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The Arts Come of Age in Las Vegas

Abounding in innovation, imagination and big dreams on their way to coming true, the Las Vegas art scene is not only coming of age but looks primed to grow exponentially over the next decade.

“As a city grows and changes, its cultural elements are beginning to mature to reflect the community,” said Uri Vaknin, partner with the real estate development firm KRE Capital, who was once an art gallery owner in Atlanta, Ga., and today serves as a board member for the Neon Museum, overseeing its expansion committee. “In Las Vegas. the art scene inched its way into the public consciousness over the years and is now exploding with innovation, potential and national acclaim.”

Nevada Museum of Art Builds World-Class Downtown Las Vegas Venue 

Las Vegas’ movers and shakers like Vaknin have long advocated for a premier art museum to be established in downtown Las Vegas. Today, the city is closer than ever to achieving that goal. According to the Nevada Museum of Art website, the Museum is embarking on an expansion plan to build a 145,000-square-foot, $200 million stand-alone venue in downtown. The organization, which hails from a long-standing and successful location in Reno, is currently working with Clark County to identify and secure an appropriate downtown Las Vegas location. Once completed, the new museum will feature rotating and regular exhibits, classes, and other public-facing programming.

According to published quotes by the museum’s Deputy Director Heather Harmon, “While the Nevada Museum of Art provides organizational expertise to support the development of this museum, the Las Vegas community will define the museum’s identity and priorities, deciding how it will best serve the larger Southern Nevada population. It will represent the perspectives and creative genius of a broad swath of artists and thinkers from around the Vegas valley.”

NEON Museum Doubles In Size

The beloved Neon Museum has collected, preserved and displayed iconic Las Vegas signs since 1996. Progress is underway to double the size of the museum adding an additional 32,000-square-feet through acquisition of the Reed Ripple building.  As part of its Neon2020 expansion plan, the museum is creating an indoor gallery and will go vertical with a 30-foot high grid that enables the museum to display more iconic Las Vegas signs.  Electrified signs from the old Las Vegas Club, Barbary Coast, Binion’s and other classic properties are expected to be exhibited. Aptly named Ne10, representing neon’s chemical symbol, Ne, and atomic number, 10, the new facility is located across from The Neon Museum at 770 Las Vegas Blvd N.

In addition to the Neon Boneyard, the museum showcases this uniquely Las Vegas art form through its collection of nine restored signs installed as public art throughout downtown Las Vegas including such icons as The Hacienda Horse and Rider and the Silver Slipper.

The stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard, between Sahara Avenue and Washington Avenue, which is populated by the historic signage, is one of only three urban streets in the US to be named a Federal Scenic Byway by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Downtown Las Vegas Erupts with Colorful Murals

There’s an explosion of intricate, fanciful and meaningful street art and murals in downtown Las Vegas. Nowhere else in Southern Nevada can you see the Horned Toad by ROA, an immensely detailed black and white piece featuring a dramatic pop of red in the form of blood spurting out of the creature’s face. Or experience the 3D Mural by Felipe Pantone whose neon components jump off the wall in a spectacular display at dusk.

All around downtown are murals by artist Shepard Fairey who is best known for creating the iconic Barack Obama “Hope” poster. Fairey’s most dramatic work is an 18-story massive red, white and black design in the artist’s inimitable style located on the side of the Plaza Hotel and Casino.

Many of downtown’s murals are created during the city’s annual Life Is Beautiful art and music festival, during which the city’s buildings become blank canvases for artists from around the globe to create their masterful murals.  Each year during Life Is Beautiful, thousands of festival-goers gather to listen to music and experience the creation of these mind-blowing visuals.

While most of Life Is Beautiful murals disappear after the festival, dozens upon dozens remain, including several rooftops that can be seen from Google Maps. Among the most well known are “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Ruben Sanchez created during the 2015 festival and 2016’s “Mural by Fafi,” a French artist who depicts powerful female characters displaying expressions of confidence, toughness, and strength.

More Festivals

The annual Believers Festival is a three-day roving celebration of writing, music, and visual arts bringing together established and emerging artists, comedians, literary luminaries, and the Las Vegas arts community. Celebrated by The New York Times, the festival returns April 30 – May 2 for its fourth year. The growing lineup features emerging and award-winning literary luminaries, artists, and entertainers, from Las Vegas and around the world.

Whimsical Catches On at the Downtown Alley

The dT Alley Community Coalition Inc. has revitalized the T-shaped alleyway that borders businesses located between Las Vegas Boulevard, Sixth Street, Fremont Street and Carson Avenue by adorning its concrete walls with vibrant murals, transforming utility boxes into whimsical creatures and replacing the dumpsters with flower boxes and interactive pop-ups.

During a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Feb 2020, Mayor Carolyn Goodman said, “This is about culture and art and entertainment, music and creativity. We are setting records around this country about innovative things that we’re doing and everybody looks at Las Vegas.”

More Murals Celebrate Rich History of Westside Las Vegas

Officially called The F Street beautification project, this public-private initiative is a powerful symbol of the community’s social and cultural history. Its interpretive murals brighten the walls of a once-closed I-15 underpass depicting photographic scenes of historic significance to the West Las Vegas neighborhood. Included in the murals are images of civil rights and community leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Woodrow Wilson, the first African-American elected to the Nevada Assembly in 1966. Ceramic panels commemorate the city’s first integrated casino, the Moulin Rouge, and famed Strip entertainers Sammy Davis Jr. and Nat King Cole, among others.  Through the Mayor’s Fund for Las Vegas LIFE, more murals in the Historic Westside Area are planned as a celebration of the local culture and to enhance the area’s ongoing revitalization.

Performing Arts

The Smith Center for Performing Arts is the epicenter of the city’s cultural arts launching downtown Las Vegas on its path to international acclaim as an arts and culture destination. Entering its eighth year as a world-class performing arts venue, The Smith Center is renowned for its blend of performances by local arts groups; its first-run touring attractions, including world-renowned stars and Broadway shows, and as home to the Las Vegas Philharmonic and Nevada Ballet Theatre.

Selected by USA Today for its “10 Best” the publication said: “This $470 million world-class performing arts center in downtown Las Vegas features a blend of performances by resident companies, first-run touring attractions and internationally acclaimed performers in music, theater and dance. The five-acre campus boasts four performance spaces, including the 2,050-seat Reynolds Hall, complete with stunning balconies, a dramatic stage and a full orchestra pit capable of seating up to 100 musicians; the 258-seat Cabaret Jazz, ideal for jazz, cabaret and other performances best seen and heard in an intimate setting; the 250-seat Troesh Studio Theater, ideal for rehearsals, children’s theater, community events and private social gatherings; and the 1.7 acre Donald W. Reynolds Symphony Park, perfect for outdoor concerts.”

World-Class Sculptures

Throughout downtown are public and private-art sculptures demonstrating the city’s commitment to the arts.

As part of the city’s Project NEON, the largest public works project in Nevada’s history, coming in at nearly $1 billion, are Hot Dip and Found Font located at Charleston Ave near Western Ave, which was recently lauded as a recipient of the 2020 Mayor’s Urban Design Award in the Public Art category.

Hot Dip is a 250-foot-long undulating structure comprised of a series of steel posts in varying heights and colors. Across the street is a 60-foot-long, 25-feet-tall purple swirl know as Found Font. The artwork, which appears to move every time it’s passed, is part of the Neon Dunes, a 5.5-acre oasis of sandhills landscaped with cacti, yucca trees and other drought-resistant plants inspired by Nevada’s natural topography. Smaller pieces of Project NEON artwork also dot the roadside including metal plants and animals providing a visual treat for motorists.

Other public art installations include the “Paintbrush” sculptures at E. Charleston Blvd. and S. Casino Center Blvd. in downtown Las Vegas and “Pipe Dream” by Tim Bavington, a rainbow wall of colors that sits on the east end of Symphony Park next to the Smith Center and has become one of the most iconic and Instagram-able spots in all of Las Vegas.

“It’s an exciting time for arts and culture in Las Vegas,” said Vaknin. “Las Vegas is on the cultural map, adding to its strength as a World-Class City!”