A proposal to raise artist business license fees by 30 percent in the City of Las Vegas has artists, particularly those in the Downtown area, feeling slighted, even bruised, given the city’s waiving of $50,000 licensing fees for alcohol-related establishments in the area.
Despite the neighborhood being officially designated as the Arts District by the city, there have been few to no incentives for artists or gallery operators.
The proposed fee increases for visual artists are part of the city’s proposed Title 6 amendments of the Las Vegas Municipal Code, which includes licensing fees for an assortment of businesses, including adult day care facilities, car washes, valet parking, bail agents, consulting services and home care providers.
If approved, the artist license fee of $150 will increase to $200. A $50 increase might not seem excessive, but artists and arts advocates say it sends the wrong message to those who helped establish the area as an Arts District.
"It’s more symbolic that the city will waive $50,000 licenses for alcohol-related businesses that are extremely profitable in an Arts District, while at the same time raising fees 30 percent on the original economic generators," says Melissa Petersen, a Las Vegas native and longtime arts advocate. "You can’t have an Arts District without artists."
Petersen launched a Facebook page—“No 30% Fee Increase for Visual Artist Licenses”—to encourage artists to send public comment on Title 6's proposed increase to licenses for visual artists, the listed business category for artists.
"The City has waived the Urban Lounge and reduced the Limited Tavern fees in the 18b Arts District to encourage business development," it reads. "There is no Arts District without Artists. Increasing fees 30% is not supportive of the people who helped make the area attractive to Urban Lounges and Limited Taverns."
Wendy Kveck who runs a studio in Arts District, says a lack of incentives for artists, along with high rents in the area, discourage artists from working in the Arts District or elsewhere Downtown, thus discouraging the real growth and sustainability of an actual Arts District.
Longtime supporters of the Arts District have publicly criticized the arrival of new investors wanting to open bars in the area, saying it will result in higher rents and threatens the art element of the Arts District. Some artists and business owners have been asked to vacate spaces they'd been renting because new owners want to develop restaurants and bars in the area.
Welthy Silva, owner of the Las Vegas Ballet School at 1039 S. Main St., said that she was asked to vacate her rental space in November by the building’s new owners. She says they told her of plans to open a bar and restaurant on the parcel, which was also home to Sharon Gainsburg’s stone sculpture studios. Gainsburg has since moved her studio to 1533 W. Oakey Blvd.
Kveck says that in the early days of Downtown revitalization, it was the artists and gallerists taking risks in what were blighted areas, encouraging development. "While much of the new development Downtown is exciting and welcome, we are seeing an increase in Downtown bars as gallerists struggle to keep afloat and studio spaces/potential studio spaces remain vacant in the Arts District,” she says.
"A renewed commitment to and support of the arts in the "Arts District is vital to its success, diversity and longevity,” she adds.
The proposed amendments are scheduled to go before council in early June.