Las Vegas has already emerged as a foodie destination, but could it also become a magnet for those seeking art experiences? That's the hope of Area15, an ambitious art and entertainment complex near the Strip that opened on Sept. 17.
Area15 -- its name a playful nod to the previously secret military installation north of Las Vegas long the focus of conspiracies involving extraterrestrial life -- houses immersive and monumental art in addition to virtual reality encounters, retail and food-and-drink choices. It includes Art Island, an outdoor gallery for large-scale, festival-style artwork. Meow Wolf, a Santa Fe, N.M.-based arts and entertainment company, is expected to open Omega Mart early next year at the site, envisioned to be an ever-changing immersive art experience for locals and tourists of all ages.
"Baked into [Area15] is its ability to pivot and move and shift," said Michael Beneville, chief creative officer and one of the principals behind Area15. "That's how the whole building is designed. That's how it will evolve. We're really excited."
His New York-based Beneville Studios collaborated with real estate development firm Fisher Brothers, also from New York, on the project.
"When you build something like Area15 and you build it in a place like Las Vegas that has everything already that the mind and world can imagine, the challenge is, of course, what you could put into that landscape that would be additive, that would extend the narrative and not just duplicate what's already been done before," Beneville said.
The austere, warehouse-like building is designed to be a counterpoint to the glitz and glamor of Las Vegas. It is meant to provoke a sense of mystery, its contents a source of wonder and discovery, Beneville said. "Enter Curious. Leave Different" is the motto on Area15's website.
Area15's art and entertainment district opened this month in Las Vegas. Photo Credit: Peter Ruprecht
"We have scoured the world for the best in class in what we're all referring to now as the immersive experience economy," said Beneville, who wanted to create what he describes as "a cauldron in which that rich soup of experiences bubbles and boils."
Among the experiences Beneville hopes will capture the imagination of visitors:
• The Birdly Virtual Reality Experience, which replicates wind beneath wings and re-creates a bird's-eye view of skies above New York, Singapore and prehistoric worlds.
• Haley's Comet, an indoor, electric suspension ride 25 feet in the air.
• Gallerie 360, inside the Portal, an event room that can host 360-degree audio and visual presentations.
Area15 is also home to a pop-up eatery by chef Todd English, the Oddwood bar and an Emack & Bolios ice cream, yogurt, homemade fudge and chocolate shop.
Beneville, who noted that masks and social distancing are required during the pandemic, said stringent cleaning protocols have been established, as well, to comply with county and state health and safety rules.
"It is really important for us that we open it at a time where we can offer some inspiration, some hope and a safe way for people to come out of the house," Beneville said. "We're opening so that we can open hearts and minds to wonder and creativity and inspiration. We feel it's a small thing we can do at this moment in time.
Area15's creators have had to pivot several times and reimagine the space because of Covid-19 restrictions.
"Any artist, any creative who's worth their salt has to accept that they can't control the painting. The art piece speaks to you, and then you ride the wave of it. You harness the creativity, but you don't control the creativity," Beneville said. "The same is true for Area 15 on a business level, on a safety level and on a creative level. We can't control everything. What we have to do is harness and adapt it to the reality, and we have to do it a really safe and very conscientious way."
Beneville hopes to appeal to locals and to capture a share of Las Vegas' most curious visitors. "We're asking people to take a seven-minute drive from the Strip to experience our wonder a deep sense of adventure."
Parking and admission are free. Registration is required at Area15.com to manage capacity and social distancing.
CORRECTED: This report was updated to correct an editing editor that referred to the name Area15 as a nod to a former nuclear test site near Las Vegas. It is actually named for a military installation that was long rumored to be connected to conspiracies involving extraterrestrial life.