If you lived in Las Vegas in the 1990s and were into arts and culture, Maryland Parkway was the place to be — a Slacker-worthy realm of cafés, record stores, poetry readings, and clove smoke. Filmmaker Pj Perez recently released Parkway of Broken Dreams (parkwayofbrokendreams.com), his documentary about that fabled time and place. We hit him with three questions.
Do you have a favorite memory from the Maryland Parkway scene?
The weird thing about that time and that place is that while it was happening, it felt like something special was happening, and it was very organic. That’s what that whole scene feels like in retrospect. It feels like we were all at this really amazing grungy poetry indie rock wedding that everyone knows was really awesome, but you can’t really pinpoint the things, because there was so much happening, and we were also all probably doing a lot of drugs. It feels sort of like it was a dream, but I think part of the reason why I also wanted to do the film was, well no, it happened. Here’s the very concrete evidence that it happened, and it wasn’t just a dream.
What does the short-lived Maryland Parkway scene say about the ability of Las Vegas to sustain cultural and artistic communities?
There’s always an impermanence about everything in Vegas. Especially people who’ve lived in Vegas for a long time, or did live in Vegas for a long time, know that feeling of, oh, this building could get torn down at any time, this cultural institution could go away. Everything cool that ever happens always goes away very quickly. I don’t know if that’s the case anymore. I feel like the circumstances today are very different than they were even 10, 15 years ago, to be able to support long-term this sort of thing. What would happen back then is — and this happened all the way up until maybe the 2010s — everyone would go to one area, and then as soon as you had something else more interesting in another area, everyone would just abandon the (initial) area. And that’s basically what happened with Maryland Parkway. I think that that’s changed somewhat, but back then I think the impermanence was inevitable. You just took advantage of everything you could for as long as you could.
What lessons does this offer in terms of how cities in general can be more supportive of culture?
I think you need to have some sort of “official” cultivation or sponsorship of the arts or independent businesses or whatever it is, in order to layer over and also provide support under those things that may be very popular with patrons and participants, but might not be financially sound enough for those who are endeavoring to actually survive. That’s probably part of why certain initiatives have worked Downtown, where they wouldn’t work elsewhere, because you either had an outside incubator like the Downtown Project, which could finance projects, or you had the city of Las Vegas doing things like offering grants for building refurbishment or for signage improvement. They were doing these things to the layout of the streets to help improve the curb appeal of certain businesses. You need to have that sort of support so that you can actually have those cultural institutions that otherwise tend to just flounder.