More than a Neon City

Taking you off Las Vegas Strip with Meow Wolf Community Outreach Manager Christy Sakamoto 

People say Las Vegas has no culture. Allow me introduce you to a few things, myself included. As the Programming and Outreach Manager here in Las Vegas, it’s my goal to forge relationships with our community so they feel like they can come through our doors as stakeholders and make their own connections to the art and storytelling. I want to embrace the ethos of the Barrick Museum on the UNLV campus to reflect the diversity of our city. I want to achieve the same accessibility and welcoming feeling that exudes in the Arts District. I want the best of Las Vegas represented here at Omega Mart.

The 40 million tourists a year who come to lose themselves in Las Vegas, find our culture. From the weekend warrior stopping by Seven Magic Mountains on their drive in, to the visitor who wanders into Akhob while dropping their winnings on a new Louis Vuitton bag, each grazes upon our visual culture. And no one escapes the neon signs of our eponymously nicknamed city, an art movement in itself. The beloved “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas'' was created by local artist Betty Willis. When you think of Vegas, I bet you think first of that sign, a piece of art. For those who want more Nevadans shaping the cultural landscape of the city, here are a few of my favorite entry points.

If you want the community’s creative take, move off Strip. True Las Vegas is centered Downtown, not in Paradise, an unincorporated town famous for the Strip. As a walkable neighborhood, the city takes advantage of as many available walls as possible with murals. The late Tony Hsieh’s support through the Downtown Project in 2012, followed by the Life is Beautiful Festival’s inaugural year in 2013 have been monumental in developing and activating Downtown. The murals are the most vivid manifestation of their efforts to promote art and culture in the district. You can catch murals by Eric Vozzola and Miguel Rodriguez, artists also featured in Omega Mart, as you wander along Fremont Street.

“Look Deep” by Eric Vozzola, featuring a mural by Stevon Lucero. Photo Credit - Eric Vozolla Website

Head southeast to the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art on the UNLV campus where artists from historically marginalized groups are given space and exposure; and you’ll find it’s free to anyone who is interested in viewing their work. Currently you can see how Latinx artists are reimagining white colonialism in the museum world. Omega Mart Creative Operator, Karla Lagunas has her piece crowning the East Gallery, and Karla is just one of many in the Meow Wolf family to have been exhibited at the Barrick.

Karla stands in front of her piece, "If It Happened, It Wasn't That Bad" at the Barrick Museum as part of FUTURE RELICS: Artifacts for a New World. Photo courtesy of Karla Lagunas.

Just on the other side of the 15 freeway from Omega Mart is the Arts District where a swath of galleries can be found. First Fridays are a community favorite way to join in the celebration of creativity and our local Las Vegas artists. The colorful Arts Factory, a collection of artist galleries, dining and boutiques, stands proud and is a magnet during First Fridays. One such gallery, Helios, has featured Connor Graves, a Creative Operator in two recent shows. By highlighting Las Vegas’ very own in a casual and fun forum, the community can be continuous patrons and supporters of local artists.

Connor with his recent piece at Helios Art Gallery show centered on the iconic Vegas sign. Photo courtesy of Connor Graves.

I’m happy to report that the Vegas arts community still grows the city’s culture, and it’s even getting the recognition that it deserves. Each new guest is an opportunity to convert a new fan. A fan who will be back and tell all their friends about the sights they saw. Because “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” is just a 2003 marketing campaign, not a way of life.

Author Bio: Christy Sakamoto is the Programming and Outreach Manager at Meow Wolf Las Vegas where she works with the community to develop meaningful engagements. She has spent her career in the arts and culture, previously at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas and the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.