The week before Life Is Beautiful, I took a walk through the music/art/food/learning festival’s Downtown footprint, checking out the spaces where stages would land and tents would rise. The fencing wasn’t up yet around LIB’s 15-block sprawl, but there was already a hum in the air around Fremont Street, the energy that comes from a work in progress nearing completion.
The work that caught my eye that day went largely unnoticed when the crowds poured under the Himalayan prayer flags the next weekend. While they gawked at A-list musicians and Cirque casts, I marveled at the results of construction crews, paint rollers and cement trucks, the visual effect a fresh layer of crushed gravel and a set of string lights can have on a lot left to decompose. Today, the festival’s grandest draws are long gone, but its aesthetic legacy Downtown—the signs, subtle and overt, that something big happened here—is everywhere you look.
When LIB decided to hold a two-day party in the heart of Downtown Vegas, one of the toughest challenges was the space itself. The neighborhood that greeted LIB’s arrival was in no way ready to host a major festival. Empty lots had to be cleaned up and smoothed out. Asphalt had to be laid, buildings painted, broken glass cleared away. The Ambassador Stage area, across from Atomic Liquors on Fremont Street, was repaved entirely. On Seventh Street, the decrepit Las Vegas Motel was boarded up and whitewashed to make way for a mural of Rosie the Riveter as Suzie Selfie and yarn art of Pinocchio and Walter White. Next door, the Town Lodge Motel was given a fresh coat, too, its street-facing windows framed in bright, cheerful colors to draw guests into the festival’s Art Odyssey.
A month after LIB’s inaugural run, the entry to that installation is boarded up and the pocket garden next door has been hauled away. But the neighborhood that Life Is Beautiful left behind still looks different. Vibrant murals grace walls everywhere, turning Fremont East into a street art show, and buildings shine with fresh paint. Vacant lots—still empty—now at least look cared for, less abandoned than simply unoccupied.
It’s an improvement, but I wish there was more. I wish the pocket park where we rested our feet after hours of shows hadn’t gone back to being straight cement, and that the food truck alley with picnic tables hadn’t been fenced off and deserted.
LIB lives on in a Downtown that’s a little cleaner and a little more beautiful. Maybe next year, more of its installations will live on, too.