F Street at the I-15 entry to the "Historic Westside Walls" I PtD
Twelve new murals on F Street came from impassioned mettle and reveals history of a neighborhood on a restored road under Interstate 15. They are a highlight of the new underpass dedicated last week before an estimated crowd of 200. The victory of neighborhood advocacy was shared with government officials.
The set of 12 panels use photographs that were negotiated and curated during workshops dedicated to design. The concepts were completed in December 2012, and that art was destined to be a neighborhood landmark before it was installed.
It’s likeable. Aesthetic obligation to digital murals as a public art keeps me from loving it. The final composition crams the carefully selected images into a dark gooey collage on the panels, which are designated as murals on site plans. When they are viewed while driving through the underpass visual impact is lost--other then they are there. (They are lit at night). No specific artist is credited, which suggests the work was designed in-house with a goal to satisfy community input in time and under budget. The mural feels hasty and misses the chance to be a national work that helps update monumental murals as community driven public art.
But to those who worked at getting the wall down and murals up, what I just wrote won't really matter. Fair enough.
“They are overwhelming. It’s the best thing that’s happened to that community. They did a beautiful job,” said Trish Geran, chairwoman of the F Street Coalition a few days after the opening. She is one of many who led the fight to reopen the street. “I have heard so much positive response.”
I’ll go with that, to a point. The backstory of how the murals, and the $13.6 million F Street Connection Project began, is an overwhelming story for the city. West Las Vegas residents protested that F Street was closed at McWilliams Avenue in 2008 by the $250 million I-15 North Project that widened the interstate. It cut off a direct route between downtown and the west side, said community leaders, who then prodded local, state and federal officials to take down the blockade. There was resistance, but rebuilding the route took hold after lawsuits and lobbying led to a 2009 Assembly bill passed to build a new underpass. There were public meetings, ground was broken, then more public meetings.
Besides the panels under the bridge, there’s more decoration to the design. The two sides of the bridge have a tower pattern on Moulin Rouge architecture, the first integrated casino from another era. “Historic Las Vegas” emblazes the bridge like a name tag. As a installation structure, the photomontage is executed well. They are pieced together as 12-inch by 12-inch tiles to make a sturdy and balanced presentation. The history is heartfelt.
And F Street now has symbolic lineage to a mural that began urban public art, which came from an African-American community using their walls with spirited activism and direct public expression, and not as illumination of an aesthetic. In Spring 1967, on the South Side of Chicago, African-American artist William Walker proposed the idea of a mural to a local group, the Organization for Black American Culture, after getting permission from an owner of a two-story building at 43rd and Langley. He then help lead twenty black artists to create art that was a public declaration of experience, according to Eva Sperling Cockcroft in “Toward A People’s Art,” was a proclamation “that black people have the right to define black culture and black history for themselves, to name their heroes.” The mural, called “Wall of Respect,” is long gone, but often cited as the first urban mural that inspired others cities put their stories on walls, and many became organized civic mural programming.
That tradition is based on storytelling directly out from the neighborhood, a goals of workshops for the F Street graphics that included an approval process. In polling results from a March 28, 2014 meeting, the final panels, in the last stages of editing, were voted on. At the top of the list was “MLK,” a panel about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the annual MLK Day Parade that’s been held in Downtown Las Vegas for over 30 years. “It is significant in showing the influence of Dr. King on the local civil rights leaders, and the continued support of his legacy,” says the plans for the panel.
The second most popular panel was “Desegregation Meeting” with the main image of men around a table. Again, from the mural planning documents: “The Moulin Rouge Agreement occurred on March 25th, 1960, as part of negotiations between the African American community, Las Vegas business leaders, and local and state government officials to avert a demonstration scheduled for the next day on the Las Vegas Strip. This panel displays an image of a meeting to negotiate that agreement, taking place inside the Moulin Rouge.”
This process of art coming out of community consciousness has the West Side of Las Vegas join the national conversation as a neighborhood that guided its own change. There’s also subtext of a region in transition. The city and state now understand how a neighborhood impacted by a major project needs outreach to the public, said Tracy Larkin-Thomason, deputy director of the Transportation Department in Southern Nevada. “It’s no reflection on engineers, but public outreach is not our strong point. We tend to be too technical and not everybody understands us . . . Technically, we met all the criteria of our outreach, but bottom line, it wasn’t enough,” she is reported as saying.
There is one more nitpick point from me. The mural is incomplete. Another panel is needed. Maybe at the entrance of the underpass. It would have the story of how a neighborhood got together to question city and state why they were cut off from downtown, have a few photos of government officials and residents get together to chisel off pieces of the wall, and later celebrated how F Street was restored and became a direct route to understanding.
This panel displays images of some of the entertainers who performed in Las Vegas, but were denied access to the hotels in which they performed. Among them are Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, and Sammy Davis, Jr. Artwork F (6) I PtD
Artwork E of "Historic Westside." I PtD
Artwork H of "Historic Westside." I PtD
"The Moulin Rouge Agreement occurred on March 25th, 1960, as part of negotiations between the African American community, Las Vegas business leaders, and local and state government officials to avert a demonstration scheduled for the next day on the Las Vegas Strip. This panel displays an image of a meeting to negotiate that agreement, taking place inside the Moulin Rouge" I Artwork B (2)
"Although short lived, the Moulin Rouge Hotel & Casino played a very significant role in the history of Las Vegas. This display highlights its’ architecture and the people that made it function" says plans for Artwork I (9).
Above: Stephen Hendee created sculpture for the celebration of 30 years of public art programming in the City of Las Vegas.