100 Artists—and a Robot—Make Magic at the Art Motel

While much of the art at Life Is Beautiful will stay up long after festivalgoers drag themselves to their far-flung homes, one impressive collection will not.

The Art Motel—the former Town Lodge Motel at 225 N. Seventh St.—is coming to life once again, but only until Monday.

Last year, Irish street artist Maser wrapped the entire courtyard in 50 gallons of vibrant paint. This year, scores of artists—more than 100, according to project curator John Doffing—have completely taken over.


“A few weeks ago, this was an abandoned motel. Today we’re making magic,” Doffing, a local art guru and founder of Walls360, said during a preview event Wednesday night.

Gone are Maser’s bold, interweaving lines. In are art collective Mystic Midway’s carnival-themed life-size courtyard board game; San Franscisco graffiti artist Apex’s colorful fanned, peacock-like pattern on the 7th Street facade; paintings from local collective ISI Group and immersive installations in each of the motel’s 15, 10-foot by 10-foot rooms.

Santa Fe arts crew and production company Meow Wolf brought a dozen artists to create interactive installations in four rooms. Each has a different theme, such as the neon room, which also features two free-play arcade machines with recreated cases (a quick cheat: back-back-low punch to rip out your opponent’s heart with Kano in Mortal Kombat), a rococo room and a room with a laser harp that allows you to strum and pluck light beams. It’s a tiny sampling of a giant installation Meow Wolf is currently constructing in Santa Fe, and it may very well be the first of many Las Vegas exhibits for the collective.

“We’ve been totally spiritually aligned with the festival, with the Downtown Ventures project, with just the overall aesthetic of Downtown,” Vince Kadlubek, CEO, of Meow Wolf, said. “This is like being very much at home here.”

Daniel Smith, a young athlete-turned-artist from South Bend, IN, is making his public debut at the motel. A wide receiver at Notre Dame, he broke his leg during his senior year in 2014. Devoting his energy elsewhere, he focused on his second passion of art. His two installations have turned heads for his use of abstract geometric patterns.One features 3-D patterns with reflective pieces that spell “Life Is Beautiful” in a shattered cursive that’s easy to miss if you don’t view it from the correct angle. The other features 3-D cut-outs of iconic rap artists from both coasts and from the new and old school sitting atop the Golden Gate and Brooklyn Bridges. “I’m trying to create unity between everyone through a hip-hop theme,” Smith said.


Though there are several visiting artists, much of the work at the Art Motel is being created by Las Vegas locals.

Downtown denizen Ryan Brunty’s signature Yerman makes an appearance the the motel. Justin Lepper’s wrecked submarine crashes into the courtyard, with a room that features real World War II submarine parts and a collection of toys armed with paint brushes. Izaac Zevalking a.k.a. Recycled Propaganda has a room that features a wheatpasted catalog of his political and social works, along with surveillance cameras and a wall of TVs. “It’s a commentary on today’s mass media and very self-gratifying society, about how we’re overloaded with stimulus all the time but completely desensitized and almost lost within the TV ourselves,” Zevalking said.

Part of the magic of the motel is how it’s connecting different communities.

Among the artists is UNLV’s Metal Rebel, a robot that is painting a dot matrix mural on the second level of the motel, bridging the worlds of art and science.


“He’s doing it like Monet, one dot at a time. We’re developing an image that’s recognizable but if you get close enough, it kind of breaks down, just in the same way of when you look at a program and zoom into the individual lines of code, they’re completely useless,” Santiago Ricoy, a UNLV student on the robotics team, said. “It’s kind of a representation of himself, which is a very human thing to do.”

Members from the local chapter of Best Buddies, an international nonprofit that creates friendships for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, created an installation and collaborated with artist Casey O’Connell for a mural. The mural was unveiled at a preview Wednesday evening that even featured a visit from Best Buddies supporter Wayne Newton.

“We wanted to highlight and thank the community that’s making Downtown a much more inclusive, diverse place,” Jason Smith, the state director for Best Buddies, said. “Everything that Best Buddies is about is that full integration and everybody that’s a part of this project is a living breathing example of bringing that out to the world.”

Photos by William J. Swaney

Vegas Seven