A creative complex rises: A look inside the galleries, shops and studios of Downtown Spaces

Joseph Guadamuz dj’s his No Pop No Style art show inside Solsis Gallery.
Krystal Ramirez

Two years ago, former Bunkhouse owner Charlie Fox closed a deal with Downtown Project, selling the beloved music venue and surrounding land for $1.4 million. Following the sale, Fox invested that money into two ventures on Industrial Road, Hard Hat Lounge and Downtown Spaces, both in an area known for its downtrodden warehouses and strip clubs—not art.

“I had no doubts,” Fox says firmly. From the time the former New Yorker moved to Vegas in 1996, he loved the building that became Downtown Spaces—something about the Brutalist, ’60s architecture. But “I never thought I could own it,” he adds. Now, Fox is the proud owner of “a piece of Vegas history,” and the landlord for a number of local artists, musicians and creatives housed inside the at-capacity complex. He’s “the visionary,” says Skin City Body Painting owner Robin Slonina.

“You don’t have a lot of stuff like that in Vegas. Usually that stuff is ripped down,” Fox says. “It seemed if we could repurpose it for artists and creative people, it would be the perfect match.” On the fringes of Downtown in an environment a bit more rugged than what you’d find on Fremont or Main, the evolving collective is a platform for everything from shops specializing in taxidermy and sex toys to a recording studio, countless galleries and soon, Fox confirms, a marijuana dispensary. “It’s really unbelievable,” he says. “This is the naked city, and it’s fantastic.”

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      Skin City body painting

      Skin City Body Painting

      A living, breathing canvas

      Robin Slonina was just passing through Vegas as a traveling sculpture and mural artist in the early ’00s, but after being “seduced” by Cirque du Soleil performer Jimmy Slonina (now her husband), she not only stayed; she started her business here. After deciding this isn’t the place for mural art (it’s too hot), she tried her hand at something else: body painting. “To see your art stand up and breathe and move around and change expression—it’s really intriguing as an artist to see your art embodied by a living, breathing human,” Slonina says. In 2014, more than 100 freelance artists offered their services at Skin City. And while Halloween is its biggest season, the studio welcomes clients year-round, from desert rats headed to EDC to costume contestants for the Fetish and Fantasy ball to out-of-towners here for conventions, plus commercial work and more. “There are tourists that come to Vegas just to get painted.” skincitybodypainting.com

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      Scott Wood inside Wasteland Gallery

      Wasteland Gallery

      Locals on the wall

      On the first floor of Downtown Spaces is a nook full of arty, creative treasures. When I wander into Wasteland on a February afternoon, LeslieAnn Farrell’s comically morbid hand-painted dolls hang from the ceiling. There’s art everywhere—shelves containing everything from comics to toy figurines, white walls covered with paintings, drawings and sculptures. The collection of prints and originals represents artists all over the Valley, like some permanent First Friday festival jammed into a 10-by-10 room. “That’s really where the thought came from,” owner Scott Wood says. “If you’re an artist and don’t have a show, your prints are just sitting around [until] First Friday … then [you] wait for the next First Friday. Why not have a place that carries that stuff while everybody’s just sitting on it?” Wasteland is currently home to the works of artists like Su Limbert, Jska Priebe, Dan Fortyfive, Roxy B. Montoya, Spencer Olsen, Scream and more. “Everybody in here is a local artist,” Wood says, though he adds that he’s open to inviting traveling artists in the future. wastelandgallery.com

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      SolSis Gallery on First Friday.

      SolSis Gallery

      Art in technicolor

      A plume of pungent smoke from freshly lit incense swirls outside the rolled-up garage door. I venture inside to find SolSis Gallery owner Shannon Dorn sitting there with sunglasses on. One look around and it’s clear I’ve stepped into a different dimension—something out of a childhood daydream where art lives painted on walls rather than canvas. Today, the bright, bold images are the works of street artists Scream and Anthony Ortega, but it’s always changing depending on the show, Dorn says. There’s one image that’s permanent—Alexander Sky’s giant, 10-foot-tall purple goddess, sitting naked and cross-legged along the fold of the wall. “She’ll stay forever. I’m in love with her,” Dorn says. A play on the words “soul” and “sol,” (the second half being “sister”), the title is tied to roots from a previous art collective, the Slum Sistas. “It started from an idea with a group of girls,” Dorn says, “so we wanted to keep that feminine aspect.” solsisprod.com

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      Beloved Relics interior

      Beloved Relics

      The not-so-walking dead

      Paxton Gate and Loved to Death, two of San Francisco’s most popular oddity-style shops, are household names for creepy, crawly and furry macabre. But who wants to travel 12 hours for bejeweled bones and rare animal skulls? When Beloved Relics owner Noel Terracina realized she had a niche to fill in Las Vegas, she turned her background in costume design and tattooing and her love for animals (both dead and undead) into a real-life store. Between the assortment of tiny bat bones and giant cow skulls, dyed rabbit feet, old medical equipment, animal fetuses (aka “wet specimens”) and a supposedly haunted chair from an asylum, there’s an afternoon’s worth of exploring to do. The spot also hosts classes like Taxidermy 101, where students can learn how to stuff a dead rodent, or Tea and Entomology, which includes the basics of butterfly pinning. If you want something more permanent, the back of Beloved Relics is Terracina’s personal tattoo shop. belovedrelics.com

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      Naked City Audio

      Recording with the Professor

      John Kiehlbauch, known by pretty much everyone in the music community as Professor Def, is no stranger to the Vegas scene. The recording engineer/promoter behind the heralded, now-defunct collective Macro-Fi launched Naked City in 2013. Reflecting the same sentiment (community defies genre) that Macro-Fi had, the studio brings in local artists from every sound, be it hip-hop and metal or punk and grunge. “I love completing albums,” Kiehlbauch says. “Sometimes they do well, sometimes they don’t. But there’s always the possibility. The guy who recorded [Nirvana’s] Bleach was bored, recorded it fast and was like, ‘These guys suck, I wanna go home.’ And all of a sudden, that’s the one.” Recently, Kiehlbauch’s been working on Shayna Rain and the Part Time Models’ first full-length, singer Blair Dewane’s debut solo album and Lawn Mower Death Riders’ upcoming release, Deadgrass. “It’s my own personal goal,” he says. “I want that record that means sh*t.” nakedcityaudio.com

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      Las Vegas Burlesque Studio

      The art of tease

      Release your inner starlet!” reads the top of a pink flier on the door of the Las Vegas Burlesque Studio. Owned by dancer (and local celebrity) Cha Cha Velour, the studio offers classes for burlesque rookies and regulars, and women looking to gain confidence and health. “Bump and Grind,” “Flirty Movement,” “Vegas Stiletto Fitness” and “Pin Up and Down Dog” are just a few of the $10 drop-in classes offered by different local star-instructors like Lou Lou Roxy, Darby Fox and Lily Star. Zosa Pistola will even teach you the art of asseling (that’s ass tasseling, if you didn’t know). The studio just started hosting exhibits on First Fridays, and it’s also home to crafting workshops (like making pin-up hair flowers) and sexy, strip-inspired burlesque parties. If you want to learn about the art of tease, this is your classroom. lasvegasburlesqueclasses.com

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      Craft Acting Studio

      Discovering foundations

      On a windy Sunday afternoon, I head to the only acting class I’ve ever been to—not because I have any inclination to be an actress, but because I want a glimpse of what acting coach Adam Hill has up his sleeve (the studio is partnered with Brad Garrett). Inside the barren room with wooden floors are rows of chairs, a table with bottled water and an assortment of store-brand cookies. A teenager walks in with his mom—he wants to be an actor, she says. Hill invites Ma and son to sit in on the class. Today’s topic, “How to read a script,” is going to be a good one, he assures. We begin with speech exercises that remind me of middle-school choir, followed by a quick read-through of an untitled script. Before I know it, Hill has captured the attention of his small audience, and for the next hour and a half we’re taken on a transformative journey that allows us to sink our teeth into the text in front of us. Dissection. Analysis. I leave wanting more—a passion for acting possibly unearthed. Could I be an actor? If you ask Hill, anyone can. craft-acting.com

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      Spectral Gallery

      Ghoul power

      If you’re into sci-fi or fantasy, you probably know the artwork of Jska (pronounced Jessica) Priebe. Split between Priebe and co-owners Mike and Dasha Biggs, Spectral is a small, quiet room with intense energy and original art covering nearly every bit of wall space. On Priebe’s side, portraits of Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Alien and Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones grace the walls, recalling childhood fantasies and the most memorable characters of television drama. “Everyone is so cool and positive and willing to collaborate,” Priebe says about Downtown Spaces. “We geared this space toward the dark, surrealist, creepy, cute stuff ... and pop culture, too.” On the Biggs’ side is more fantasy-themed art—including Dasha’s whimsically spiritual watercolors and Mike’s traditional tattoo and zombie-themed paintings. A tattoo artist himself, Mike’s work can also be found at Studio 21 Tattoo. spectralartgallery.com

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      More spaces

      Other endeavors to explore inside the creative complex

      ISI GROUP Launched by Phillip Limon and Dana Anderson in 2011, “Industry Supporting Industry” promotes artists through nightlife and other “lowbrow” art events. Comprising tattoo, graffiti and body painting, ISI has painted murals at the Linq and held live-painting events at the Palms, Brooklyn Bowl and other spots throughout the city. The Beauty Bar hosts ISI’s next event, the Off the Wall graffiti disco on March 14.

      TOYBOXX This sex-positive adult toy store doesn’t have its licensure to sell product just yet, so owner Karoline Khamis is moving forward with workshops and events to educate the community about safe sex until the store gets green-lighted. Toyboxx currently has a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the cost of operations, a blog and more at toyboxxlv.com.

      URIZEN GALLERY A small gallery on the second floor of Downtown Spaces, Urizen combines the talents of partners Kortnie and Benito Colón-Contreras. The art has a range of inspirations—mythology to philosophy to the elements—and the space is open to the public on First Fridays and during special events.

      SQUARE SHOOTING The commercial photography studio owned and operated by Jennifer Burkart and Ryan Reason was one of the first businesses inside Downtown Spaces in 2013. From magazine editorials to promotional work, the duo has made a household name out of capturing the essence of Las Vegas.

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      Customers, a mix of tourists and locals, crowd the window at Luv-It Frozen Custard in downtown Las Vegas Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2009.

      On the map

      Planning your night around Downtown Spaces? Check out these nearby hot spots for a perfect crawl

      LUV-IT Yeah, gelato spot Art of Flavors just closed—but you can still get your frozen-goodie fix at this Vegas custard classic. 505 E. Oakey Blvd., 702-384-6452.

      VIVA LAS AREPASBefore catching an exhibit opening, head here for a Venezuelan arepa, or corn-cake sandwich. Another must try is the cachapas—like a giant dessert quesadilla. 1616 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702-366-9696.

      HARD HAT LOUNGE Charlie Fox’s renovated dive-bar right across the street from Downtown Spaces is the no-brainer pick for a close, cheap beer and live music. 1675 S. Industrial Road, 702-384-8987.

      DINO'SIt’s late. You’re drunk. You need something besides beer to keep this party going. What could fill your craving? Karaoke … and more beer. 1516 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702-382-3894.

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