A fantastical space in Cheyenne is currently gutted.
All the walls are painted, and some furniture and decorations fill the entryway. The rest of the place is in the thick of renovation.
One section of a wall was only recently cut out, there’s wood, plaster and other materials scattered across the floor, and half of the building at 150 W. 15th St. is still fitted to the needs of the ceramic studio that formerly occupied the space.
While they each have day jobs, the four primary members of Cheyenne Makers and Creatives gather here and forego their free time to establish the first physical space the art group has assumed since it was founded in 2019.
It’s these four who, when first establishing Makers, knew they wanted a physical space to host workshops and classes, but events like that will only take up about of 20% of their time.
The remaining 80% will be consumed by a concept not unfounded in the art world, but has the potential to be a revolutionary addition to Cheyenne – an immersive art installation.
On Tuesday, Desiree Brothe, Caitlin Argyle, Michael Launer and Jon Hill gathered with the Wyoming Tribune Eagle to discuss the transformation the building will undergo in the months leading up to their full unveiling in October.
“What’s been interesting is trying to describe what an immersive art exhibition is to people,” Argyle said. “I think we’ve all used the term ‘immersive art installation,’ which helps most people understand it. But I told somebody that and they said, ‘So, like a haunted house?’
“I said, ‘yeah, kind of.’”
Meow Wolf, the massive art installation in Denver, is a large-scale and highly funded example of the interactive art concept. In many ways, it serves as an unfair comparison as to what the concept really is.
A more accurate location to compare to – one that Makers consulted in the process of designing their idea – is Denver’s Prismajic. It is one of several smaller, locally owned spaces in the city that highlights local artists by inviting them to contribute to a style of art that continues to gain popularity worldwide.
Interactive art exhibits may be the future of art tourism. They are similar to art museums in that they do feature art, but rather than walking through a plain space and admiring individual pieces, the entire space is utilized and outfitted for the visitor’s entertainment.
Not only does it revitalize and make an art experience more unique, it allows artists to let their creativity roam free. This is a freedom that has proven relatively daunting to Makers.
Sometimes a blank canvas is an intimidating place to start. Makers and Creatives’ solution is to let their ideas run wild in an effort to combat the complaint that there’s “nothing to do in Cheyenne.”
With this physical space, a mostly self-funded endeavor with the help of a $25,000 grant from the Wyoming Arts Council, Makers is expecting to counter that complaint with the loud, visible rebuttal of “MC Wonder’s Fantastical Traveling Treasures.”
“We get frustrated, because it’s just not true,” Hill said. “We’re not trying to fix a ‘broken art scene,’ because our art scene is great. We’re just trying to carve out a piece of it that we think can stand out a little bit to a group that hasn’t normally participated.”
The key to achieving this, at least in theory, is finding success in the storyline and concept that Makers has been workshopping since the start of the year.
Spinning a story
While every room will be unique, their immersive space is meant to represent the workshop of a mysterious, otherworldly art collector named MC Wonder, who is designed to resemble the Makers and Creatives rabbit logo.
“MC Wonder is a collector of experiences – people items, things, etc. – through time,” Brothe said. “Each individual room will be an experience based on his collection. You’ll travel through time to parts of his collection.”
They’re hoping that by spinning a story, the exhibits will resonate with visitors on a personal level.
“We want this to be able to tell a story without us having to sit there and tell a story,” Launer joined in. “As you explore and open up doors and books and stuff, you learn more and more about this character.”
Like Prismajic and similar locations, Makers will bring in different local and regional artists to contribute artwork to different rooms. Makers plans to change each room on a regular basis, making each iteration something that can only be experienced for a brief period of time.
Through it all, there will be a common thread that captures the developing theme of “The West,” as it is interpreted by the participating artists.
“There’s going to be some very familiar Western themes, but we’re hoping to kind of update those,” Argyle said. “What we’d really like to do is look at it through the lens of what we all love about Wyoming and what has inspired us about being here.”
Expect it to be otherworldly, considering it is fictionally curated by an otherworldly being. Regardless of who is designing the respective rooms, there will always be a storyline running through them, where visitors can investigate MC Wonder’s background for themselves.
“It’s almost as if a local attorney or a dentist let us into their office, and we were allowed to ruffle through their stuff, what would we learn about them?” Launer said. “This is his workspace.”
As much as this is an exercise in bringing a new style of art to Cheyenne, it is equally adventurous in understanding how a creative entity can market itself to those that aren’t typically invested in the city’s art community.
In terms of planning such an elaborate storyline, the experience was almost childish. The creators gathered and pitched elaborate ideas, highlighting each other’s skills to see where they can succeed.
Hill works all of the construction on his own, Argyle excels in interior design, Launer is a web-developer with extensive tech and art background, and Brothe is one of the prominent visual artists in the city.
“We found that when we’re interested in something, we pursue it and find an audience,” Hill said. “I think there’s going to be that audience here. I think Caitlin brings that energy of, ‘If somebody’s complaining about something, then do something about it.’”
Makers will hold a soft opening in mid-July to capitalize on the population spike during Cheyenne Frontier Days.
If a month and a half seems like a quick turnaround to render their vision in the entry room, it’s because it is. The beauty of their business is that they have the liberty to do what they want with the space.
If that means that they want to build an
entire exhibit out of cardboard – a developing idea of theirs – then they can pursue it. In the months leading up to the official unveiling in October, Makers plans to allow guests entry free of charge.
Once the space is completed, there will be an entry fee.
Ironically, with all of the opportunity available to them, the founders aren’t quite sure what that space will look like when it’s completed.
“We might not be able to get into specifics on what it’s gonna look like, because a lot of that is a moving target,” Argyle said. “As we go through and prioritize and reprioritize, we have some key things that you’re trying to hit. We’ve been inspired by cabinet curiosities like the old museum style, but we’ve also been inspired by traveling shows circuses.”