Eat More Art, Vegas


Photos of Las Vegas Art centers. From left: Area 15, Market in the Alley, the Smith Center.

Hana Helfand, Isabel Hillers, Editor-in-Chief, News Editor

I started selling jewelry in Downtown Las Vegas in December 2020, and I befriended a Cirque du Soleil performer who, of all things, sold soap.

“Did you want to get out of performing?” I immediately asked when she told me. I did not initially understand what would bring an esteemed performer to a small market to sell soap.

“No, not at all,” she replied. “I am hoping for a call back one day.” 

This performer, Dariah, was one of the thousands of Las Vegas artists laid off after COVID-19 put a hold on the use of performance venues.

“One day,” I said. 

In a town where live entertainment is always at the disposal of people, it is much easier to disregard new art exhibits, theater shows, and music performances when they show up. I know I took all of these things for granted. Dariah made me realize just how badly these shows need attendance and that artists need support for the sake of their livelihoods. 

COVID put several nationally and locally renowned events on hold in 2020, including Life is Beautiful, EDC, Burning Man, and Art in the Park. If you looked up Las Vegas in 2019, you probably found several articles proclaiming that this is the best art city in America. But in a mid-COVID world, 2020 articles were all about the struggling industry. In 2021 it seems the local art industry in Las Vegas is trying to return to a greater state of normalcy. Companies like Meow Wolf and Soho Playhouse are debuting new theaters and exhibits to help the cause. However, leaders of these art installations express concern about their ability to succeed without local attendance. Everything they do comes at a cost, and it’s one only local patrons can subsidize right now. To allow Las Vegas artists to flourish and continue providing live entertainment and art, local citizens must offer their support by purchasing these experiences and products. 

Before 2020, the leisure and hospitality industry in Las Vegas generated $19 billion annually. COVID cut this figure almost in half when it swept the nation. The leisure and hospitality industry also employed 25 percent of Las Vegas workers: 16 percent of which are currently unemployed. This number includes artists and performers, many of whom are also trying alternative income streams, according to Dariah. 

Some people are still holding out on completing nonessential activities to protect themselves from the virus. They have also found that many tourists coming to Vegas are not abiding by the state’s mask mandates. Despite this, I have not found a local art venue that is not strictly enforcing social distancing, sanitization, and mask rules so far. For example, shoppers at Market in the Alley must take their temperature before they walk into the outdoor courtyard where the vendors sell. Employees make sure to remind everyone they need to wear a mask as they offer hand sanitizer to customers. Area 15 is following the same guidelines and controls crowds by making sure every customer reserves tickets in advance. If staying home is what makes you the most comfortable, though, dozens of spaces offer virtual content that viewers can support from home. Some of it is even free. 

The stress of selling an artistic item is one I can attest to; the only thing I can do is hope people will show up and like my products. On rare occasions, a customer will ask me where I am from and where I buy my materials. A sale always follows when I assure them that I live in Las Vegas and buy everything from local suppliers. This is the kind of community the city needs more of now. Las Vegas is a city driven by live entertainment, and if we allow these businesses to stop operating now there may not be enough experiences to cover tourists coming for our entertainment when travel rates return to normal. 

Public art also adds value to the community and contributes to personal identities. According to the Public Art Network Council, public art helps curb widespread feelings of loneliness, promotes advocacy, and inspires collaboration. In a world where most people primarily complete meetings, shopping, and entertainment at home, many are now craving social interaction. That makes areas like art exhibits even more valuable since friends can enjoy them in a safe environment. 

In a time of isolation, uncertainty, and economic decline for Las Vegas, we locals must remember our community values, show up for each other, and be a pillar on which the entertainment industry stands. I love Dariah’s soaps, but she belongs on stage.