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Life is Beautiful’s art ranges from Cirque’s street performances to ‘Crime on Canvas’

On the streets — and on the walls.

That’s the focus for Life is Beautiful’s ever-expansive, and expanding, art program, which continues throughout the downtown festival Friday through Sunday.

After skipping last year’s edition, Cirque du Soleil returns to Life is Beautiful — and its roots — with street performances from 4:30 to 9 p.m. Friday.

Street art also plays a major role in Life is Beautiful, with new murals from international artists.

Among the high-profile participants: “Obey Giant” creator Shepard Fairey, whose works include the Barack Obama “Hope” poster from the 2008 presidential election — and a new Life is Beautiful mural at Sixth and Fremont streets.

Other mural artists include Bezt from Poland’s Etam Cru, Argentina’s Felipe Pantone, Los Angeles native Tristan Eaton, a driving force in the “Art Toys” world, and Norway’s Martin Whatson, a stencil artist whose pieces blend graffiti and decay.

Augmenting the murals will be installations by, among others, interdisciplinary artist Crystal Wagner — who’s creating a 120-foot installation on the facade of the Las Vegas Motel — and Mike Ross with the Big Rig Jig, whose colossal sculpture (at the Ferguson Motel) was recently displayed in Britain as part of Banksy’s dystopian-theme-park project “Dismaland.”

And in place of last year’s art motel, there’s an art hotel: the Western, scene of a “Crime on Canvas” exhibit featuring a variety of pop surrealist artists — some of whom also happen to be musicians.

Although Cirque du Soleil skipped 2015’s Life is Beautiful, “it was never our intention to have it go away,” says Craig Nyman, the festival’s head of music and live performance.

In contrast to 2014’s “Love”-themed collaboration with the Las Vegas Philharmonic, 2016’s Cirque contribution will spotlight performers from its seven resident Las Vegas shows — all “taking it back to the roots, which is the street,” Nyman notes. Accordingly, “fans will be able to interact” with the Cirque cast members.

On the hour from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m., more than 60 performers from “Ka,” “Love,” “Michael Jackson One,” “Mindfreak Live,” “Mystere,” “O” and “Zumanity” will perform 30-minute segments filled with dances, acrobatics and more.

A special 9 p.m. finale climaxes the Cirque schedule.

Pierre Parisien, senior director of show quality for Cirque, is “mashing together shows and numbers,” according to Nyman, so local attendees who’ve seen Cirque’s Strip shows may recognize performers and numbers, but “for the most part, it’s brand new.”

Finding new variations for Life is Beautiful also inspires Charlotte Dutoit, who’s coordinating the street art program for the fourth time.

“It’s never the same,” Dutoit notes in an email interview. “I like to make each Life is Beautiful a specific experience for the festivalgoers by bringing new artists whose work I admire and that I believe are a good fit for the festival.”

Those include this year’s lineup of installations, among them a second incarnation of the echo-free “Silent Room” chamber by London-based artist Simon Heijdens; “Proximate Sky,” Poetic Kinetics’ aerial and ground installation; the giant illuminated rabbits (originally from Australia) of Amanda Parer’s Intrude; and a piece from Laura Kimpton’s “Monumental Word” series, which also has been displayed at Burning Man.

All of this year’s street art participants are working in downtown Las Vegas for the first time, according to Dutoit.

“The blend of art and music” at Life is Beautiful “presents an interesting combination for them,” she writes. “Artists can work in a different scale for their artwork than in the galleries and museums,” making their work — and the artists themselves — “more accessible. The exposure is massive and quite different from the academic art world, too.”

The intersection between music and art also inspires “Crime on Canvas,” bringing more than 80 local, national and international artists to the Western Hotel with an eerie array of lowbrow/pop-surrealism work curated by Jay Nailor of Palm Springs, California-based M Modern Gallery.

“We wanted to inject an art exhibition that was more in sync with the high quality of bands that play the festival,” according to Nailor, who notes that most of the works on display were created especially for “Crime on Canvas.”

Participants range from Brandon Boyd, Incubus’ lead singer, to Frances Bean Cobain, daughter of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love.

Illustrator Shag — who’s created album covers for everyone from Smash Mouth to Nancy Sinatra — will be part of “Crime on Canvas” as well.

“My painting is set in the middle of a fight during a music concert,” Shag notes in an email, “so I was trying to tie together the themes of music, crime and art.”

To artist Buff Monster, “this type of survey show doesn’t happen very often,” he points out. In addition, even if viewers “can’t articulate what makes it different, hand-drawn artwork always has a different energy.”

Artist Chris Mars, drummer for the Replacements, notes that his “creative journey began as making music,” but the “spiritual linking of my past and present is echoed in (the) union of ‘Crime on Canvas’ and Life is Beautiful. I’m super grateful for the opportunity to connect with this particular audience.”

Fairey (who’s also speaking during Life is Beautiful’s Ideas Series) will exhibit embellished prints that, like all of the “Crime on Canvas” works, will be for sale. (Prints will be priced around $200, with originals ranging from $1,000 to $40,000, Nailor notes.)

Overall, downtown Las Vegas provides an ideal setting for the kind of creativity on display during Life is Beautiful, observes “Crime on Canvas” artist Greg “Craola” Simkins.

“It is a festive environment already and invites more than the average partygoers to take part,” he says. “I imagine new eyes and ears will be exposed to the various musical art genres and will be pleasantly surprised.”

Read more from Carol Cling at reviewjournal.com. Contact her at ccling@reviewjournal.com and follow @CarolSCling on Twitter.

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