To understand how the Downtown arts scene has evolved over the past 25 years, one needs only to have attended a December 18 discussion at the Contemporary Arts Center. Designed to look at the future of the nonprofit organization, the meeting quickly blew into lamentations by longtime members calling for the CAC of the past.
Within the emotionally charged and sometimes antagonistic conversation lay the crux of the issue: Things have changed. Not just in the organization, but within the Las Vegas community around it. When the Contemporary Arts Center formed in 1989, there were a couple of solid arts organizations in town—including the Nevada Institute of Contemporary Art and the 39-year-old, but still-fledgling, Las Vegas Art Museum—but not a lot of gallery exhibition space. As a collective, the CAC was geared toward bringing together artists in the community; offering them a place to exhibit and learn about the business of galleries and art; and, most importantly, to bridge UNLV art programs with the rest of the community.
But as the CAC changed hands over the years, and as the art scene grew up, the focus turned more to exhibitions. “Collective” was replaced in the name with “Center,” and shows became rotations of national and international artists as a way to connect Las Vegas with what was happening in other cities.
Due to ongoing financial struggles, the CAC recently moved from the Arts Factory to a temporary, rent-free space on Main Street donated by arts advocate Todd VonBastiaans. The stay allowed the group to get out of crisis mode while planning its next move—whether that means closing down, serving as a pop-up space or trying to find a new home.
The passion at last month’s meeting wasn’t surprising. Early members pushed for the fundraising efforts of the past—which had everyone chipping in—instead of upscale events that haven’t raised necessary funds. They suggested membership incentives by promising to exhibit each member’s work, which prompted discourse about the difference between working artists and hobbyists.
They explained their view that high-end donors are not willing or ready to give to a Downtown contemporary arts organization. On this, they had a point. Getting anyone to care about a nonprofit contemporary art gallery here is no easy task.
But promising to show anyone’s work if they pay the membership dues isn’t an answer, either, for an organization trying to raise the bar on art exhibits—and there are already so many options and walls Downtown, including those at Blackbird Studios, which offers themed group shows that open the doors to all artists.
But if the broad sampling of artists, gallerists and other arts professionals who met to discuss CAC’s fate last month—from Michele Quinn, Dana Satterwhite, Aurore Giguet and Tarissa Tiberti to Suzanne Hackett-Morgan, Jim Stanford, Brett Sperry, Lisa Stamanis, Steven Spann, Jo Russ and Matthew Couper—can’t make things happen, there might be a more serious problem at hand.