Of the millions of tourists who visit Las Vegas each year, most come in search of the desert city’s legendary casinos, entertainment and nightlife. However, there’s a growing number of visitors keen to experience another side of Vegas – that represented by its burgeoning arts scene.
Las Vegas is more commonly associated in the public mind with over-the-top glamour and spectacle than with edgy, independent artwork, but the city’s free-wheeling arts scene is rapidly gaining attention on a global scale for its diversity and adventurous spirit. There’s an “anything goes” attitude that’s hugely appealing to artists, as well as an easy-going camaraderie that sees those with well-established careers exhibiting alongside complete newcomers in many of the city’s galleries.
So what is it about the notorious Sin City that makes it so enticing a place for artists to work? We spoke to a number of the city’s coolest emerging artists and looked at its top arts events to get a feel for this unexpected arts hotspot.
A vibrant arts community
For a long time, any kind of independent art in Las Vegas – from visual arts and music, to film, fashion and jewellery design – was centred in the Arts District, a neighbourhood just south of the Downtown area which is roughly bounded by Gass Avenue, South Commerce Street, Colorado Avenue and South Fourth Street, although nowadays its influence extends toward the Downtown area around Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard itself. Even some of the top hotels and casinos have collections on display, such as the Bellagio’s Gallery of Fine Art or the Cosmopolitan’s P3 Studio.
However, for many local artists and supporters alike, the beating heart of the city’s arts scene lies in independent events that bring together all elements of the community to socialise, share ideas and promote their work. Chief among these are the First Friday arts festivals, which as their name suggests, take place on the first Friday of every month. These lively events feature an ever-changing roster of artists, designers, performers and more, as well as live music, food and plenty of opportunities to support the local arts scene while socialising with like-minded people. Many local artists credit the festivals with helping launch their careers and providing ongoing inspiration and support.
Another key player in the Vegas arts scene is RAW: natural born artists, an international arts organisation that sets up monthly showcases for emerging local artists in a variety of fields, including fine art, photography, film, music, fashion, hair and makeup. The RAW events combine art galleries, fashion shows, live performances and other exhibitions of work with drinks and food for an exciting evening that highlights the wealth of local talent in a given city. The next Las Vegas event, Present, takes place on 12 February 2015 – check out the RAW website for full details.
RAW: natural born artists also runs an online community to support up-and-coming artists and help them connect both with their peers and potential fans. We asked some of RAW’s featured Las Vegas artists what they thought of the city’s arts scene, and why they feel inspired to work there:
Michael A. Moscoso, tattoo artist
“Las Vegas is not just a hot destination for tourists to visit, but it is a great place with a new emerging art scene that is growing in popularity. I have been fortunate enough to see it grow by participating in art shows with some really talented people. What I enjoy about the art scene here in Las Vegas is the many artists with diverse backgrounds that I get to create with.”
Check out more of Michael’s striking designs on his Instagram channel, mikeykool777. Vegas Recommendation: “My go-to gallery in the Downtown Arts District is co-owned by fine artist and illustrator Jska Pribe and tattoo artist and fine artist Mike Biggs. I recently purchased a life-size Gremlin from Mike Biggs and a painting from Jska Pribe – they both are incredibly talented and genuine people. The gallery is located at 1800 Industrial Road in Downtown Las Vegas.”
Cindy Ozaeta, painter
“I’m a Vegas baby myself – a first generation Mexican-American born and raised in Las Vegas. Even though I am only 26 years old, I’ve seen this city grow and change throughout the years. Growing up, whenever anyone would come to town and visit, they would always talk about the Las Vegas Strip, where all the major casinos are located and how that was the place to be. Well, in the last few years Downtown Vegas, also known as Fremont Street, has been transforming slowly. They’re making major changes to it, cleaning it up, adding colour, building different attractions and making it more modern and appealing not only to tourists but for locals as well.
“Downtown Las Vegas is a few blocks away from what’s considered the Art District in Las Vegas, and they are in the process of merging the two together as Fremont Street’s urban environment welcomes people from all age groups. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a new, up-and-coming Art District? Las Vegas already has so much history; why not give it a little bit more, but with art this time around?” You can see more of Cindy’s stunning work on Instagram at cindy_ozaeta. Vegas Recommendation: “I would absolutely recommend the Arts Factory, a great, ever-changing art gallery with local artist artwork. It even has a cute bistro inside so it’s great for dates, lunches or an overall mini getaway.”
The Arts Factory, 107 East Charleston Boulevard, Las Vegas, NV 89104, +1 702-383-3133
Zach Rogers, photographer
“I moved to Las Vegas to be closer to the amazing landscapes I like to photograph. Contrary to what most people think of Vegas, I see it as a great place to explore. There is so much that this area has to offer for photography: outdoor activities, and especially stargazing. It inspires me every day to continue taking photographs.”
View some of Zach’s spectacular shots on his Facebook page. Vegas Recommendation: “The most scenic spots near Las Vegas are definitely Valley of Fire and Red Rock. I highly recommend checking at least one of these parks out during your stay. The unique scenery can be very therapeutic after spending some time on the Strip.” Valley of Fire State Park, Overton, NV 89040
Maile Bello, makeup artist
“Las Vegas is a great spot for my art because it’s so diverse. I have been involved in makeup competitions, shoots for magazines/editorials, fashion photo shoots, weddings, and an array of different events. There is always something going on in Las Vegas.”
See examples of Maile’s makeup creations on Instagram at mailebellomua.
Vegas Recommendation: “My favourite museum is most definitely the Neon Museum. It’s a popular place for photo shoots because of all the fun colour and amazing signs. It is known as the boneyard of Las Vegas signs. The sign collection goes back to the 1930s.”
The Neon Museum, 770 North Las Vegas Boulevard, Las Vegas, NV 89101, +1 702-387-6366
Rene Maquilleur, makeup artist
“I think Vegas is a wonderful city for art because it’s a city where people come from all over the world to experience the lights, shows, music and the famous buildings. This entire city is made up of art. Now artists of my profession and many other budding artists are being showcased in venues such as RAW Artists, which leads to showcasing all over Vegas in major resorts and casinos. I love this city because it will always continue to grow and the art industry will only get bigger as it does.” Learn more about Rene’s work at renecaudillo.com.
Vegas Recommendation: “I would highly recommend The Arts Factory. It’s a great place in the Arts District which displays local artists, from painters to sculptors and jewellers and so on. I find the most exciting time to visit is the first Friday of every month. All the streets in the Arts District are blocked off with art vendors, entertainment, music, body painters and food. It’s such a great event that attracts a large number of people from the community and tourists.”
JAECI Designs, jewellery
“In my opinion the Art Scene in Vegas is still up-and-coming. A while ago it was unheard of to meet a Vegas “native”, born and raised, because it was such a tourist city. Don’t get me wrong – it still is, but now you are starting to see more Vegas natives (whose parents moved here 20+ years ago) claiming this city home. These young adults are the ones creating history here, from starting new businesses to creating art and transforming the famous Las Vegas Strip into a more artistic atmosphere for everyone. They are creating a name for themselves and bringing history here – as am I.
“Las Vegas is the city of the unimaginable — we have everything here, yet so much more lies ahead. Being a local jewellery designer, right here, right now, and being part of that mystery, wondering ‘What does Vegas hold next?’ is exciting to me. My mind is never closed – in Vegas you realize anything is possible. That is what I enjoy most about this city.” Check out the JAECI Designs jewellery page to see their latest collection. Vegas Recommendation: “My favourite shop is Buckle in the Fashion Show Mall in Vegas. My favourite spot is Commonwealth in Downtown Las Vegas – and the secret “˜speakeasy’ is a must visit!”
Commonwealth, 525 E. Fremont St., Las Vegas, NV 89101, +1 702-445-6400
Richard Guillian, mixed media artist
“I feel that Vegas has a certain vibe that artists are drawn to. It’s hard to explain but makes perfect sense when it is experienced. The thing that also makes Vegas a great place is the diversity of the people, especially the artists who call this city home. I have had the pleasure of meeting some of the most interesting, talented, beautiful and amazing people in this town, and I think that’s what I have enjoyed more than anything living here and what has contributed to my growth as an artist.”
Watch Richard talk about his art in this RAWartists video. Vegas Recommendation: “The Barrick Museum on the UNLV campus is a must-see. There are so many fantastic shows that run there every year. It’s close to the Las Vegas Strip as well.” Barrick Museum 4505 S Maryland Pkwy Las Vegas, NV 89154 +1 702-895-3381
Jeff Mix, singer-songwriter
“Las Vegas is a melting pot of people, much like NYC, except we are in the middle of the desert. There isn’t much of anything 200 miles in any direction. In a market such as NYC, LA, Boston or Austin, you can draw a 150-mile radius and start building a following in the surrounding markets. We have nothing in that size of radius from Las Vegas! So for an independent band to hit the road from Vegas, it’s far more challenging than in other cities.
“I feel Vegas is starting to come together. We have a very cool bunch of bands in the Americana genre that I’m part of here. We’re all friends too. So if we’re all trapped, at least we can make some good music in the meantime. I’d like to go on record as calling the Vegas Americana sound “Vegascana”, although my wife will tell you she coined it. I can’t say she’s lying. I want to help build something to spread the word and create buzz for the Americana bands coming out Vegas, such as Justin Mather, Jack Evan Johnson, the Badlands, the All-Togethers, the Crimson Balladeers, Same Sex Mary and the Clydesdale, just to name a few.
“There’s also a lot of momentum in Downtown Las Vegas, with the infusion of capital. There are some really cool venues to play, including the newly renovated Bunkhouse. We love playing there because it has a great vibe, better sound and plenty of room, without being too massive.” Have a listen to Jeff’s new single Fremont Street, from the upcoming album Lost Vegas Hiway. Vegas Recommendation: “My favourite venue is the Bunkhouse. It was completely renovated recently, and has good food, great service, a great vibe, space – and it’s not so touristy.”
The Bunkhouse Saloon, 124 South 11th Street, Las Vegas NV 89101, +1 702-854-1414
DJ Alpha Q
“Las Vegas is the new frontier for the arts on the West Coast. The art and music community is very well established, but I still consider Vegas as uncharted territory, where there is endless potential in creating brand new outlets for visual arts, music, fashion, and film. The city has a reinventing spirit, and I find that exciting.”
Groove to DJ Alpha Q’s beats on Soundcloud. Vegas Recommendation: It would have to be The Arts Factory every first Friday of the month. Hands down, it is the best art venue to gain exposure as an up-and-coming artist.
Eager to check out the scene yourself? Virgin Atlantic has affordable flights to Las Vegas from several UK cities, with a new direct route from Glasgow to Vegas starting in September 2015.