enculturating las vegas into the next millennium... art, dance, film, music, poetry, theater, history, nature and everything else that enriches the lives of those who live and visit southern nevada... Since 2003...

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Las Vegas... Ready for the world stage...

The Grand Lobby of the
Smith Center for the Performing Arts
Richard Brian Photography
I never thought that I would see the day that my home town would finally begin to take its rightful place in the league of world class cities. Yes we have seen Las Vegas gain international recognition as the Entertainment Capital of the World, a place where feathers and rhinestones dominate the landscape and all types of bacchanalian fair can be found. But a clever marketing strategy does not make a great city. What makes a great city is its people, and what makes its people great is their quality of life. Without a good and sustainable quality of life people get caught up in the depressing malaise of everyday monotony.

We have all heard that Las Vegas and Nevada in general are at the bottom of many lists or at the top of some notorious ones. We continue to struggle to get off those lists because we are constantly compared to other cities and other states. Places that learned long ago that investing in its citizens quality of life not only helps change its public perception but it is also a positive economic catalyst. A good quality of life attracts young, dynamic and creative individuals that build a community up, which ultimately leaves it in a better economic position.

Communities with the most creative individuals are the ones who have established themselves as cultural hubs. Urban activist Jane Jacob's book The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), Urban theorist Richard Florida, who wrote the book the Rise of the Creative Class (2002), Economist Edward Glaeser in his book Triumph of the City (2011) all touch upon factors of what makes cities vibrant and the economic driving engines of a society. Even though each book is a rebuttal of the other, they all hit upon important points that make the urban experience unique in history. As a student of Anthropology I learned how important  urban centers are to the history of humankind and the great innovating engines that they are. Looking back in human history we have amazing examples of such great metropolises; ancient Rome, Athens, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Constantinople, Tenochtitlan, Teotihuacan, Timbuktu, Persepolis, Angkor, Machu Picchu, Sanchi and so many more. All these great cities played important rolls in unleashing the best of human ingenuity and creativity.  To be in the league of other great metropolises we need to demonstrate also that we have a thriving community full of art, museums, parks, good schools, universities and the rest of the amenities that enrich the lives of the population.

For years Las Vegas has attempted, in vain, to rebuke the critics that declared this city a cultural wasteland. I know that all to well, considering that I have been defending my home against those arguments for a long time. Of course Las Vegas has culture, all communities have it, they have to have it. Its human nature to come together and celebrate our sense of being. Whether it is demonstrated by going to a kids baseball game, a museum, a concert, even striking up a conversation with your neighbor, these are all elements of culture. Culture is the way we express ourselves and how we interact with each other on a daily basis. Too many times we equate culture with the high arts such as symphonic concerts, the ballet, opera, but most of the time we forget that culture is the very essence of who we are within a community.

The reason why Las Vegas is considered uncultured is because over the last 30 years we have had such an influx of people moving here that the local population was displaced. The displacement was so great that our local home grown culture could not keep up with the newcomers idea of culture, a culture imported from their previous communities. Since all these people came from many parts of the country and the world, no one set of cultural ideas took root over another, thus adding to the confusion that Las Vegas had no culture of its own. In addition, local governments were so preoccupied building infrastructure that they lost focus on the wider civic engagements that were so important to the community. To add insult to injury, many of our most iconic buildings were imploded with such spectacle that the world presumed that Las Vegas did not care about its history. To further complicate matters many locals left the historic center of the city for the new suburbs leaving a few individuals, aside of historians, to tell the truth about our past.

After years of struggling and many false starts all the work that was done over the past 100 years, yes 100 years, is finally beginning to get the attention it deserves. It is definitely a long hard fight, but the constant battle to tell the world that Las Vegas is more than pretty lights on a green felt vista is finally starting to take hold. Today, we see a growing momentum that has reached a tipping point. The emphasis is not in bringing culture to Las Vegas but rather rediscovering Las Vegas' culture and sharing it with the world. A renaissance, a rinascimento, a rebirth as some would say. The community is finally saying to itself lets see what we can do to make this place even better for ourselves and our posterity.

Those that stayed and persevered, in conjunction with passionate newcomers are the ones who are leading the charge in rediscovering our past and helping create our future. As Anthropologist Margaret Mead so eloquently put, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." It is indeed a small group of committed citizens that have dedicated themselves to making the change that this community yearns for. That small group is now becoming a movement by an ever expanding segment of the population that feels the same. A jelling of ideas for a common good is taking root in Las Vegas and the change that is happening is more than remarkable.

As we look across the landscape we see change happening everywhere and people taking pride in their community. Whether it is attending a city council meeting to support or approve a measure, volunteering to help paint a community center, feed the homeless, help a veteran, build a farmers market or community garden, change is undoubtedly in the air. No place is change more evident then what is happening in Downtown Las Vegas. With more and more people rediscovering the historic center of the city, curiosity has become interest, interest has become action, and action is becoming inspiration.

No place gives us more inspiration for our future then the phoenix that has arisen from the ashes of Las Vegas' historic train-yards. It is without a doubt that the Smith Center for the Performing Artswill have the greatest cultural impact this community has ever seen. As I stated in VegasSeven, It represents the single largest investment in the cultural arts in Nevada history. Some call it the pinnacle of a cultural renaissance, but to me it has the potential to unleash a cultural and artistic revolution. The Smith Center could inspire a novel artistic movement not seen since Beethoven sparked the Romantic Era. Historically, such projects have had profound effects on the communities they are built in. Such an investment represents the maturation of a community and its desire to be a cultural capital. Few cities around the world lack such important civic gathering places and for a young city it represents the very moment it comes of age.

The beauty of the Smith Center is that it is built by the community for the community. As Myron Martin, President and CEO of the Smith Center so eloquently said, "This is our gift to the community for the next couple of hundred years..." The Smith Center democratizes entertainment for the public and makes the arts accessible to all segments of a society, especially those from less economic means. With the opening of the Smith Center you no longer have a tertiary amenity connected to a larger attraction but rather The Center itself becomes the main attraction.

In touring The Smith Center last week I was in absolute awe of what I saw and experienced. The workmanship, the architecture and the attention to detail demonstrated to me that this place was built for permanence. An interesting metaphor in a community not known for such things. Looking back at our past and now looking at our future, Las Vegas has only one place to go and that is up. Finally the community has has come together and reasserted itself and said, "wait a minute this is our home and lets make it grand."

As they say... there is no place like home...

Reynolds Hall at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts
Richard Brian Photography
Myron Martin, President and CEO of the
Smith Center for the Performing Arts
Richard Brian Photography 
The Nevada Ballet Theater dancers practice inside the Troesh Theater
The Smith Center for the Performing Arts
Richard Brian Photography

These images were brought to you in partnership with Richard Brian Photography. For more information please visit - http://www.richardbrian.com/

For more information about the Smith Center for the Performing Arts - http://www.thesmithcenter.com/

Brian Paco Alvarez enculturating Las Vegas into the millennium...

posted by Brian Paco Alvarez, Curator and Chronicler of Culture at


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