The Year of Subtle Awakenings

Potential energy: Linq was one of several projects that gathered steam in 2013.

Potential energy: Linq was one of several projects that gathered steam in 2013.

In 2013, Las Vegas continued its steady post-recession rise—and regained some of its optimistic swagger. We asked luminaries in diverse fields to tell us what this year meant to their corner of our culture.

A Connected Guy

For almost 40 years, Teller and I have stayed around after all our live shows for anyone in the audience who wanted to meet us, chat or just take a picture together. I met a lot of my best friends, and even my wife of 10 years, after Penn & Teller shows. But it wasn’t until this last year that technology really delivered on the promise to bring people who knew us only electronically into our personal lives. Doing a weekly podcast with Skype, having a bunch of people trading personal messages with me on my Twitter account and crowd-funding my movie, Director’s Cut, got me into intimate electronic conversations with people all over the world. I find the breakdown of the walls around celebrity to be wonderful. I’ve been waiting for this high-tech/high-touch for a while, and this year really delivered it to me. Here in the future, I make shows and I make friends. – Penn Jillette

McCarran’s New Trajectory

At McCarran International Airport, this was a year of transformation in focus and efforts: After decades of construction and expansion, our priorities have switched to customer service and community outreach. We expanded our international growth opportunities by co-hosting the first World Routes Conference in the United States, joining with our tourism partners to host top executives from the world’s largest airlines, and introduced them to the Las Vegas community as well as the destination. – Rosemary Vassiliadis, director, Clark County Department of Aviation

A-Beast, the Cannon and a Dream Job

It was a year of major change in the leadership at UNLV, as I was brought in to serve as athletic director at my alma mater in the summer—and a few months later the university president announced his departure. After the summer saw the Runnin’ Rebels make a national splash with Anthony Bennett becoming the top overall pick in the NBA Draft, the fall brought Las Vegas a special football season turned in by coach Bobby Hauck’s team. The Rebels’ winning record included bringing home the Fremont Cannon from our rivals in Reno for the first time since 2004 and heading to a bowl game for the first time in 13 years. I’ve always said that overseeing UNLV athletics was my dream job, so it has been a year to remember for me—and I hope to make a difference instilling the same passion I have for the Rebels into everyone here and everything we do. – Tina Kunzer-Murphy, UNLV Athletic Director

She Put the “Sin” in Sinclair—and the “Claire,” Too!

This was an incredible year for me. Pin Up opened this year! I’m honored to be starring in this rad production. In 2013 I left my hometown of L.A. for the first time in my life. I fell in love with Vegas over this past year, and now consider this my new home. My corner of the city is the north end of the Strip. The Stratosphere has all the quality of the Strip and all the charm of Downtown Las Vegas. I’ll continue to star in Pin Up, and I’m looking forward to another awesome year in 2014. – Claire Sinclair, star of Pin Up at the Stratosphere

More Sin—Gone Global!

Downtown’s dynamism has allowed Sin City Gallery to expand its curatorial and project management services to the Strip and beyond. The 12 Inches of Sin international juried art exhibition has grown, and now 18 countries participate and exhibit here. I’m also helping artists market their portfolios and missions more effectively, so they can enhance culture in our community—and in the world. Las Vegas is poised to be a major West Coast player both artistically and culturally. Laura Henkel, Ph.D., Gallerist, Sin City Gallery and founder of ArtCulturePR

In Politics, a Season of Missed Opportunities

This was the year of great hopes dashed, of big promises broken in Nevada politics. Insert joke here about this being every year in Nevada politics. The 2013 Legislature began with Democratic leaders promising to, for the first time, not just talk about fixing the tax structure. That was on Day One. By Day 120, they had proposed nothing, leaving those first-day pledges as hollow echoes. Retribution at the polls come next year? Doubtful. Amnesiac voters are a legislator’s best friend. – Jon Ralston, political analyst,

Local Architects, Global Impact

After the challenges of the Great Recession, the architecture community strengthened its foundations this year. New visions for Downtown have begun to take shape, and rumblings of new projects are being heard in all corners of the Valley. Another exciting development: Las Vegas’ architecture sector is now truly global; local firms are designing buildings from China to the Middle East and even Australia. – Eric Roberts, president, American Institute of Architects Las Vegas chapter; vice president, SH Architecture

A Knockout Year

This year meant huge growth for the UFC around the world. Vegas in our hometown and everything we do—from The Ultimate Fighter, to International Fight Week to the big events at Mandalay Bay and MGM—is designed to help bring jobs, tourists and more business to the city we love. 2013 exceeded our expectations and we are pumped about what 2014 brings to UFC and Las Vegas!
Dana White, president, Ultimate Fighting Championship

For the Resort Business, a Year of Anticipation

Some major new developments were announced this year (Resorts World Las Vegas), and other long-awaited ones opened (Downtown Grand). But 2013 was defined by projects pushing their way toward completion. Caesars Entertainment’s Linq boasts a now-fully-podded High Roller observation wheel, and the former Bill’s is on its way to a new identity. SLS Las Vegas, meanwhile, is moving forward with breakneck speed over the skeleton of the Sahara. Along with THEhotel’s transformation into the Delano, it looks like 2013 will be remembered as the year of big transitions. – David G. Schwartz, Vegas Seven columnist and director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Studies

A Revival in Henderson

In 2013 we witnessed a resurgence in development throughout Henderson. We celebrated the groundbreaking of a huge facility for FedEx and made real progress with the construction of the Cadence and Inspirada developments. The announcement of Barclays moving their Barclaycard operations to Henderson was a great success, and the Green Grass Project at Lake Las Vegas will bring new life to two golf courses there and help restore the visual beauty of that resort area. – Jacob Snow, Henderson city manager

Sports Betting Goes Mainstream

This was the year when sports betting became even more a part of the nation’s everyday conversation. Point spreads—not long ago taboo for the national media—were routinely discussed on every major sports outlet. The fact that I have a weekly segment on Colin Cowherd’s syndicated ESPN radio program, appear regularly on eight other national radio shows and pen a weekly column for’s sister site,, just goes to show how unquenchable the public’s thirst for sports betting has become—and how the mainstream media can no longer ignore it. But the moment I’ll remember as the tipping point was when NBC sportscaster Al Michaels (always one to make veiled references to the betting line) mentioned a point-spread trend out in the open during a Sunday night NFL game. – RJ Bell, sports-betting analyst and founder of

Building for a New Age

We’ve been living the world of Charles Dickens: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was an age of wisdom, it was an age of foolishness. Hopefully, the Great Recession is behind us! Through it we’ve learned to plan, design, construct and live in closer harmony with nature. Climate change is here, and it’s only beginning. But thanks to the Great Recession, we know how to respond to the turmoil ahead. – Robert A. Fielden, principal, RAFI Architecture

Onstage, Experience Keeps on Singing

My corner of Las Vegas in 2013 taught me that just because I am getting older it’s not time to leave the game. At 51, I cannot explain the joy of being able to continue to work as a singer, even as the music scene is constantly being re-defined by the younger artists. I learned the importance of sticking to what you believe in. It’s about passion, a desire to grow, and being incredibly blessed. I don’t know how long this ride will continue, but 2013 taught me to hold on with both hands. – Bruce Ewing, The Phat Pack

Strength in Service

Social service needs in Clark County did not decrease in 2013. We are still seeing a large number of the working poor. New HELP of Southern Nevada programs such as the Framing Hope Warehouse—which provides home and building supplies to organizations that assist veterans’ programs and other nonprofits—offer access to vital resources not previously available. This year we assisted more than 600 youths with job training and education advancement through our Workforce Investment Act Youth Program. We have secured some funds to begin the development and design for our new Shannon West Homeless Youth Center, which would provide residential services for 110 youths. Additional funds are needed to ensure complete construction of the new building. – Terrie D’Antonio, CEO and president, HELP of Southern Nevada

Planning Smart

In Year 2 of our collaborative regional planning effort, Southern Nevada Strong, we gathered input from local communities, residents, businesses and political leaders and drafted a vision supporting increased housing choices, transportation options and employment opportunities. In 2014, we plan to test these strategies at demonstration sites around the Valley. The areas were selected for their ability to showcase the benefits of planning recommendations and policies on a manageable neighborhood scale. Debra March, Henderson City Councilwoman and committee chair, Southern Nevada Strong Consortium 

In the Arts, a Beautiful Life

I’m optimistic as the new year approaches. My husband, artist Matthew Couper, and I enjoy living in the ever-changing cultural hub of the 18B Arts District. New Downtown galleries have come and gone, but the nonprofit Contemporary Arts Center, where I became gallery coordinator in June, is celebrating its 25th anniversary and moved to a new venue at Alios on South Main Street. I enjoyed creating an installation for Art Odyssey at the Life Is Beautiful festival in October and met many international visitors who had come for the cultural smorgasbord. With the announcement of plans to build a Downtown art museum, the cultural future for Las Vegas is looking bright.– Jo Russ, artist and gallery coordinator, Contemporary Arts Center

On the Strip, New Venues, New Opportunities

To my corner of Las Vegas, 2013 meant growth and development. We are now only months away from the opening of the Linq and all of the amazing attractions that come with that. The Quad now feels like home. As an entertainer, you travel for so many years doing shows at fairs, colleges, cruise ships, etc. It is wonderful to finally have a theater I can call home. Meanwhile, my nonprofit, Win-Win Entertainment, arranged another 13 charity events in 2013. After raising $3,000 at last year’s fundraiser, we raised $43,000 this year—helping us produce another dozen-plus events in 2014. – Jeff Civillico, juggler and Quad headliner

A New Day for the Barrick

If I were to pick one word to exemplify 2013, it would be ‘change.’ At the Barrick Museum we are striving to find our place in the community after reopening in late 2012 with a changed mission, but with recently added programming, an upcoming academic symposium and an exciting exhibition calendar, we are well on our way. I have high hopes for 2014. Las Vegas has weathered the recession, and things are looking up again. It’s time to join the global dialogue and elevate the arts in Las Vegas. – Aurore Giguet, program director at UNLV’s Barrick Museum and co-president of the Contemporary Arts Center

A Year of Rock

One year ago I received the offer to join Rock of Ages and move to Las Vegas. I was pretty certain the show would be a success, but I was apprehensive as to what living in Sin City would have in store for me. Everyone I’ve encountered welcomed me with open arms and offered to help in any way possible to make living in this great city a breeze. Las Vegas has become my home in such a short time, and I can see myself here for a long time to come. So with a little luck and a lot of tickets sold to Rock of Ages, who knows—maybe I’ll run for mayor someday! – Mark Shunock, Lenny in Rock of Ages at the Venetian

The Bookstores Have Fallen, But the Books Live On

Just a few years ago the Valley boasted four Barnes & Nobles, five Borders, a Waldenbooks or Borders Express in every mall, and charming independent bookstores—even in Mandalay Bay! Now only three B&Ns remain. On the bright side, readers can access a limitless inventory of e-books, including titles that might never have won precious shelf space in traditional brick-and-mortar establishments. Daria Snadowsky, author, Anatomy of a Single Girl and Anatomy of a Boyfriend

A Boost for Land, History and Learning

UNLV’s Public Lands Institute engaged in some inspiring community dialogue this year: One highlight is that the future of the historic Walking Box Ranch in Searchlight is being crafted now—an outstanding museum dedicated to landscape-scale conservation and lived experiences. And we’re taking the conversation global, as UNLV now heads to Antarctica to study ecosystems, beauty, wildlife, climate change, human impacts! – Peg Rees, vice provost for educational outreach and executive director of the UNLV Public Lands Institute

A Bright Spot in Education

It was a big year for Bracken STEAM Academy. After winning four national awards—including the U.S. Department of Education’s Blue Ribbon Award—we are beaming with pride. A visit from [U.S. Secretary of Education] Arne Duncan was the icing on the cake. We are excited to be an example of innovation and success. I’m optimistic about the school district as a whole, too: We’re making progress, but change takes time. – Katie Decker, Principal of Bracken Elementary / STEAM Academy magnet school