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Hit for-profit New Mexico art venue seeks out tiny investors

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The startup company behind a popular immersive art exhibition space in New Mexico sought out small-scale internet investors Saturday as it lays the groundwork to take its themed entertainment to one or more major metropolitan markets.

More than 500,000 visitors have flocked to Meow Wolf's kaleidoscopic walk- and crawl-through exhibit space since it opened in a converted Santa Fe bowling alley in early 2016. The art installation starts with a riddle on the doorsteps of a fanciful Victorian house and extends through a maze of glowing passageways and rooms with lasers, buttons and odd musical instruments that respond to the touch.

The privately held company behind the art complex — which now encompasses a gift shop, nonprofit educational studio, live music venue, food truck, and a craft beer and wine area — hopes to raise roughly $1 million in increments of as little as $1,000 through the crowdfunding website WeFunder.

The investment opportunity comes with no guarantee of a financial return. Shares are not paired to a stock exchange — and come with no guarantee they can ever be sold — under equity crowdfunding regulations created just over a year ago by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

"It's a leap of faith," Meow Wolf CEO Vince Kadlubek said. "You're buying into a company that you think has a good trajectory."

The offering appeals directly to Meow Wolf's fan base to help outfit a creative studio in Santa Fe with heavy manufacturing equipment, while hiring a new creative team. The goal is to add new art installations in major cities — with Austin, Texas, Denver, Las Vegas and Houston listed as top contenders.

"This is a foundational round (of financing) that is meant to help us build the infrastructure necessary to deliver on future projects," Kadlubek said.

Registered as a public benefit corporation that can set community priorities before profits, Meow Wolf has reported $7 million in revenues during its first full operating year ending in March. About 85 percent of revenues came from admissions, with full-price tickets going for $20, or $14 for children.

The hit family destination has been a bright spot on a sluggish state economy, while adding a dose of venture capitalism to a Santa Fe arts scene that revolves around public museums, nonprofit foundations and private galleries.

"We see ourselves as a company of creatives," Kadlubek said.

Current owners of the company include eight founding officers and an additional 48 private shareholders — a number likely to multiply in coming days.

Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin, a Santa Fe resident, helped Meow Wolf get off the ground by purchasing its current location and leasing the property at an accessible rate. Federal filings show Meow Wolf's directors include seasoned San Francisco venture capitalist Stewart Alsop and Texas-based entrepreneur Peter Zandan, a specialist in global brand development.

Meow Wolf has been closing in on final approvals for $1.1 million in infrastructure funding from the City of Santa Fe and the New Mexico Economic Development Department.

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