Out of the galleries and into the streets: 10 years of Zap! in Vegas

Sush Machida’s utility box for Zap! on March 23, 2015.
Photo: Mikayla Whitmore

Kyla Hansen's utility box for Zap!

For all the activity up and down Maryland Parkway, not much has been put into how the bustling corridor actually looks, resulting in a run-down swath of fast-food restaurants, cracked parking lots, aging shopping complexes and paltry landscaping. This for a high-traffic road built for cars but loaded with pedestrian and community activity.

So it was a triumph of sorts when Clark County commissioned 20 artists to paint more than 90 utility boxes on the stretch between McCarran International Airport and Desert Inn Road, as part of Zap!, an ongoing public art project now in its 10th year.

Lance Smith's utility boxes in progress for Zap! on March 23, 2015.

Visual overhaul and better urban design are deemed so vital to this corridor that the city, the county and neighborhood groups—each asserting the Parkway’s potential vibrancy—united to push for its redevelopment and salvation in the form of transit-related restructuring, along with a major public art project. In the meantime, the Zap! program has artwork dotting sidewalks and parking lots with bold colors, fine art, cartoonery and sophisticated design.

Holly Vaughn's utility box for Zap! on March 23, 2015.

“We have twice as many artists than ever before,” says Patrick Gaffey, cultural program supervisor with the county. “We kind of needed this many artists. Maryland Parkway is such an important street. It’s been central to people’s lives, and people really care about it.”

Gaffey has been with the project since 2005, when the Friends of Winchester group set it in motion after a member saw a similar program in San Diego. Ten artists created works that year tapping into the area’s culture and history. Marty Walsh’s retro and shiny Proctor toaster nodded to summer temperatures and a former appliance store in the area. Suzanne Hackett-Morgan’s three eras of television sets each pay tribute to local personalities from different decades, including weatherman Nate Tannenbaum and mob-connected casino exec Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal.

Zap! in Vegas

It then expanded into the Paradise Park neighborhood, West Las Vegas and Desert Breeze Park, then into the Whitney and Cambridge neighborhoods. More than 60 artists have participated in the project, which moves next to Laughlin, and will pick up speed, with the county installing Zap! works twice a year throughout the Valley.

Now on Maryland, which threads together UNLV, historic neighborhoods, high-density residential areas and Sunrise Hospital, there’s a giant brain in front of UNLV’s MFA Studios. Su Limbert’s wildlife, plucked directly from themes in her gallery work, covers a box near Flamingo and Maryland. Sush Machida’s impeccable Japanese and nature-inspired pop style is at the intersection with Desert Inn Road. Lance Smith’s celestial woman is robed in blue near Tropicana and Maryland. Sean Russell’s dynamic abstract patterns sit on Russell, conversing with the architecture of the McCarran terminal across the street.

Suzanne Hackett-Morgan's utility box for Zap!

Other Zap! artists have included Thomas Willis, Brian Porray, Noelle Garcia, Joseph Watson, Darren Johnson, Tatiana Hantig and Erin Stellmon, each meeting with owners of residences and businesses in the area to receive feedback before establishing their designs for the boxes.

“The people in the neighborhoods, as well as most of the public in general, seem to very much appreciate and enjoy having original artwork,” says artist KD Matheson, who has participated in three projects for Zap! and admires the concept. “It brings art out into the world, visual poetry onto the streets.”

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Kristen Peterson

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