To see economic development in action, head downtown for 2012's first First Friday.
There, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Kids Zone near Casino Center Boulevard and Colorado Street, you'll see artwork from WALLS 360, a budding high-tech, graphic arts business whose founders relocated to Las Vegas from San Francisco in August.
WALLS 360 will paper a 100-foot brick wall in the Kids Zone with its latest product -- wall tangrams, or geometric shapes designed to help children develop spatial skills and creativity. At First Friday, the company will teach a class for kids on how to use the tangrams, and will give away hundreds of tangram sets. It's the perfect place to show off the wall art, said Yiying Lu, WALLS 360's cofounder and tangram creator.
"I'm an art evangelist, and I just love the vibrancy Las Vegas is now seeing," Lu said. "Events like First Friday truly bring people with a common love of art together, and they also create excitement and offer the sheer joy of creation and communication. I just think it's an amazing event for networking, and to enjoy artwork."
Friday's event will be a sort of coming out party for WALLS 360. It's a fitting venue for a local, public debut of the company's artwork, because First Friday helped convince WALLS 360's founders that Las Vegas had the vital cultural scene their business needed.
It took a few months. WALLS 360 had to get production up and running, and First Friday went through ownership and format changes from August to October. But WALLS 360 is finally participating in the arts community and giving back to the city as it builds a global business selling wall art.
First Friday will help make it all possible, said WALLS 360 co-founder John Doffing.
"We have a really good product, but we're a small company, so getting the word out is challenging," Doffing said. "We've found that when people see our product, they really like it, and they buy more of it and tell their friends about it. We're creating a new medium for creative expression, and the more people see it, the better that is for business. The better the business does, the more money we have to donate back. It becomes a feedback loop."
WALLS 360 has spent the last year testing its tangrams and developing lesson plans in classrooms worldwide.
The tangrams, based on an ancient wooden Chinese puzzle, consist of seven shapes printed on self-adhesive fabric paper. Kids can stick and re-stick the shapes hundreds of times on surfaces such as walls and windows to make an endless array of figures, including animals, people and letters of the alphabet. There's even a Christmas-tree version.
Tangrams begin at $15 for a 6-inch version, and go up to around $100 for 4-foot editions. Through its Tangrams for Teachers program, WALLS 360 has donated nearly 1,000 sets to school systems worldwide, including the Clark County School District. Through January, the company will give a tangram set to a local grade school classroom for every wall-graphics order it receives.
The tangrams are the latest in a line of self-adhesive wall art that WALLS 360 has been printing locally since fall. The company also makes repositionable, life-sized panoramic murals, characters from "Star Trek" and personae from video games such as "Battlefield 3" and "Little Space Heroes."
It's been good business so far in a town desperate to diversify its jobs base beyond gaming and construction. Since it became fully operational in September, WALLS 360 has gone from just the three founders to nearly a dozen employees, and also works with several local independent contractors.
Doffing said he expects to double staff by the end of the first quarter. Company executives plan to license figures for future wall art in meetings and presentations set up for the Consumer Electronics Show and the Sports Licensing and Tailgate Show, both scheduled next week.
WALLS 360 is also releasing life-sized, repositionable wall art based on characters in popular children's books, including "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," and the "Paddington Bear" and "Spot" series. Life-sized professional athletes and rappers, as well as giant album covers and more video game figures, will follow in February.
Nor will this be the last First Friday for WALLS 360. On Feb. 3, the company will roll out an event shuttle bus covered in abstract shapes featuring several hundred colors. Vulcan, a prominent New York street artist who now is an artist-in-residence at WALLS 360, is painting the bus.
Lu is making a panoramic image of Las Vegas for a future show as well.
"It's such an honor to have a chance to bring more art to the people of Las Vegas," Lu said.
Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4512.