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Fine Art

Paint it, positive

Despite the economy’s devastating impact on the arts in Las Vegas, a community remains hopeful

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One last look: The LVAM, right before it closed.
Photo: Ryan Olbrysh

On paper, the arts are looking grim. In less than two years the city lost the Las Vegas Art Museum and two critical downtown galleries, Naomi Arin Contemporary Art and Michele C. Quinn Fine Art Advisory. The Las Vegas Philharmonic nearly collapsed, Nevada Ballet Theatre restructured for financial reasons, and museums and cultural centers cut hours and programming.

Meanwhile, the city has suggested closing the Reed Whipple Cultural Center as a way to fill its budget gap. State Sen. Steven Horsford suggested closing state parks to save money, a move that could shut down the 35-year-old Super Summer Theatre at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park. Individual grant opportunities are drying up and the stimulus funds awarded to local arts and culture are running out.

Then there are officials with the city of Las Vegas, sharpening their budget cleavers to curtail a $400 million deficit, knowing that nearly 40 percent of participants in a 2009 survey said the city should place less emphasis on cultural opportunities.

"It's the worst time I've ever seen in terms of the arts," says Joan Lolmaugh, president of community-art agency Metro Arts Council.

But some are responding with determination and tenacity. Groups are talking about creative partnerships. Others are buckling down and staying focused.

"You can't just jump ship," says Jeanne Voltura, gallery coordinator for the city, who is waiting to see if the Reed Whipple gallery space will be closed. "The arts are always under tight scrutiny, so this is nothing new. People are looking at creative options."

Lolmaugh says that the drying up of public and private funding is resulting in more collaborations, and that the arts are evolving rather than disappearing.

Patrick Gaffey, cultural coordinator for Clark County, says he's seeing a new spirit of arts advocacy and elected officials who are listening, referring to recent town hall meetings and legislative sessions. "It's times like these you start to find out how much support you have," Gaffey says. "I think we're going to see a different political climate in regard to the arts." Also, he says, "we have more people turning out for our programs than in the past," including a recent performance by Meshugginah Klezmorim, from which 30 people were turned away.

Wendy Kveck, director of the Contemporary Arts Center, says that the 20-year-old organization is running month-to-month and needs $40,000 for this year's operating costs. Stimulus funds used to hire her expire in June.

The group is looking at potential partnerships, fundraising (an upcoming juried show raised $6,000), is beefing up its board, increasing its memberships and tapping into community support, including a donor who stepped forward to help fund this year's Off The Strip program, which features two weeks of performance and video art.

Kveck even says she feels hopeful about the CAC's growth. She's not seeing a lot of panic in the community, but, she says, "I don't want to discount that it's hard out there. We're (artists) just used to having three different jobs and balancing that with our own studio practice."

Similarly, artist Catherine Borg says that while she sees some anxiety over what might be lost, there is still a lot of vitality in the arts community — evident by the large volume of art events still happening in Las Vegas. Artists, Borg says, are used to being resourceful — in good times and bad.

Trifecta Gallery owner Marty Walsh says she's not too worried about her gallery, one of few in town that makes money: "On the contrary, I'm thinking about expanding. Now is the time. In 2009, I decided to work on my business plan. It was an opportunity to stop and focus." Gaffey says that Winchester Center plans to start new programs, including a third "Zap" public-art project, a summer classical-music camp in Lee Canyon and a summer public-art program that hires high school art students and is funded by the county's summer jobs program.

The center uses part of the $50,000 in stimulus funds awarded to the county for "Zap," concerts, the Native American Day festival and youth arts instructors. The money runs out in June. More Winchester concerts could be cut, Gaffey says, but many concerts are self-sustaining. Artists who exhibit there are not paid. The center plans to rally its Friends of Winchester group for fundraising and is waiting to hear if it receives federal Community Development Block Grant funds for a new dance floor.

Gaffey says he's optimistic, but that when he looks beyond Winchester he has different feelings, particularly the "unthinkable" possibility that Reed Whipple, the Valley's first cultural center, could be scrapped. The center has a popular art gallery, a ceramic studio and practice rooms, is home to Rainbow Company Youth Theatre and the Las Vegas Youth Orchestra. Voltura, the city gallery coordinator, says that there are two years of exhibits scheduled at Reed Whipple, but she says he could relocate some exhibits to other venues.

"I'm trying to be positive and to focus on what I can do."

Beth Barbre, Nevada Ballet Theatre's executive director, says the company is holding steady; that its recent cuts have allowed the company to establish a platform for growth when the economy recovers.

"We budget conservatively. We're working hard to meet our revenue. We're operating like a business should."

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Kristen Peterson

Kristen Peterson joined the Las Vegas Sun in 1998 as a general assignment reporter. In 2003, she turned her focus ...

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