Few cities in the world enjoy brand recognition as strong as Las Vegas – known globally as an escape for 24/7 partying, gambling, world-class shopping, dining and entertainment.
Arts and culture? Well, Vegas may not be known (yet) for arts and culture. Mark my words, though – this is changing.
As a newly transplanted arts and culture professional in the city of Las Vegas, I have devoted the last 10+ months to diving into the local arts and culture scene. Seeing as many galleries and theaters as possible, attending readings and unveilings around the city, participating in immersive interactive projects for the community, and meeting countless artists, creative professionals, arts administrators and advocates along the way, I have only just scratched the surface of the myriad opportunities for arts and culture in this city.
Five years ago, in 2012, the City of Las Vegas proclaimed the year as “The Year of Downtown”: in that year alone, three major cultural assets completed construction and opened in downtown Las Vegas: the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement (commonly known as “The Mob Museum”) and the Neon Museum. Additionally, the city’s new City Hall opened, featuring a public art installation that begins at the city council dais, continuing throughout the 2nd floor lobby and main floor lobby, and cascading down the front of the entire seven-story building. Las Vegas’s City Hall is often featured in television shows and movies thanks to its unique and striking architecture.
Only five years after these arts organizations opened, downtown Las Vegas’s cultural institutions bring over 2,000,000 visitors each year – as well as a significant and impressive economic impact to our downtown core.
Following the launch of these cultural assets, 2013 saw the addition of the Life is Beautiful festival, a three-day festival of art, music, learning and good food that has become a staple of the fall season in Downtown Las Vegas. Attracting over 150,000 people (60% from out of town, 40% locals), this five-year old event has resulted in dozens of permanent murals throughout downtown Las Vegas and an annual influx of artists from around the globe working with the local arts community to create new permanent and temporary work throughout the community.
The founder of Life Is Beautiful is soon launching another landmark event in Las Vegas: Emerge. The Emerge Impact + Music Conference aims to “bring together the world’s best emerging musicians, thought leaders and curators for three days of music and learning programming.”
Downtown Las Vegas is also home to the Arts District – a designated area of 18 square blocks, home to galleries, storefront theaters, artisan coffee shops, vintage clothiers, interior decorating shops, etc. etc. The area is overseen by a non-profit board comprised of business owners, artists and residents who live, work, and/or have a stake in the district, and is on the cusp of emerging as the go-to district in Las Vegas for artists to both create and sell their work, as the city is currently improving the two major thoroughfares of the Arts District: Main Street and Commerce Street.
As an addition to the Arts District, a local developer and a world-renowned art advisor, with the support of the city of Las Vegas, are currently partnered in the process of developing an artist live/work space in the arts district tied to the cultural organization known as the smART Initiative. This new project is designed to offer artists both living and copious studio spaces in a boutique hotel, along with the freedom to create new work right here in Las Vegas.
In addition to the upcoming smART Initiative, a new residential development in downtown Las Vegas – JUHL – has designated a studio apartment and adjoining workspace for an Artist-In-Residence program, granted to one Nevada-based artist each year. Again, the model is to provide an artist with the freedom to create new work without having to worry about distractions such as making rent, or how to afford to keep the lights on.
The City of Las Vegas’ Office of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the Clark County Library District and Nevada Humanities produces the annual Las Vegas Book Festival each October – the single largest literary event in the state of Nevada. This past year the festival included over 140 authors, and drew attendance of nearly 10,000.
Even before all of the new arts programming and facilities came to Las Vegas, cultural offerings from local arts organizations have been serving residents of Las Vegas for decades. The city’s Office of Cultural Affairs has been programming arts throughout the city since 1976; Clark County’s Winchester Cultural Center has been open since 1982. The city’s own Las Vegas Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1998, and the Nevada Ballet Theater is now celebrating their 45th season – founded in 1972 – of bringing dance to the Las Vegas community. The list of arts organizations flourishing in this city goes on and on!
Next time you find yourself in Las Vegas, “strip” yourself of the Vegas stereotype and be sure to take in some of the amazing arts and culture this city has to offer – you will not be disappointed.