My name is Andrea, and I’ve been a Las Vegas local since I was five years old. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the city. It’s the place I call home, but growing up I struggled to fall in love with Vegas—especially with its arts and culture scene.

We’re talking about a town that thrives on demolishing old buildings and celebrates anything new and shiny. Growing up in the suburbs, I felt like locals didn’t matter, and there wasn’t really an authentic sense of community. Everything seemed to revolve around tourists, and even Las Vegas didn’t want to be Las Vegas. Just look at the Strip–it’s filled with hotels and casinos designed to copy Paris, Venice, Egypt and New York. I wanted to love my hometown, but all I saw was a sea of tract homes and strip malls filled with franchises.

The First Friday event in downtown Las Vegas draws crowds of up to 20,000. Photo: courtesy of Corey Fagan

In 2015, I moved to Reno to begin college. Almost instantly I found art everywhere. There were murals, painted electrical boxes, preserved architecture from the 1800s and theaters that catered to locals. This is when I began to realize how important art was in my life. It captivated me and left me wanting more. Why can’t Vegas be like this?

As student at the University of Nevada, Reno, I began writing for the arts and culture section of Reno News & Review. I was hurled deeper into the culture sphere, meeting photographers, musicians, painters and writers.

After graduation, I moved back to Las Vegas. To be honest, I didn’t expect much. I came back to save money and to figure out what I wanted to do next in my life. I was surprised to find the Las Vegas Arts District.

A sign welcomes visitors to “18b,” the 18-block-long stretch that makes up the Las Vegas Arts District. Photo: Andrea Heerdt

Over the last few years, I had heard about this First Friday event. It was described to me as a night of food trucks and local vendors. It always intrigued me, but I had never gone myself until recently.

In a city of over 2.2 million people, the Arts District is an 18-block stretch that is like nowhere else in Las Vegas. Preserved old buildings house art galleries, antique shops, coffee houses, design studios and more. I wondered, “Where was this when I was a kid?” This is what I needed then—and still need now.

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A DIY gathering gains momentum—Q+A with Corey Fagan

About 14 people attended the first First Friday in 2002. These days, attendance is more like 20,000. Corey Fagan, who has been the event’s development director for seven years now, talked with me about the details. 

Corey Hagan, Photo: Andrea Heerdt

For those who aren’t familiar with First Friday, can you describe it?

First Friday is the longest-running art and culture event in Las Vegas. We are a platform for emerging artists. It’s free to the community, and we create space for artists to come out and show their work.

How did First Friday initially begin?

The original First Friday started … off of Colorado Street by a couple of really amazing women who owned businesses down on that street. Cindy Funkhouser was the original founder.

In a city where there’s so much commercialization, especially on the Strip—you know, everything’s new and shiny, branded, and there’s so much corporate influence thrown in—why do you think an event that focuses on local art is so important? 

Well, I think that in a city that is so transient, so built on tourism, people often forget that it’s a place where local people live, go to school. We raise our children. We have a community of people. It’s an artistic town. It’s built off of theaters and showrooms and all of those kinds of things, but we have homegrown, local artists right here in Las Vegas that come here to find their dream and come here to express their art. I think it’s important to have an event that’s for the locals, number one, an event that’s free for the community, for them to come out and kind of connect with each other and connect with everything that’s going on in Las Vegas. First Friday supports local artists, but we also support local nonprofits, allowing them to come out and create awareness for what they’re doing in Las Vegas.

First Friday, Photo: Courtesy of Corey Fagan

Especially in the last few years, what kind of growth have you seen, not only with First Friday but with 18b?

We’re seeing a lot of new developers come into downtown. … 18b, which is the 18 blocks of the Arts District, has all of these new businesses that are opening up on Main Street. Business owners that have been there for a very long time are finding that now, with the growth of people moving into the area and the visibility and familiarization with events like First Friday bringing people downtown into the area, they’re seeing their businesses are evolving and their economic impact is improving. We see a lot of new housing developments down there—and apartment developments where people are coming down to live. RTC has the bike share program. … We have a lot of amazing restaurants that are opening up in downtown Las Vegas, so we’re seeing a lot of growth. The galleries in The Arts Factory and Arts Square are doing so much better. You know, half of the time when you’d come downtown, I remember years ago, it would just be almost like a ghost town, and now you’re seeing more movement of people walking and biking and gathering.

It is exciting to see it snowball because I grew up in Las Vegas, and First Friday was around, but it definitely wasn’t the size it was that it is now. 18b isn’t like any other neighborhood in Las Vegas.

It isn’t. It’s a fun find, and I think people … want to know their barber or they want to know the artist that’s showing their work. Everybody is super supportive of each other. I love that the bars downtown don’t have gaming slots in them. For me, I grew up in Las Vegas as well, and everything was slot machine, slot machine, and to find this little street that has none of those things and just has people connecting with each other and everybody knowing each other. Vegas is big, but it’s still a small town. … Local businesses are supporting each other and offering up their walls to local artists. … Everybody is looking to really support each other, so that everyone succeeds. I think that’s what builds a city and what builds a community, and I think that’s super exciting. I love seeing that downtown.

Andrea’s downtown venue picks

If you visit 18b in Las Vegas, here are some good starting points.

First Friday Las Vegas

Photo: Courtesy Corey Fagan

In case the above description didn’t convince you enough, maybe the 40 gourmet food trucks will. Local vendors sell everything from paintings to customized t-shirts to wine bottle vases. Over 20,000 people attend each month for local art, live music and local shopping.

The Arts Factory

Photo: Andrea Heerdt

This charming, old, brilliantly colorful building is a work of art itself, with dozens of galleries and studios. I highly recommend getting lost, literally and figuratively, inside the maze of rooms. You’ll usually find a painter or sketch artist creating new work during First Friday or stumble upon a live musician.

Shops on Main Street

Photo: Courtesy of Retro Vegas

Thrift shops on Main Street are a vintage lover’s paradise. Places like Retro Vegas and Patina Decor are great for mid-century furniture. If you want to drink and shop simultaneously, stop by ReBar, where everything in the bar is for sale including the glasses you drink out of. If that’s not weird enough, visit Las Vegas Oddities where you’ll find anything from polaroids of pin-up girls to old fashioned circus posters.

Las Vegas Community Healing Garden

Photo: Andrea Heerdt

To me, this is the true heart of Las Vegas. Following the Oct. 1, 2018 tragedy at the Route 91 Harvest music festival, the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden was built in just three short days. The community pulled together to plant 58 trees to honor the 58 lives lost in the tragedy. The garden is perfectly decorated with memorials and serves as a place of calm and a reminder of what the Las Vegas community is really like.

Andrea Heerdt

Posted by Andrea Heerdt

Andrea Heerdt cut her teeth as an arts and music writer while she was still a journalism student at the University of Nevada, Reno. She graduated in 2018 and moved back to her native Las Vegas, where she's getting to know the art community.

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    It’s great to see that you’ve found more to explore about #vegasculture. Have you heard I’d EatMoreArtVegas.com? We are solely dedicated to the promotion and sustainability of local Las Vegas valley artists and arts organizations with monthly calendars and articles focused on local events. We also manage the year-round volunteer patron Las Vegas Valley Theatre Awards program. The end of season awards show is July 15th! Check us out for the best one stop shop for local arts news you can use. #EatMoreArt @eatmoreartvegas

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    1. Avatar

      Thanks for the intro, Sarah! 🙂

      Reply

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