In Las Vegas, when people refer to “culture,” it usually involves French-Canadian acrobat savants, ersatz monuments, or dancing fountains, but change is afoot. This month, Sin City welcomed the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, a megaproject that was set into motion during headier, pre-recession days. We dispatched writer Doug McClemont to try his luck at getting an inside look at the newly opened cultural complex, and he came up trumps.
Photos: Steve Hall/HedrichBlessing
Most narratives of current state of things in Las Vegas include “overbuilt” or “downturn” in the very first sentence. Indeed, since roughly 2006 the fortunes of the legendary desert oasis have changed for the worse. Visitor spending in the destination city is on the decline, the housing market remains troubled, and MGM’s shining new star City Center, a 72-acre sprawling complex of hotels, gaming, condos, and high-end retail at the heart of the Strip, posted an operating loss of $45 million in the fourth quarter of last year. So this might seem a strange moment to be celebrating the construction of a new $470 million cultural center on the outskirts of the (still more beleaguered) downtown area. But then again Las Vegas—that ultimate paean to pastiche and panache—is not known for its introverted ways.
The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, a lavish art deco-influenced, multi-purpose complex that features music, visual art, theater, and education opened earlier this month. It dominates a 61-acre site in a former rail yard that is now called Symphony Park. “All of the budgeting was done in the old economy,” according to architect David M. Schwarz, “the Center was built in the new.” As a result, the architects were able to utilize high-end materials and avoid troublesome cost-cutting concerns when creating Las Vegas’s newest addition. A 170-foot tall bell tower with 47 imported bronze bells is just one opulent feature of the inviting collection of buildings.