LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Ask Shan Michael Evans where he got the color pallet for his latest mural and he can sum it up in one word. "Sweets."
Evans is a self-taught artist working in Las Vegas for the last 25 years or so.
He's also the man behind a brand new mural in the Arts District commissioned by a longtime Vegas staple, Freed's Bakery and Dessert Shop.
Freed's soon-to-be downtown presence
“We have quite a history in Las Vegas. We have families who have been coming to us for generations,” explained Max Jacobson-Freed, one of Freed's managing partners. The business has been in his family for three generations, opening in 1959.
Since that time, the bakery and dessert shop has developed quite a reputation with locals for its elaborate cakes and has garnered national attention with a show on the Food Network called "Vegas Cakes."
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On Dec. 9, the decades-long institution will have a grand opening for its new Dessert Shop on the corner of California Avenue and Main Street, with a soft opening expected for Nov. 19.
“We've been looking downtown for quite some time,” said Jacobson-Freed, pointing to the walkability of the area as a major plus. "There was a weekend I went downtown with some friends and we walked the Arts District and I said, 'Oh, my God. We need to be here.' It was just a really lovely experience."
And what would an Arts District grand opening be without some new artwork to celebrate?
"We wanted something that was fun, friendly, something that still speaks to the Arts District," said Jacobson-Freed. "We didn't want to just do like, 'Hey, paint us a bunch of cakes!'”
To make it happen, he reached out to Paco for some help.
History on display
Brian Paco Alvarez, known affectionately as "Paco" by his friends, is a curator, anthropologist and cultural arts expert in Las Vegas. During the pandemic, he launched a company called Psionic Art Works, in part, to help connect artists and businesses.
"Freed's is not just a brand, it's not just a bakery, it's a Las Vegas historical institution,” said Paco. To help illustrate the history, he is installing a portrait gallery in the shop.
"There's a long history of creating cakes for some of the most famous people in the city,” he said. "[The portrait gallery] is just bringing a piece of Vegas history right into the most historic neighborhood in the city."
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One of the photographs on the wall is a personal favorite for Jacobson-Freed.
"My favorite photo is a photo of my grandmother that was taken when she was probably 80 years old," Jacobson-Freed said. "She has a very knowing smile and a dandelion tucked behind her ear. It's just it's so my grandmother.”
Paco also tapped Evans to paint a mural that fills the shop's interior east and south walls.
Cakes on the brain
"The color palette was inspired by the desserts they have here,” explained Evans, who says he strives for simplicity in his work.
Although he's been making art his whole life, Evans says he started taking it seriously as a teenager when it overlapped with another passion.
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"Designing flyers for some local bands," he said. Evans is a musician and plays the synthesizer.
He also recently unveiled another mural in the same area, on the east outside wall of the shop, for the Southern Nevada Bicycle Coalition.
Evans says he tries to stay away from putting too many details in his work because he finds "more people can relate" to it without imposing the details on them.
"How can I describe it? In certain faces, do you see yourself in that face? Or do you see someone else?" he asked. "If the details are there, that's obviously not you, but maybe if it's as simple as a typical or traditional smiley face, that could be anyone, everyone, including you."
How does Jacobson-Freed feel? "I am just absolutely ecstatic with how it turned out,” he said.
"They were able to incorporate everything that is Freed's, you know? Awesome desserts, lots of color and lots of fun," he continued, "into this very unique and interesting mural that I never would have thought of."
"I think the narrative that Paco pitched was that it's 'cakes on the brain.' So it is people waiting in line with cakes on the brain," he said. "And that story actually gives it so much more meaning."
Prepping for a new adventure
Now that the Freed’s mural is done, Evans is packing his bags for another commission.
"Me and Paco will be heading to Alaska next year," he said. "We got a pretty good, pretty big project up there. If we can survive the cold.”
Paco calls the out-of-state commission “Vegas artists for export.”
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"Let the world realize that Vegas has an art scene as we export our artists overseas.”
You can follow Shan Michael Evans on Instagram at @shan.michael.evans.
To learn more about Psionic Art Works visit psionicartworks.com.
To learn more about Freed's Bakery and Dessert Shop visit freedsbakery.com.
This story is part of our weekly "How to Vegas" dedicated digital show. Watch it at 10:30 p.m. every Friday -- and throughout the weekend -- using the KTNV app on your favorite streaming device or on-demand at ktnv.com/HowToVegas.