Meow Wolf leader believes art has the power to ‘bring people together’

Julie Heinrich of Meow Wolf. (Courtesy of Meow Wolf)

After one of the founders of Meow Wolf died suddenly at the age of 37, the artists collective mourned by creating a memorial arch made of steel and wood.

“They metaphorically walked through it, as if transfigured by that moment in time,” says Julie Heinrich, Meow Wolf’s chief of staff and executive director of the company’s new foundation. “They painted it, built it and then burned it, also with ceremony.”

“That’s what I mean when art is a beautiful language, when there are no words.”

Heinrich joins the Santa Fe-based art company at a time of explosive growth. It opened locations in Denver and Las Vegas, Nevada, last year and recently announced it is opening two permanent exhibitions in Texas.

Heinrich was a consultant to Meow Wolf in planning the new fundraising foundation for about a year and was then appointed to lead the operation in April.

The timing was perfect; she longed to “grow the next stage of her career” and longed to return to New Mexico.

The Colorado native lived in Washington, D.C. — she is married to U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich — and worked as a senior vice president at Weber Shandwick, a communications, marketing and consulting firm. Heinrich believes in Meow Wolf and the power of art to “bring people together” and find solutions to global problems, as well as tending to the smaller, more personal ones, such as grieving a lost colleague.

It can be said that Heinrich has his own artistic talents. She has played the clarinet, guitar, piano, xylophone and has now turned her attention to the ukulele. She also dances and sings, but adds, “I don’t perform.”

There is, however, little artistry in Heinrich’s past. She was once an elf in Santa’s workshop at the foot of Pikes Peak in Colorado.

“The reason it’s funny is because I was 6 feet tall at the time, when I was 17,” she says. “I served ice cream all day long, including bubble gum ice cream. It was blue and had gumballs in it. It was the worst.”

What are your plans for the Meow Wolf Foundation?

“First and foremost we will be looking for partnerships, we will be looking for grant recipients in the states where we do business. We will expand the giving there. The Meow Wolf brand has captured so much imagination and interest from others that I’m also getting inquiries from these other major global foundations who want to partner with us. I’m not sure where this will lead yet, but it’s an exciting conversation to come. We will focus on art and culture, looking at where they intersect with the environment, education, justice, or some combination of these areas. We explore the healing capacity of art and how we can build creative economies. We are at such an interesting time in the company’s growth and I am blissfully happy to be a part of it.”

Why did you leave Washington, DC for New Mexico?

“Our kids were still young when he (husband) was elected to the US Senate, so we decided it made sense to move there. Otherwise, he would have missed out on their childhood. And so we sent the children to school. I worked for a global communications, marketing and consulting firm in Washington, DC, but New Mexico is and always will be home. We’ve always had a house here (Albuquerque). My older son and I came home at the beginning of the pandemic, which I think encouraged many of us to rethink our lives and analyze what makes us happy. We thought, “Maybe we’ll stay a few months,” but then we just didn’t go back to DC. He decided he wanted to go to UNM.”

Was there a moment when the decision crystallized for you?

“It was a full moon night and we went to the Ohito (wilderness area), to a place where there are just beautiful petroglyphs nearby, and then you have the sandstone formations at night that look kind of weird and otherworldly and eerie. And I saw this full moon and I thought, “Ah. I don’t think I’m leaving.’

What do you do in your spare time?

“I love music and dancing. I would say it’s how I not only express my creativity – it’s historically been where I find my healing and personal therapy.”

What professional mistakes have you made and what have you learned?

“I’m sure I’ve made a lot of mistakes, as we all have, over the course of my career. I would say early, maybe 20 years old, maybe I was too naive and too critical of others and hurt someone’s feelings. I learned from this experience that I will choose a more diplomatic path in the future. It affected me enough to know that I don’t want to do this again.

Who are your favorites?

“My frustrations are probably shared by most parents of teenagers. The dishes are not done unless I ask for them. The backyard, the mess from the dog doesn’t come home unless I ask. The normal favorites of parenthood.

What do you think made you successful?

“The ability to be a strong listener. I’d like to think my dad gave me a strong sense of humor. I don’t think I’m necessarily funny, but I like to laugh. My mother shared this sense of attention to detail. She is also incredibly optimistic. I start from this place, to see the best in people.

Was it difficult to build your own career and reputation when your husband is a US senator?

“I actually had a politically focused career before my husband – a short period of time when he was Julie’s husband instead of me being his wife. In the workplace, I don’t tend to bring it up unless I have a reason to because I want people to get to know me first and know the ways I contribute. I think they inevitably get it, but I try to bring my authentic self to work. But I don’t necessarily think it’s a different person than the one I’m bringing to the campaign. I think like most busy people, you’re just doing the best you can to balance the responsibilities between the job and between the job duties and the campaigns and just trying to serve as many people as possible with an open heart.”

THE BASICS: Julie Heinrich, 50, born in Boise, Idaho, raised in Woodland Park, Colorado; married to US Senator Martin Heinrich since 1998; two sons, Carter, 19, and Micah, 15; one dog, Ella, and one cat, Opal; BA in Journalism from the University of Missouri, 1993 and various technical certifications.

POSITIONS: Meow Wolf Chief of Staff and Executive Director of the Meow Wolf Foundation, since April 2022; Senior Vice President and Vice President, Weber Shandwick, 2014-2022; Head of Digital Media and Project Management, Mid-Regional Council of Governments, 2006-2013; digital media director, City of Albuquerque, 2000-2006; chief communications officer and deputy communications officer for then-Mayor Jim Baca, 1997-2000.

OTHER: Former board member of AMP Concerts, Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum, La Montañita Co-op and Rio Grande chaption of the Sierra Club; “tenacious” volunteer in political campaigns since 2003.

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