Las Vegas has long been decried as a cultural wasteland. We put paintings on the sides of stores instead of inside museums. Our theaters are full of stunts and sex rather than dialogue and drama. Our casinos are new but our schools are old.
However slowly, that attitude has begun to change. The Smith Center just celebrated its fifth anniversary of bringing ballet, symphonies and Broadway shows to our city, while the Nevada Preservation Foundation is entering its fourth year of appreciating and preserving our architectural treasures. Now another art form finds a home here as The Believer literary magazine relocates from San Francisco to the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute at the UNLV. However, this is Las Vegas, so they’re kicking off with a big production number—American Dreams: A Festival, a weekend that examines the nature of “the American Dream,” what it is and where it can be found.
American Dreams will host four events over two days, each in a distinctly different venue. The festival opens Friday night with a reading entitled, “Prayers for the American Dream,” appropriately set in the wide, open spaces of the West, specifically at the Ampitheatre at the Red Rock National Conservation Area. Sharing their “paeans, promises, pleas and demands” will be Hossein Abkenar, Heidi Julavits, Luís Alberto Urrea and more.
Saturday’s events will be centered Downtown. “The American Dream: on Trial” will take place in the courtroom at The Mob Museum, where writers, including Sally Wen Mao and ZZ Packer, will present their briefs on the American dream under the auspices of local lawyer and literary type Dayvid Figler. In the evening, “American Dreams: Sex & Rock ’n’ Roll Division” will feature writer Dave Eggers, artist/author/film director Miranda July and author/actress/rock superstar Carrie Brownstein (of Portlandia and Sleater-Kinney). July will be doing a reading/performance based on texts sent to her by audience members. The weekend wraps with a closing party at The Bunkhouse Saloon, where Jim James of My Morning Jacket and Tift Merritt will perform. Consider it another Vegas nod: the lounge act.
With its abundance of wild characters and weird stories, Las Vegas is more of a natural fit for writers and their outlets than might originally seem and The Believer is optimistic about opening a new chapter here. And our new residents are dipping into that great Vegas tradition, the residency: Plans are already underway and even a few guests lined up for a festival return in 2018.