What do you think of when you hear Las Vegas? Hunter S. Thompson’s "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", Sin City, Gamblers Paradise? Even though the famous Las Vegas Strip with its glittering casinos and hotels is the biggest employer and economic engine of the city, there is also Las Vegas off the Strip with its independent cultural scene: street art, free theaters, visual arts and much more. If you’ve only visited the strip, you technically have not been in Las Vegas.
Halfway between the Las Vegas Strip and downtown Las Vegas is the 18b Las Vegas Arts District with its alleys full of street art, independent galleries, free theaters, coffee shops and a variety of boutiques and second-hand stores. The 18b Las Vegas Arts District was founded in 1998 to promote art, business, and residential growth. It spans 18 blocks between Las Vegas Boulevard and Commerce Street from west to east and between Gass Avenue and Utah Avenue from north to south, hence the “18b” in the name. As a result, warehouses and shops were converted into galleries and bars. The best known is the Las Vegas Arts Factory located on Charleston Boulevard / Main Street.
Street Art in Las Vegas: 18b Arts District - Broken Fingaz
Street art in the 18b Arts District Las Vegas
As in most cities, graffiti is illegal in Las Vegas. After the Las Vegas Arts District was founded in 1998, an artist group around the artist Iceberg Slick (@icebergslick on Instagram) contacted owners of buildings with the request that the outside surfaces of their buildings be made available to street artists to put up their murals and write graffiti. These requests received a positive response and the resulted in the Graffiti Alley as a refuge for Las Vegas street artists. Initially, there was plenty of friction with the Las Vegas Metro Police Department, which has a graffiti task force to fight gang crime. However, these were settled through discussions between artists, the city and the police. While the original Graffiti Alley still exists, street art can now be found everywhere in the 18b Arts District. Business owners today proudly display artwork created by Las Vegas artists on the exterior walls of their shops, which they commissioned and paid for.
Street Art in Las Vegas / Fremont East - Mural by Felipe Pantone
Fremont Street is one of the oldest and most important streets in "old" Las Vegas. The train station was at its western end. The city was founded here in 1905 and at that time had about 350 inhabitants. It wasn't until 1945 that Las Vegas had more than 10,000 residents for the first time. While casinos and hotels dominated between the train station and Las Vegas Boulevard, the part east of Las Vegas Boulevard (Fremont East) was dominated by shops and motels. The competition from the Las Vegas Strip, which lies outside of the city, caused them more and more economic problems, and beginning in the seventies the area was gaining a reputation as a stronghold of crime and deteriorated more with every passing year. The area only recovered at around 2010 and is now one of the city's cultural centers along with the 18b Arts District.
Despite years of progress, cultural and otherwise, cries of “Las Vegas isn’t a real city” persist. But the insular and haughty would be schooled with just a casual look at a Downtown wrapped in murals and collaged by street posters, revealing a vibrant, spontaneous—and still developing—metropolis.
Mike Prevatt / Las Vegas Weekly
The private downtown project of Zappos founder Tony Hsieh, who invested around $350 million in the area, and the Life is Beautiful Music Festival, which started in September 2013 and takes place annually since, played a major part in the recovery. Both, Hsieh and the organizers of the Life is Beautiful Festival funded the creation of murals. In addition to world-famous musicians and bands, the Life is Beautiful Festival invites street artists from all over the world to adorn Fremont East with murals. The transition from a problematic neighborhood to one of the trendiest neighborhoods in the city has succeeded and today downtown Las Vegas can no longer be imagined without the lively scene on and around Fremont East.
Map by TravelMarx
Lawyer turned photographer. Has lived in Las Vegas for almost ten years, does not gamble and loves downtown. Claus Schmidt was voted BEST STREET PHOTOGRAPHER 2019 by the Las Vegas Weekly.
Find his “Las Vegas off the Strip” photos on Instagram: @lvelectrified.
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