - tickets range from $12-$20 -  but there are no airs. Its success (and in Santa Fe, no less) is evidence of a shift toward art that is open to interpretation (is it art? Is it entertainment? What’s the difference and does it even matter?) and that celebrates interaction from all walks of life. And maybe I’d go so far as to say it blurs the line between creator and consumer. But that, too, is open to interpretation.