We’ve reported on our concerns when it comes to Downtown. Now, it’s the neighborhood’s movers and shakers’ turn. In our new guest column series, Talking Downtown, bar owners, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders vent their frustrations, champion successes and muse on improvements. Check back every Thursday for a new column.
Fifteen years ago, I declared “Las Vegas has no culture!” After graduating high school, I became immersed in the local café scene. It was a world of coffee and cigarettes, poetry and strange new people, and I couldn’t get enough. This experience was short-lived. The cafés started to close despite their close proximity to UNLV and chain stores quickly filled the gap. People grumbled, moved away, and became resolute in getting the same corporate coffee shop experience on every corner. We felt let down by the city we loved.
When I’d travel, I would find a city alive and speaking to me, like San Francisco, with its underground publications (hidden clandestinely in the napkin holders at a ma and pa restaurant), public art and a thriving music scene. I would return from my travels reinvigorated with purpose for a few months, only to be discouraged by a lack of enthusiasm and with no good plan for change. I was bitter, tired and cynical, as was everyone else I knew. It works in San Francisco, why doesn’t it work in my town? “No culture!” seemed the only answer. It has taken me a long time to find an alternate explanation to the question I asked myself for so many years, but I finally found one.
The answer is that Las Vegas is a young city. We have challenges that are all our own and there are no cut-and-paste answers to the problems that we face. The Downtown area has become a cultural corridor for the city; a central place to congregate; a welcome alternative to suburban solitude. As Las Vegans, we are carving out an identity for ourselves; an adolescent misfit of a city, looking for who we are underneath the neon and glitter. When we want to raise well-rounded children we have to spend time and energy on them. In terms of culture, Las Vegas is that child. We have to keep working at the things we want and supporting the things we have. We also have to understand that we are different from places like San Francisco and embrace the differences. It is exciting and full of risk—a gamble! The place where you get to make the culture you always wanted become a reality! We have our cafes, art, history, poetry, music, theatre and so much more, all because of the work of generations past. With each decade, our identity gets stronger, growing slowly like cactus under the sweltering sun.
Las Vegas has culture, and if you think that it doesn’t, you’ve identified a problem for which you are the only solution.
“We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of the dream.” – Arthur O’Shaughnessy
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