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Cultural Tourism in Las Vegas: Would it work?

According to Wikipedia:

'Cultural tourism' (or culture tourism) is the subset of tourism concerned with a country or region's culture, especially its arts. It generally focuses on traditional communities who have diverse customs, unique form of art and distinct social practices, which basically distinguishes it from other types/forms of culture. Cultural tourism includes tourism in urban areas, particularly historic or large cities and their cultural facilities such as museums and theatres

One of the things we discussed at lunch last Saturday was Cultural Tourism in Las Vegas.  In a city that has marketed itself as America's Playground for almost 60 years now is it any wonder that the majority of people who visit or just moved here have no clue that we have cultural spots like museums and art galleries.

Well, Las Vegas is filled with museums, art galleries and lots of history.  But those places almost never get advertised by the Las Vegas Convention Authority, the Nevada Tourism Office, the City or the County.  Is the LVCVA that worried that tourists might actually leave the Las Vegas Strip for a few hours to soak up some history and never come back to the black jack tables?  Must everything that promotes Las Vegas be about excessive drinking, smoking or snarky behavior that you regret the next day?

The City and the mayor, in particular, keep trying to promote Fremont Street and downtown Las Vegas as a tourist mecca.  But one of the endearing qualities of Fremont Street is the history of the area.

Why in a town of 2.4 million people, in a city that is barely 103 years old is it so difficult to find historic neighborhoods, driving tour maps or even information about walking tours?

You can go to small towns through-out this country and they all seem to promote their history.  From large cities such as New York City and Los Angeles to small communities in the Sierra Nevadas to the shores of Cape Cod, you can find historic districts with docents willing to answer questions, maps to museums, art galleries and other significant cultural sites worth visiting.

I think Cultural Tourism is a natural fit for Las Vegas.  We have museums for everything from our Natural History to Atomic Testing, the Clark County Museum has Heritage Street filled with homes and buildings moved from around the Las Vegas Valley, the Nevada State Museum covers our archaeological history to our Post-War history with new showings for artists every 90 days.  The Las Vegas Springs Preserve has walking tours, a flash flood simulation and exhibits about the importance of water not only to our past but to our future.

These are wonderful museums, many of them with state-of-the-art exhibits.

There is a Cultural Corridor and an Arts District.  And there is Fremont Street and the surrounding area with many of its original or second generation buildings still standing behind new facades. 

New York City has Broadway, Los Angeles  has the Sunset Strip and Hollywood Blvd, San Francisco has many significant streets of historic interest.  Fremont Street is our equivalent.  Yes, it's filled with girly joints and gaming casinos and tee-shirt stores but behind all those facades is real history dating back to our roots.  Behind the facade that is Binions is the Hotel Apache and, on the western corner behind the facade,  pieces of the beloved Mint Sign, beneath the facade of the La Bayou is Mayme Stoecker's Northern Club and Wilbur Clark's Monte Carlo Club.  The Pioneer Club has Vegas Vic and beneath its facade the original building when it was Beckley's Store for Men. 

There is real history on Fremont Street.  It was our Main Street, USA with a strange and wonderful twist to it.  It evolved over the years from the heart of our community to Glitter Gulch to the Fremont Street Experience of today.  But beneath the canopy and despite all the development and the disregard for the homes and the small shops and the mom and pop businesses that co-existed alongside the gaming halls, lies our history just waiting to be explored not only by us but by tourists as well. 

Not everyone that comes to Las Vegas comes to gamble and indulge in excesses they may regret in the morning.  Families come here bringing their children to visit their grandparents, friends from around the country and around the world come here to visit friends they went to school with when they were young or went to college with or have been friends with for more years than they can remember.  The bottom line is they would probably love to know that there is more to Las Vegas than just gambling, drinking and what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.  But they rarely get that chance to explore the cultural side of Las Vegas because the vast majority of people who have moved here in the last 20 years don't know there is culture in Las Vegas. 

Why is it so difficult to find this information when visiting Las Vegas?

How do we get the city we love to take Cultural Tourism seriously, especially in the downtown area where so much of the city's early history still exists (but is threatened on a daily basis by development)

If you have any ideas, please respond.  I would love to get a dialog going about cultural tourism and how to make it work.


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Reader Comments (3)

I wish I new the answer here. I was reading a story today about how Mandalay Bay is renovating its "aging" hotel rooms. This is a town where the Luxor is trying to make people forget they are inside of a pyramid. So many fits and changes to this town. I love old school Las Vegas. Hopefully things like the Neon Boneyard will be a start, as will the Mob Muesem downtown.
June 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMr. Booze
Wikipedia states as follows:

"In Greek mythology, Sisyphus (Greek:[Σίσυφος] (help·info)) (IPA: /ˈsɪsɨfəs/), was a king punished in Tartarus by being cursed to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll down again, and to repeat this throughout eternity.

Today, "Sisyphean" can be used as an adjective meaning that an activity is unending and/or repetitive. It could also be used to refer to tasks that are pointless and unrewarding."

God has a special place in his heart for historians, especially Las Vegas Lynn. Knowing where we are from, or "As We Knew It" is required for us to understand who we are and where we are going.

Historic preservation is a harsh mistress, especially in Las Vegas. The best way to create cultural tourism in Las Vegas is for people like you and me to put our shoulders to the stone and help move it up the hill. Lynn can't do it alone.

That means putting our money where our mouths are and supporting all of the good work being done.

I'm in. Y'all help too.

June 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

Well, I've had awhile to think about this and, like Michael and Mr. Booze, I agree Las Vegas is a tough place to dislodge people from their barstools or slot machines and get them out of the casinos and off the Strip. I don't know if the LVCVA or the Nevada Tourism Office deliberately overlook cultural tourism, or whether those in positions of authority and influence simply don't know there are many more aspects to Las Vegas and Nevada culture than our gaming heritage. There a lot of people out there doing their best: Lynn Zook, of course; Brian Alvarez curating all kinds of interesting exhibits and tying them into different aspects of Las Vegas/Nevada culture; the Preservation Association; Babs Daitch, offering gay history tours of Las Vegas--we could go on and on. Maybe what's needed is a separate promotion campaign by the LVCVA or the NTO; and what they might need to institute such a thing is a brand image [a wrecking ball, perhaps?] and a slogan--something like, I dunno, "Come See the Vegas You Don't Know!" Or if the LVCVA or NTO aren't willing to fund such a campaign themselves, maybe a new organization pulling together all those working independently now.

Just thoughts.

How are you feeling, Lynn?

June 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDennis McBride

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