Twenty years ago, Las Vegas had no Arts District and no Strip concert venues. But one thing was as true then as now: If you got several arts-minded people together, talk would eventually turn to how our cultural environment could be improved. In the interest of honoring that tradition, here are five such suggestions I’ve recently heard.
Move the paintbrushes together. The late Dennis Oppenheim’s public art piece, “Paintbrush Gateway,” is underwhelming—the glowing, 45-foot-tall paintbrushes are diminished by other nearby Arts District signage. Let’s place the two pieces together on the same plot of land—in an “X” configuration, perhaps—where they could, at the very least, provide a decent backdrop for visitor photos. What good is public art if no one notices it?
Start concerts earlier. I don’t want to tell local promoters their business, but I missed a recent show because the headlining band didn’t start playing until 11:30 p.m. That’s when shows should be ending, so we can go to another late-night show, grab some street tacos or—crazy idea—go home and fall asleep so we can be slightly less a zombie at work the following day.
Appoint a municipal advisory board of local artists. Such a body could advise the city and/or county on visual art matters, both permanent (public art pieces like Oppenheim’s) and temporary (shows like Cory McMahon’s Space Available, removed from the Clark County Government Center’s Rotunda because local officials simply didn’t get it.) As Vegas invests more in art—both publicly and privately—advice and education is essential.
Create more live-work spaces. Last spring I had the opportunity to spend a day with Krystal Ramirez in the Juhl’s sponsored live-work gallery, and it was thrilling to see her creativity unfettered by boring practicalities like “I need room to work” or “I gotta get home.” Downtown has plenty of weird spaces that could be converted to live-work use—and a city of 2 million people should have at least a few dozen patrons to create and support them.
Support at least one local a month. This is more difficult than it sounds: When was the last time you saw a local play, bought a locally-made piece of art or bought an album by a local band? Or better still: Have you ever done all three in the space of 30 days?
There’s more to it than supporting your friends, even though that’s important: As David Byrne once wrote, “Being creative is a job.” When you support the participants of a cultural scene, the entire scene strengthens, expands—and attracts the new blood needed to perpetuate it. Start by supporting just one local artist, or musician, or theater company, every month. You might be paving the way for the next two that follow.