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The Believer Festival In The Heart Of The Desert

The Believer Festival returns to Las Vegas Friday and Saturday for its second year.

Writing, music, visual arts, comedy – it’s described by the festival organizers as a “creative oasis” in the “heart of the desert.”

“We are trying to create something together that is much bigger than anyone of us and really create a community that we welcome this community in Southern Nevada to join in,” said Executive Director of the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute at UNLV Josh Shenk.

Shenk is also the editor-in-chief at Believer magazine. While it is a literary magazine and the festival's core is also literature, organizers want it to have more of an "omnivorous" feel, Shenk said.

Artistically, the presenters are a mix of Nevada-based creative types and people brought in from places far and wide.

“We’re really trying to create this mix both by joining audiences and performers and also through the diversity of the performers genre, background and also getting this mix right of the Las Vegas community, which is super vital and doing really meaningful important work and visitors from afar,” Shenk said.

There are events daily, including a variety show on Saturday night, which will be a true variety show in the old-fashioned sense.

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The festival will also have visual artists and their art installations, including one from the son of BMI's writer-in-residence Hossien Abkenar. Nima Abkenar has created a work using water and a painting on the ceiling in Shenk's home.

“For the past year, I’ve been dealing with water as my main medium,” Nima Abkenar said.

The Artist at Work: Nima Abkenar’s art installation “1200” in-progress/Photo: Joshua Wolf Shenk

He said he likes to work with mediums that are both basic and fundamental but aren't thought of very much.

Shenk said the piece is different for everyone who sees it because the reflection of the painting on the water changes.

“The idea of the limitation of people not being able to see a tangible piece or approaching the piece or entering the piece is part of my focus,” Nima Abkenar said.

The Artist at Work: Nima Abkenar’s art installation “1200” in-progress/Photo: Joshua Wolf Shenk

Shenk said invited guests of the festival will see the piece, but those who want to visit the house and see the work must make an appointment by emailing him.

Nima Abkenar's father Hossien Abkenar was settled in Las Vegas through the BMI's City of Asylum program after his book "Scorpion" was banned in Iran. 

He felt he could no longer work in Iran. The program brings writers to Las Vegas to work and live if they feel they are threatened and unable to work.

Hossien Abkenar is currently working on a new book called "Darkness," which features interlocking stories and characters that are in total darkness.


Josh Shenk, Executive Director, UNLV's Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute and Editor-in-Chief of The Believer magazine; Hossein Abkenar, writer and writing fellow at The Black Mountain Institute; Nima Abkenar, artist

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