It’s no surprise that the arts scene in Las Vegas has struggled along with the rest of the city. What once seemed to be a growing constellation of hot galleries has slowed. Jennifer Harrington’s exhibition space, Henri & Odette, changed its hours to appointment only. Gallery owner Naomi Arin decamped for California. Artist Gina Quaranto opened her own gallery, at the Southern Nevada Center for the Arts, in Neonopolis last October, only to see it shut down in June.
The summer was a period of “total frantic depression” for Quaranto, but she appears nothing if not plucky. Her efforts to find a new space soon led her to the door of a retired craps dealer named Joe Frcho, who had bought a storefront property on Main Street out of foreclosure at the start of the year. Frcho was looking for someone to run it as an art gallery.
The result of their meeting is Place Gallery, which opened last week. The new space, along with a new pocket park the city is installing across the street, suggests that the local arts scene here—or at least a corner of it—is starting to turn around.
“It’s scary. It’s challenging. But it’s very exciting, too,” Quaranto says.
Place Gallery kicked off last week with a month-long group show of artists from an online collective called Art Renegades. Founded in 2001 by Las Vegas artist Michael Arthurholtz and a handful of artist friends, the group has now grown to 62 members—15 from Vegas. The show at Place is not organized around any theme, but the art collectively feels alive, wicked, surreal. “We’re not going with the mainstream art,” Arthurholtz says. “We lean toward the lowbrow, the darker side.”
It’s been a frantic couple of months installing the 30-odd pieces for the exhibition. But Arthurholtz says the art here looks good and can be appreciated on any level. “You don’t have to feel looked down on because you’re not part of the art crowd. You just enjoy the image for what it is.”
When Frcho took over the space, he considered opening some kind of underage nightclub, but opted to focus on art instead. At the rear of the gallery are seven small doorless studios Frcho plans to rent out to artists. The gallery and studio spaces run seamlessly together—visitors who drop by are likely to catch artists at work. Quaranto says the gallery will be open all day Friday through Sunday and for several hours during the week.
Getting the space ready wasn’t easy. The carpet was so difficult to remove that Frcho had to pull it up with a line attached to his truck. This took two days, plus four more to scrape up the glue. Frcho also owns an adjoining space. Right now, it’s empty except for a small stage at the front. He doesn’t know what’s going to come of that space yet. But he does plan to invite high school students to compete to design a logo and sign for the gallery.
Frcho’s says he’s enjoying his unexpected turn as art-gallery maven, but Vegas arts, like the city itself, are a long way from being out of the woods. “I still see a long road to make this place profitable or even break even.”