After 25 years in the Las Vegas community, the Contemporary Arts Center is shutting down operations. The board members will file to dissolve its nonprofit status on April 5, and the 25th Annual Juried Show, open April 3-25 at CAC’s temporary location inside Alios at 1217 S. Main Street, will be its final show.
"The writing has been on the walls since we moved out of the Arts Factory and nobody stepped up," says Michele Quinn, board co-president, referring to the organization’s move out of its longtime space in the Arts Factory and into Todd VonBastiaans' Alios lighting consulting business. VonBastiaans had donated the space, which was designed as a gallery operation prior to his moving in.
Quinn and Aurore Giguet joined the board a year ago and aimed to raise large-scale funding for the CAC, but the money was not coming in.
"Our last fundraiser was a very targeted private event," she says, adding that they sought $10,000 apiece from 10 people. "The feeling I got was, 'We don't want to be your only donor.' They're looking at other nonprofits that have staff and support systems. We're being weighed against the other nonprofits. From a donor perspective and from family foundations, we were too high of a risk."
Additionally, she says, when it was announced that the co-presidents would be stepping down, nobody came forward to replace them.
The decision to shut down was made at the March 19 board meeting, with six members voting to dissolve the organization and two members voting to go into dormancy. Dormancy still requires a board.
"We keep chasing our tails. It's the same story," Quinn says. "We didn't have the Hot Hot Haute [fundraiser], but that takes time and energy, and $10,000, which is about what it brings in, isn't going to save us."
The organization began in 1989 as a collective, then named the Contemporary Arts Collective, and was a member-based, volunteer organization that exhibited works of its members, as well as other shows. It has struggled over the decades with funding and operations. New boards and new volunteers came forward and tried to remedy the problem, but the CAC has always operated on a shoestring basis.
A John Wayne Gacy exhibit in August 2011, held by Wes Myles, the organization’s biggest benefactor (who often paid the group's rent to keep it in his building) caused some of its members to step away from the organization due to the controversy from the late serial killer's artwork.
When the CAC ran into financial trouble at its location at Holsum Lofts, Myles stepped up to bring the CAC back to the Arts Factory and paid its rent. Many artists and arts supporters have volunteered at the organization, working full-time to keep it running.
The decision to dissolve might come as no surprise to those familiar with the group in recent months. The board held an open community meeting December 18 to discuss its future. Options on the table included running the CAC as a pop-up gallery space. Former board members suggested it return to its early mission as a collective—with an army of volunteers running the group—and not as a gallery. But even as a collective, the organization struggled over the past decade. Gallery hours were hit and miss, there was internal infighting and there was no record keeping of previous donors.
The effort to dissolve comes at a time when the CAC has been presenting some of its strongest programming—a mix of exhibits featuring artists from Las Vegas and other cities.
Quinn says the process has been frustrating. Efforts such as the Life Cube raised $15,000, and the for-profit Huntridge project raised $207,000, but the CAC, acting as a longtime nonprofit focused on contemporary art, was unable to get community members to donate $25 for a base membership, despite interest from the community in its shows.
"It's strictly financial," Quinn says. "When we joined, there was less than $1,500 in the bank. Grants take a year and a half to come through. Maybe the community isn't asking for this right now."
"We have given this everything we have," Giguet said via release, "but there's a time when you have to step back and examine when the support isn't there. Despite the valiant fundraising efforts of our team, we've come to the conclusion that the funding is no longer there to support this organization."
Brian Paco Alvarez, who served as CAC vice president for a few years and served on the board for eight years, says he’s “in shock” over the news. The CAC has been in worse positions, but it's always been sustained. Always someone stepped up to the plate.
"We painted the walls, we cleaned the floors, we hung the art. Anybody who's anybody in the arts in this community did their time at the CAC. It's the rite of passage in the arts in this community. It was never perfect. It was a working board. We did what we had to do to keep the organization going."
Artist Diane Bush, who has served on the board and been involved with the CAC for several years, says she's not surprised by the news and that running the organization is full-time job. "Michele and Aurore gave it a good try, but unless it is your primary passion in life, it's a hard organization to keep strong. When the CAC started out it was practically the only game in town and was vital to the community. Now that many other opportunities exist, the loss of the CAC is not earthshaking, just sad. Blackbird Studios has filled the CAC mission to some extent, in its outreach to community artists, though the mission to commit to cutting edge contemporary art is not the same. We now have Emergency Arts, and a wide variety of Main Street shops who partner with artists on First Friday. The Arts Factory remains, Art Square is a wonderful space, so Las Vegas will survive, even if the CAC does not."