Like any major city, Las Vegas is filled with people who have transplanted themselves to the city in order to fulfill their dreams. Whether it is to jumpstart an acting or musical career or to promote their business in a more happening venue, Las Vegas is definitely a platform for those who have decided against the starving artist lifestyle. With so many people coming in and out of Vegas waiting to get “discovered,” some may argue that this leaves little room for the Vegas inhabitants to commit to a sense of community and contribute to the city’s cultural mainstay. When the only permanence that can come from your city is the ephemeral, this can create a very insecure setting.
Ask anyone and they probably will describe Vegas as party central—not a Mecca of the Arts. Only upon retrospection do they realize that it makes perfect sense for Vegas to be a metropolis for art enlightenment. Many of the hotels and casinos are known for their extravagant themes, artsy displays, and presentations. But aside from the hotels and casinos on The Strip, arguably, little else is affiliated with the Vegas arts and cultural scene. When Dave Hickey and Libby Lumpkin (an academic couple who helped propel the Vegas art scene) moved out of the city to join the faculty of the University of New Mexico, it looked to some people that Las Vegas was losing ground with their artsy side. It was less than two years ago that the Las Vegas Museum closed its doors; and not surprisingly, it was looking dismal for some supporters of the art scene even then. And now that the echelons of Vegas’ art community are packing their bags for other venues, the city’s cultural and arts network is probably not as esteemed as it was before.
Being coined “Sin City” has hurt the Las Vegas art scene more than is perhaps apparent. With the main focus of the city being its nightlife, it is most likely only a small amount of tax payer money will go into funding an arts scene. With so many of the citizens moving in and out of Vegas, like the art critics Dave Hickey and Libby Lumpkin leaving the region for better opportunities, it might be safe to say that the Vegas scene has sunk to a new low.
This transitory aspect to Vegas has created a sort of dysfunctional situation. Since many of the artists who have established themselves in the arts community quit the scene soon after, essentially abandoning their prior commitments for better opportunities, the Vegas art community is feeling the strain. Even the nature of tourism is to come and go. Vegas is often times coined as the city where the tourist visits and then leaves something behind -- “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”
When your very foundation is unstable, it can only result in imminent disaster. Yet Vegas seem to thrive on this transitional environment. With millions of visitors yearly, this boom town is a tourist trap that works. People come to Vegas to vacation, unwind, or party; but whatever the reason, it is obvious Sin City is thriving while the art scene is becoming a ghost town.
Although Las Vegas has had some hard hits in regards to trying to promote their art scene, there have been a few bright exceptions. Located inside Bellagio Hotel and Casino is Las Vegas’ premier exhibition space. The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Arts (BGFA), which is currently hosting Figuratively Speaking: A Survey of the Human Form, features pieces from different schools of modern and contemporary art from the 19th, 20th, and early 21st centuries. BGFA helps define the genre by presenting such renowned artworks as Renoir’s romantic Impressionist paintings and Picasso’s distorted Cubist figures to Keith Haring’s Pop Art drawings and Chuck Close’s contemporary paintings.
Even the live performances onstage along the Vegas Strip embody the cultural manifestations of the art community. For example, Le Reve, at the Wynn Hotel and Casino, offers a thrilling glimpse of breathtaking performances in an intimate theater-setting. With live music and elaborate special effects that enhance the show’s aerial acrobatics, provocative choreography, and artistic athleticism, every element exhibits Las Vegas’ unconventional and over-the-top showmanship.
But if you are looking for more conventional means of experiencing art and culture in the city, every first Friday of the month called “First Friday” is Vegas’ largest block party. Once a month, the streets fill up with live music, art, ice sculptors, fire breathers, and fortune tellers. And when the weather permits, the streets turn into canvasses for artists especially apt with the chalk medium to show off their craftsmanship. If you’re looking for something to do on the first Friday of the month, be sure you check out “First Friday.” The day-long festival is a prized local venue for galleries and Las Vegas’ Downtown cultural scene to promote and preserve the city’s historical neighborhood.
Along the lines of First Friday and innovative displays of art on The Strip, Symphony Park is a blend of diverse developments, creating the first modern-day city neighborhood in Las Vegas. Inside Symphony Park are multiple structures including the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, the World Jewelry Center, and the Smith Center for the Performing Arts (which are still under construction). Once open, it will house several performance venues and an education facility. In addition to Reynolds Hall, which will seat around 2,065, a 300-seat cabaret theater, as well as a 200-seat studio theater will be facilitating a children’s theater and other community events. Plans are currently underway to construct a Lied Discovery Children’s Museum in Symphony Park, in 2012.
The Las Vegas Arts District, also called the 18b, is an 18 block zone set aside to encourage the artists and their art. The core of the district’s mission is to promote creativity and sustainability in the arts. 18b encompasses an 18-block neighborhood located south of downtown Las Vegas, including Commerce Street, Hoover Avenue, 4th Street, Las Vegas Boulevard and Colorado Avenue.
If you’re in Las Vegas, and you are feeling blasé over the whole Vegas party scene, have no fear; apparently there’s more to Sin City than drinking yourself to a stupor and betting away your life savings. The art scene in Vegas is flourishing and although the odds may be against the art community, it looks like they are doing a great job of staying afloat. Come experience Vegas not just for its nightlife, but add a little art into the mix too. You’ll feel more cultured and even more enlightened about the other side of Vegas.
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