Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012 | 11:30 a.m.
Map of Art Square
1025 S. First St. , Las Vegas
Downtown Las Vegas welcomed its latest enclave for the city’s burgeoning art community with Monday night’s grand opening of Art Square.
Art Square, in the heart of the Arts District, aims to bring together the creative and business communities to further the city’s redevelopment efforts downtown. Empty warehouses and a forgotten machine shop were transformed into 25,000 square feet of brightly lit art galleries, commercial spaces and a lush outdoor garden.
The idea behind Art Square was born about a year ago after local entrepreneur, designer and developer Brett Wesley Sperry took over the abandoned warehouses next to his popular bar and lounge, Artifice. Sperry’s thought was to convert the city block –1025 S. First St. – into a thriving community for artistic-minded people.
“I want to see our creative class have the ability to keep creating,” Sperry said, referencing urban theorist Richard Florida’s notion of the “creative class,” which he argues is vital for a city’s revitalization. “We’re now in the coming-of-age in Las Vegas. Art Square feeds off of this cultural resurgence and downtown’s renaissance.”
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman was on hand to herald Monday’s grand opening of Art Square. To kick off the ceremonies, she cut ribbons and even created artwork of her own, shooting squirt guns filled with colorful paint at a blank canvas.
“This is so very, very exciting for our city,” Goodman said. “We’re so proud of the artists and musicians and all the creative energy that’s here. This is a great community. This is Las Vegas.”
Goodman also toured the renovated buildings, meeting artists and small-business owners who are changing the landscape of downtown, carrying on the vision of her husband and former Mayor Oscar Goodman.
As part of his efforts to revitalize Downtown, Oscar Goodman created a special tax district, launched a beautification program and waived tavern taxes to attract new businesses downtown. Sperry – who owns a local design company – was among the downtown pioneers to capitalize on the city’s redevelopment programs, building the Arts District’s first freestanding gallery and the Artifice bar and lounge.
Sperry credited the city’s Visual Improvement Program in helping him launch his third and latest project, Art Square. The program reimburses 50 cents of every dollar spent by local businesses on external improvements, up to $50,000.
While the program helped, the transformation of abandoned warehouses into a promising new artist community wasn’t cheap. Sperry and his investment group spent about $700,000 to repurpose the space using environmentally friendly materials and a modern design aesthetic designed to save energy and costs.
Art Square uses lots of natural materials, such as wood and stone, as well as skylights to let in ambient light. Outdoor windows are located solely on the north- and east-facing walls to lower energy costs by minimizing the amount of direct sunlight entering the buildings.
Instead of tearing down the unused warehouses and erecting new buildings, Sperry said he wanted to keep intact downtown’s urban concrete jungle feel. The longtime Las Vegan has a passion for downtown.
“People say, ‘This is cool. This is starting to feel like Seattle or New York,” Sperry said, referencing up-and-coming, hip neighborhoods such as Williamsburg in Brooklyn. “But I tell them, ‘No, this is the next wave of Las Vegas.’ I wanted to accentuate that.”
The 16 tenants in Art Square range from budding artists and craftspeople to established filmmakers, thespians and even a hair salon. The idea was to bring a wide mix of creative people who will populate Art Square on a daily basis.
Art Square’s first tenant, HypeFactor Films, has studios downtown, but owner Adan Van Dam decided to open a showroom in Art Square to showcase his films. He plans to stage film screenings in his space.
The Cockroach Theatre troupe moved their west Las Vegas operation to Art Square. The group is opening its first production in its space Friday.
And of course, the adjacent Artifice – which anchors Art Square – likely will bring foot traffic into the art galleries and shops.
That should be a boon to Marlene Reid, a senior partner of Vexed by Design, a new consignment shop in Art Square that sells artwork made by more than 50 local artisans.
“You can’t sustain a business on First Friday sales alone,” she said, referring to the monthly arts festival downtown. “That’s why we have regular retail hours. We’re trying to be our own kind of community here.”
The increased number of passersby who may visit Art Square more than once a month will likely help boost the careers of fledgling artists. For a young painter like Eric Burwell, Art Square represents a space where they can showcase their work to a wider audience and build their brand.
“It’s a great feeling to have my own space after painting in my garage for so many years,” Burwell, an UNLV graduate, said. “Art Square will help elevate me to the next level.”