We know what you’re thinking. Do the words “Las Vegas,” “arts” and “culture” really belong together? Aside from slot machines, pool parties and showgirls, what could Sin City have to offer in terms of culture?
The truth is that Las Vegas has a burgeoning arts scene that’s uniquely its own. After you’ve had your fill of casinos, be sure to explore the following places to experience the other side of Las Vegas culture.
The Las Vegas Arts District
No art-loving Vegas visitor should leave the city without traversing the Arts District. Also known as 18b because it spans 18 blocks in Downtown Las Vegas, this neighborhood is home to an array of independent galleries, antique shops and vintage clothing boutiques. The district is anchored by the Arts Factory, an old warehouse that has been converted into a commercial art center. Directly next door is Art Square, which features more galleries, a bistro and community theater space.
Preview Thursday and First Friday
While any weekend is a great time to explore 18b, the district really comes alive on the first Friday of every month. This is when the Arts District hosts its monthly block party, fittingly titled First Friday. As many as 30,000 visitors will cram the neighborhood during this festival as gallery owners and outdoor vendors display their works. The event has become so popular that organizers also started Preview Thursday, a more subdued art walk held the preceding night.
The Smith Center for the Performing Arts
If you’re looking to see a Vegas show that doesn’t involve strippers, magicians or acrobats, head to the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Designed in a Neo Art Deco style, this center actually consists of three theaters in two buildings. The 2,050-seat Reynolds Hall hosts the Las Vegas Philharmonic as well as traveling Broadway productions. For more intimate shows, visit the center’s Cabaret Jazz Theater or Troesh Studio Theater.
The Neon Museum
According to the staff at the Neon Museum, Las Vegas’ most iconic art form is the neon sign. Since 1996, this independent non-profit has sought to preserve old signs and artifacts from Vegas casinos, motels, restaurants and other businesses. Visitors who are interested in viewing remnants of Sin City’s yesteryear can book a tour at the museum’s Neon Boneyard!
Fremont East Entertainment District
Most Las Vegas visitors consider Fremont Street to be “Old Vegas” or the “Original Strip.” However, the area just east of the Fremont casinos actually combines vintage charm with modern development. Perhaps the best example of this is Fremont East’s Emergency Arts. This building was formerly the site of the city’s first medical complex. Local artists have since converted it into a hip hangout with a unique gallery space. About a block down the road, one will find Inspire, a multi-level complex with an intimate yet state-of-the-art theater.
The National Atomic Testing Museum
Back in the 1950s, before Las Vegas became a mecca for tourists looking to blow money, Southern Nevada was a popular site for nuclear testing. Naturally, the city has since turned this potential blemish into a positive by creating the National Atomic Testing Museum. Using the story of the Nevada Test Site as a starting point, this museum covers the history of U.S. nuclear testing up to the present.
As a city known for its outrageous party atmosphere, it’s easy to overlook the art and culture of Las Vegas. We’ve only mentioned a few places that exhibit the other side of Sin City. What must-see cultural spots do you think we’ve missed?