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As We See It

Painting the town

A crusade to fight graffiti becomes a city-wide arts group

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Camille Duskin wants to use art to revitalize the look of Downtown.
Photo: Richard Brian

When Camille and Jerry Duskin met once a month at the Stratosphere, along with other property owners in the Naked City neighborhood, the common complaint was graffiti. Everyone was concerned about tagging in the neighborhood. So Camille Duskin came up with a plan to fight back—with art.

She began with an apartment complex she and her husband owned on Fairfield Avenue, just behind the Stratosphere. She asked artist Greg Etchison to produce a mural for the front of the building, and Etchison responded with an ambitious series of paintings called Pictures at an Exhibition. The wall of the building features his precise reproductions of famous paintings by masters ranging from Picasso to Matisse, Degas, Gauguin and Monet. Wood silhouettes of people, painted black, are attached to the wall to complete the work—people in a gallery, watching the art.

On the building to the left of Duskin’s is a mural by painter Dave Ozuma of a purple desert tortoise ambling through a desert lit by an orange sky. To the right is a dazzling mural by spray-paint artist Dray. It’s a sensual kaleidoscope of curving musical instruments, faces and bodies.

It’s all very simple, but it seems to be working. So far Duskin’s mural project has reached seven buildings near Downtown. “If we have a building that’s really bad, we try to contact the owner,” says Duskin. “Everybody that has been identified, those buildings have not been tagged.”

Duskin says the only criterion is that the artists be local. But Duskin also insists her artists get paid, and she has gotten an assist from city grants. “I hate asking people for money, even the city, but that’s the only way we can get some of those buildings started.”

In the alleys behind the homes on Fairfield, meanwhile, Duskin has found children to provide their own murals. “It does work,” she says of the mural program. “It’s just people need to participate.”

But the murals are just the start. Duskin has created no less than a small nonprofit arts empire across Las Vegas, called the Gateway Arts Foundation. She holds private recitals for promising young musicians at her mother’s old house, which happens to be next door to hers. She began hosting events at the Sahara Yacht Club. And when that space grew too small, she found a home at the auditorium of the Trinity International School on the city’s east side. Gateway has hosted a one-woman show starring Marque Munday, one of the first African-American Rockettes, as well as a performance by singer-turned-costume designer Isaias Urrabazo. The foundation also collects money for scholarships for young artists.

Coming up later this month is an exhibition of a private Chinese art collection amassed from locations near the Tea Road, a famous trade route through China. A performance by jazz keyboardist Michael Dubay is scheduled for November.

Duskin grew up in a musical family in Los Angeles and always loved the arts. But despite her bubbly personality, she says she’s not really interested in fundraising or glad-handing. She just wants to put on more art. “Some people play golf,” she says. “This is what I do.”

As for the murals, the most recent work was done earlier this year. “We’re always looking for new canvases. It’s an ongoing project.”

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