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Believer Festival brings words, art and ideas to Las Vegas

In the tradition of any good arts festival, the third annual Believer Festival — which ended a three-day run Saturday evening — offered laughs, a sense of community and plenty of ideas to mull over against visual backdrops ranging from Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area to downtown Las Vegas.

And if it doesn’t rival a Coachella or Burning Man, that’s just fine.

The festival is named for The Believer, a bimonthly magazine of literature, arts and culture published by the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute at UNLV. This year’s edition began Thursday evening with poetry, art and readings at the Neon Museum’s Ne10 Studio, then moved to Red Rock Canyon on Friday for outdoor readings and performances.

Saturday’s events included a morning program at the Mob Museum that Native American poet Natalie Diaz and Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli called a “performance conversation” about women and political asylum laws that meshed with this year’s festival theme of borders, literal and metaphorical, in our lives.

Saturday afternoon offered guests a more informal vibe with discussions, readings and author signings at The Lucy, the recently opened literary complex at Sixth Street and Bonneville Avenue in downtown Las Vegas. While many guests said they had signed up to attend the full slate of Believer Festival events, Sam Mirkovich and his mother, Katie Mirkovich, who live nearby, stumbled on the festival during a walk to The Writer’s Block bookstore.

Katie Mirkovich was impressed, and judged the crowd to rival that of the independent bookstore’s opening day over a week ago.

And the festival? “I think it’s great,” Sam Mirkovich said.

Participating authors agreed, among them author and media critic Anita Sarkeesian, who was attending her first Believer Festival. Sarkeesian said the festival offered those who don’t live here the chance to discover for themselves the thriving literary and culture scene here.

“That often gets erased or sidelined when people come to Vegas,” she said. “That’s been a process for me, to unlearn my impression of what this city is about.

“And it’s really lovely the way they did it, by going to all these different areas of the city and seeing different parts of the city. Seeing a beautiful sunset at Red Rock with amazing performances, to different venues and museums around the city.”

Egyptian journalist and novelist Ahmed Naji arrived in Las Vegas about three weeks ago to begin his term as City of Asylum fellow at Black Mountain Institute. Naji said he is eager to learn about local culture and that such gatherings as the Believer Festival offer a way of “understanding how things work.”

Saturday evening, the festival moved to the Artemus Ham Concert Hall at UNLV for “Uproar at Ham Hall,” a 90-minute show hosted by Jill Soloway — creator of the series “Transparent” — and Faith Soloway that was billed as “a night of music, comedy and revolution from the vanguard of intersectional power.”

The show included a discussion, styled as the sort of talk show Jill Soloway would have if she could, which touched on issues of gender identity, male dominance in Hollywood and feminism. Comedian Tig Notaro, who had been scheduled to appear, canceled because of a family emergency.

After the show, Joshua Wolf Shenk, BMI’s executive director, said he was pleased that guests were telling him they felt a kinship to the performers and the event.

New twists this year included the afternoon program and moving the closing show to a larger venue. Shenk said the challenge for next year is to grow the festival while “maintaining this intimate, idiosyncratic milieu.”

“We don’t want to be some big machine,” he said. “We’re not ever going to be Lollapalooza.”

Contact John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.

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