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99U Conference

Vince Kadlubek, on Running out of Project Money, and Needing More to Finish

The 2018 99U Conference theme is about overcoming creative challenges, so we’re asking our speakers and breakout session leaders to reflect on pressure-cooker moments and share how they navigated them.


Kadlubek is the visionary CEO behind Meow Wolf, the much-buzzed-about, hard-to-describe, immersive art installation in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It might just be the future of experiential art. Kadlubek will be speaking at the 10th Annual 99U Conference taking place May 9-11 in New York City. Since our 2018 conference is all about overcoming creative challenges, we asked Kadlubek to reflect on a moment when the future wasn’t so certain and share how he pushed through.

“Opening the House of Eternal Return [Meow Wolf’s art experience in Santa Fe] was definitely the most daunting challenge I ever faced. Prior to House of Eternal Return, the biggest project I’d worked on was about one-fifth the size and one percent of the budget. And it was temporary. House of Eternal Return was the first time we ever got into business. None of us understood business. We kept running out of money. We were sleep deprived. And we were working around the clock to finish it on time.

“‘I can’t do this’ came up all the time. And then it was followed with, ‘Yes, I can.’ We operated for a year with a constant pressure of running out of money. We never had more than two weeks worth of cash on hand. One time our bank was overdrawn and I had 100 artists to pay; $75,000 was needed. I had to make some really difficult phone calls. I called existing investors to ask them to very quickly invest more, with the transparent knowledge that we were out of money. That’s the most difficult and leveraged position a business can ever be in.

“It was nuts.

“The project was really rough at times, but there was a collective creative high that we were all riding. We all just wanted to make amazing art, and that’s what we were doing. There was always this really exciting thought in the back of our heads saying, “What if we really pull this off?”

“During the build, we had over 100 artists working together, volunteering their time, and staying late. Every single person involved was absolutely crucial to the project’s success. We could not have pulled it off if we had not been working together as a collective every step of the way.

“This project really made me believe that I, and the rest of the people at Meow Wolf, are capable of anything. No matter how daunting the project may seem there is always a way to make it happen.”

See Vince Kadlubek along with more creative leaders, entrepreneurs, and artists, at the 10th Annual 99U Conference.

Emily Ludolph

Emily Ludolph writes about business, history, and culture. She has published in Quartz, Narratively, TED Online and Design Observer. She is the host of a live show and podcast called Dedicate It


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