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Enjoy a Fresh Look at These Museums

Watch as rusty neon signs with broken bulbs spring back to lighted life after the sun goes down in Las Vegas. Explore a century-old industrial building that has been transformed into a home for contemporary art in Toronto. Appreciate art and then create it in one of nine studios at a new arts center in Kansas.

These museums that collect historic objects, ancient artifacts and contemporary art are moving into the future with new buildings, major expansions and innovative experiences.

Neon Museum

Las Vegas

Anyone who has been to the Neon Museum’s Boneyard in Las Vegas understands the desire to see the rusty, defunct, behemoth neon casino signs ablaze once again.

Now they can.

Brilliant! is the museum’s expansion and new experience that opened in February. A year earlier, artist Craig Winslow reached out to the museum after stopping in Vegas during a road trip. He had been projecting re-creations of worn “ghost” signs on the sides of buildings and wanted to try projection mapping on old neon signs.

For his first attempt, “he had one little laptop and one little projector, and it was amazing because you would have sworn that thing had been restored,” said Dawn Merritt, the museum’s public relations and marketing director. “It was red, the lights were flickering and scintillating. But, in fact, it was rusted, and the bulbs were broken.”

Using eight projectors in two 20-foot towers, Brilliant! applies the technology to 40 signs in what was an underused, 8,000-square-foot lot adjacent to the Boneyard. The timed nighttime tours surround visitors in a 3-D experience with music, lights and video.

The experience starts with the heart in the middle of the Lady Luck sign pulsing to life as Frank Sinatra’s “Luck Be a Lady” plays. Then lights start flickering and sparkling and twinkling as iconic signs, including the Golden Nugget, “become whole again.” Historic footage of Freemont Street is projected onto the letters S, T, A and R from the Stardust sign. “Strangers in the Night” begins to play as an image of Liberace appears at a piano-shaped neon sign, complete with candelabra.

So many people who visit the Boneyard say the museum should restore more signs, which is both expensive and counter to the museum’s mission of collecting and preserving, Merritt said.

“We like having the aged signs, and now, being able to magically make it come back to life, you get both worlds,” Merritt said.