The city’s historic West Side, minutes from downtown Las Vegas, is largely underdeveloped, littered with dilapidated homes, empty desert lots, dozens of district-conflicting churches and vacant businesses .
But the area that was once the “black Las Vegas Strip” has attracted interest from politicians who want to bring it back to its thriving black roots. A recent investment is the $3.2 million Westside Legacy Park, which opened last year in honor of 36 local black pioneers.
Legacy Park features a children’s playground, memorial plaques that tell the story of Black history, and public entertainment space. A retro-style sign was also installed last year to let visitors know they are entering a special neighborhood. City leaders now see the $250,000 mural project as a catalyst for continued inclusive revitalization on the West Side.
“The entire city needs to invest in the historic West Side, and it’s just one way we show the community that we care,” said Maggie Plaster, associate director of cultural affairs for Las Vegas.
The project, which includes four or more large-scale murals, was launched in January and is privately funded by the Las Vegas Mayor’s Office with donations from businesses and charities. Community members were asked to provide input on art by mid-March.
This isn’t the first time a city leader has commissioned a mural for a West Side community—in Doolittle’s Kianga Isoke Park, there’s an architectural community-themed Cubist mural by longtime Las Vegas artist Dray, while The butterfly mural by Courtney Haywood on Jackson Avenue symbolizes change. Plaster said the city council is aware of the need for more investment in the area, and community feedback is very important to the project.
“We first asked what kind of imagery, and the highest rated were local histories of African American communities, representation of current communities and [art that is] Celebrate community culture,” Plaster said.
Chase R. McCurdy, who coordinated the mural project, is a multidisciplinary artist with deep roots in the historic West End. At two community meetings at his West End art gallery, 33 G, people shared their opinions about the mural through surveys. McCurdy will develop the content for the mural and select a location with the City Department of Cultural Affairs.
The purpose of public art, he said, is to inspire or get people to be more involved, especially in an age driven by the ephemeral social media culture.
“[Art] Allows us to connect with other people – others like us, similar to us, in our tribe or group – and it can also give us the opportunity to be with people outside of our tribe or possibly different from us people,” McCurdy said.
The project is expected to take a year and a half to complete, including getting community feedback, finding locations, gathering input from artists and developing proposals. McCurdy and the Department of Cultural Affairs plan to submit the proposal to Las Vegas City Councilman Cedric Crear, who represents the district that includes Historic Westside, to seek final approval for the locations.
The biggest challenge, McCurdy said, will be finding the location for the mural, given its run-down and potential gentrification. The existence of the vacant lot is particularly concerning, he said, but added that he plans to use the vacant lot, which could include the construction of temporary murals.
“When we think about, like that historic West Side, that very narrow part of the neighborhood, we have so much open space and there’s not much there,” McCurdy said. “You want to know what’s likely to exist in 5 or 10 years, and you don’t want to create something that’s going to be broken unnecessarily.”
Despite efforts to redevelop Ward 5, residents continue to struggle financially with dilapidated properties and a lack of profitable reinvestment. Crear said reinvestment is taking place in the region and the biggest challenge is execution.
Crear said the mural project not only brings art into the community, it also helps to make the historic West Side a cultural hub — a place where museums, parks, entertainment and art exist.
This is the goal of the HUNDRED program, a community-generated initiative focused on revitalizing the historic West End. The plan aims to make a series of investments in the area to redevelop the area to connect it with a thriving African-American past.
“It’s all about creating a brand and creating a cultural hub for our community,” Crear said.