Who says a community celebration has to cost a lot? Or that it must start on time? Or even be built around a coherent theme?
If you’re one of those people who feels everything has a place, and everything should be in its place, you might want to avoid any future “Carnival meets Mardi Gras” celebrations in Las Vegas.
The first-ever effort to mark the traditional start of Lent came off eclectic, colorful and really late Friday night.
What was billed as a first Mardi Gras parade through downtown was supposed to start at 6 p.m., but at 8 p.m. the sole float was still parked at The Arts Factory bar at 107 E. Charleston Blvd. Organizers first had to charge up the batteries, then ran out of gas for the oversized go-cart festooned with fake tropical flowers, cactus, masks and saxophones.
And then there was the disco ball. They’re tough on a go-cart battery.
“The idea is to show the marriage of the north and south,” said Tom Pratt, husband of artist Joana Pratt Lopez. “It’s combining Mardi Gras and South American Carnival with some Nevadan themes.”
The event was organized by Lopez and artist Susanne Forestieri, aided by local volunteers.
With the help of a grant from the Nevada Arts Council, Lopez and Forestieri hosted four free workshops last month where volunteers helped create the float’s decor.
“More than 200 volunteers came to the workshops to help us decorate it,” Forestieri said. “The grant allowed people to bring their whole families and enjoy spending time with them without having to pay for it.”
The decorations were made from light materials such as foam, chicken wire and papier mache.
The team didn’t bother to get a city parade permit, though it planned to drive the lone float around the Arts District.
“We don’t have any formal Mardi Gras parades in the city,” said Pratt, “so we wanted to start small with one float and draw in the public.
“It doesn’t matter if we don’t have hundreds of people showing up tonight,” he said. “If you ask anyone how First Friday got started, they would say it started with a smaller group of people and went from there.”
So why celebrate Fat Tuesday on the Friday before? Lots of people are too busy to celebrate on weeknights.
Grant money also paid for the Woody Woods Trio to accompany the float with jazz and salsa music, but at the last minute they decided to instead perform in The Arts Factory.
But Fawn Douglas and her daughter, Sol Martinez, were willing to brave cool night air to entertain the small crowd at the disabled float. The women, members of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, performed two Native American dances in keeping with the theme of no particular theme at all.
“It’s a really neat thing (Forestieri) has going on,” Douglas said. “Anything that brings families and kids together is fun.”
Forestieri had hoped to have a viewing at her gallery in The Arts Factory, but she ran short of time.
“We were so busy with the float, I didn’t have time to prepare anything,” Forestieri said. “So, we will be hosting a separate event for the gallery next month.”
Forestieri has been a well-respected artist in Las Vegas for more than 20 years. In 1996, she won the National Endowment for the Arts in painting. She is an art teacher at UNLV and wrote an art column for the Las Vegas Weekly.
Forestieri met Lopez in 2007 while they were teaching art and theatre at a private elementary school.
“I came up with the idea and asked Joana if she was interested,” Forestieri said. “I saw her beautiful portfolio of all the floats she created in Colombia and knew she was the perfect partner.”
Lopez used to create floats in her hometown of Cali, Colombia, though she has been away from the practice since moving to the United States with her husband in 2001.
Despite the time and money constraints, the team hopes to make “Carnival meets Mardi Gras” a tradition.
“In Colombia, you learn to do a lot with a little. This project did just that,” Pratt said. “We didn’t have a lot of time, a lot of money or a lot of materials. However, we still made it happen, and we’re still going to have a good time.”
Contact reporter Caitlyn Belcher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0264.