With its growing roster of galleries and culturally inclined businesses and agencies, New Orleans Square is emerging as the valley’s newest cultural center
This city is not known for its kindness toward aging structures, and New Orleans Square is no exception. Comprising four buildings on the Karen Avenue side of the sprawling Commercial Center complex, it predates its Disneyland name twin, having opened in 1963. During the most recent recession, the square earned an unsavory reputation that continues to plague possible patrons, notwithstanding the property owners’ valiant endeavors to update both the tenant assortment and the structure’s visual appeal.
But if there ever was a historic Vegas space deserving of another chance, New Orleans Square is it. And it’s getting that chance, as a steady accumulation of cultural and community-oriented tenants has the potential to give the valley another arts zone to complement the Arts District.
“Why does it have to be in one area?” asks gallerist Nancy Good, whose CORE Contemporary Gallery serves as an anchor of sorts in this eclectic hub. “It doesn’t make sense for the long-term cultural health of the community. …There’s room enough for everyone.” Her efforts to provide gender and cultural representation in a gallery setting have resulted in a dynamic exhibition space the likes of which have been missing since the departure of Marty Walsh and Trifecta Gallery from the Arts Factory.
She describes New Orleans Square as a multidisciplinary family, a phrase that characterizes to a T not only the square but one new tenant in particular, Hiptazmic Studio. Run by husband and wife team Christine and Matt Esposito, Hiptazmic Studio is a “steampunk explosion (featuring) one-of-a-kind jewelry” fueled by Christine’s creative energy. Asked why they moved to the square, Christine says, “It felt like when you’re let into Disneyland early in the morning, and the stuff hasn’t happened yet, but you feel it, you feel that the stuff is going to happen. … It wasn’t just the people, it was the building itself.” Matt adds, “We both said the same thing at the same time, it’s like it wants to be something.”
This duo was instrumental in the creation of F², an event featuring vendors, art, crafts, and food, all taking place on the first Friday of every month. If this sounds familiar that’s because they got their start more than a decade ago in a tent outside the Arts Factory, eventually opening a store inside and taking over the First Friday vendor selection.
Lisa Dittrich is another Arts Factory transplant. Her space, Random Alchemy Gallery, is not only home to Dittrich’s special brand of Gothic Southwestern art, but also to upcoming group shows with titles such as Twisted Toy Land. Both she and Hiptazmic Studio view the happenings at the square as organic growth stemming from the attitude and monetary issues that haunt the Downtown arts scene. “(New Orleans Square is) more like a village, rather than a pissing contest, if that makes sense,” Dittrich says. “And actually, the arts movement in Las Vegas, it wasn’t going to stay pigeonholed in one spot.” Still, she says, echoing the Espositos, the square isn’t competing with 18b. They just hope to increase the footprint of the scene and continue to build a community.
That’s something that Happy Earth Market, an arts and education incubator that opened in September 2017, is especially adept at doing. Its Third Saturday event acts as a bazaar where vendors who participate in the collective’s Earth-friendly code of ethics can share their wares while music and art surround attendees. Their own offerings vary wildly from granting creative space to providing counsel in launching small businesses.
Elsewhere in the square, you’ll find spaces housing cultural operations as disparate as a violin store, a recording studio, the Las Vegas Youth Orchestra, Photo Bang Bang, the Sci Fi Center, the Las Vegas Artists Guild, and the Sankofa Cultural Center, devoted to African American heritage.
Further underlining the square’s emergence as a cultural center, property owner Ron McMenemy and director of operations Chelsey Kelly, along with Good, are planning Mural Mecca, October 11-13; four local artists, chosen in a juried competition style, will decorate four walls in a festival atmosphere. Proceeds will benefit a variety of local organizations.
“We love our creative spaces, different people, different vibes, different backgrounds,” Kelly says. “We love this family that we created … you have to feel it, you feel the vibe when you’re here and it’s amazing.”