Engaging with Las Vegas

Author: 
Rachel Hopkin

One of our goals here at Nevada Humanities is to help enable Nevadans – whether newly transplanted or native born - to forge a greater sense of engagement with the state in which they live.  This is a topic dear to my heart as I recently calculated that in my adult life, I’ve moved to a new place once every two years or so.  I’m now at a point where I’m ready to settle down for a sustained period, and reaching this point coincided with my move to Las Vegas in the fall of 2012. 

I relocated here specifically to take up my position within Nevada Humanities.  My only previous acquaintance with the city had been the brief trip I’d made a few months earlier to interview with my future employers, and whilst I had been totally sold on the job, the fact that it was based in Las Vegas was not of itself a draw.  In fact, nothing I knew of the city appealed to me.

I imagined a place where it was always night and where all life took place within a casino. I supposed it to be a city without art, without culture, without community and with scant regard for its own history beyond mobsters and casino moguls. I therefore arrived expecting to love the job and to tolerate Vegas for the sake of it.

So how delicious to find that I’ve become besotted by this fascinating and enigmatic place. For a start, I find it physically compelling - what with its bright sun-filled days, its gorgeous night lightscapes, its pockets of quintessentially American midcentury modern neighborhoods, and the desert mountains all around. 

Then to find that a cultural desert, it is not – what with the Smith Center, the offerings of UNLV’s Performing Arts Center, and vital local venues such as the Winchester Cultural Center to name but a few. (I should also toot the horn here for the excellent Vegas Valley Book Festival, of which Nevada Humanities was a founding partner.) 

And what about community?  Prior to my move here, I’d read that Vegas was America’s most transient city, but what I’ve found is a place chock-full of people intent on creating and nurturing community.  This is particularly evident in the movement to revitalize the Downtown, spearheaded by Zappos' CEO Tony Hsieh, which is generating a palpable energy in that area.  So even after only a few months here, when I go into – say - the Beat coffee house - I regularly bump into people I know.

My mother emailed me a month or so back asking whether it was possible to avoid the Strip.  I wrote back that would be easy, but why would I want to?  The Strip is unique and whilst I wouldn’t want to spend all my time there, it has shows I want to see, restaurants with food I want to try, and shops I’d like to spend money in (even if I can’t afford to), and it comes all wrapped up in swathes of fantasy and glamor.  Take the Bellagio with its beautiful Dale Chihuly-glasswork decorated foyer and mini botanical garden.  Visiting there before Christmas, I got to watch workers creating polar bears out of flowers.  Where else would I see that of a weekday morning?  

All this and I’ve not even mentioned the revelation of having Red Rock, Mount Charleston, Valley of Fire and so on, all within easy driving distance.

So now when I tell people where I live, I feel proud to be in such a singular place. Mind you, I’ve yet to experience a Vegas summer, which I gather is a brutal experience.  So maybe check back with me in the fall to see if I still feel this fondly about my new home.

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