Las Vegas might be the center of the entertainment universe, but in terms of politics, we’re remote. Our state capital is hundreds of miles away, and our nation’s capital is so distant, it might as well be in another country.
But one brave delegation of art-loving Nevadans is determined to overcome the geographic barriers. This week, a group of Northern and Southern Nevadans traveled to Washington, D.C. to take part in Arts Advocacy Day, along with representatives from the other 49 states. Nevada’s small coalition included arts leaders, high school students and Sarah O’Connell, a Las Vegas-based theater director and founder of the website eatmoreartvegas.com.
We checked in with O’Connell at the end of Day 1, as her group prepared for meetings on Capitol Hill with Senators Dean Heller and Catherine Cortez Masto and Representatives Jacky Rosen, Ruben Kihuen and Mark Amodei. O’Connell sounded tired but exhilarated after a day that included inspiring talks and a red-eye flight from Vegas.
Why she joined the delegation: “All of this is an extension of what I take it to mean to be a theater director. Artists should see themselves as citizenry. To me it’s a patriotic duty to participate in the arts. My version of being a good American is wrapped up in the arts and the votes.”
On being a first-time advocate in D.C.: “This is uncharted territory for me. I’m hoping to take the experience of meeting face to face with representatives and learn how to do it back home on the local level. It’s hard to get experience without going out there and doing it.”
What Nevada needs: “People struggle in parallel to each other but don’t communicate. We need lightning rods and rallying points in order to come together. [Between the] North and South, we have a state that feels like a couple of states. We need to open up a line of communication and break a lot of ice.”
On Las Vegas: “People don’t realize how Vegas works. The tougher the neighborhood, the more important the arts program. Giving money to arts in Vegas doesn’t mean you’re enriching a casino boss; it means you’re helping an after-school program or an elderly person in a retirement community.”
On learning resilience: “It’s frustrating to think about the [arts] budget being potentially cut after working so hard to protect it. [I’ve learned] it’s all about not backing down. You have to keep doubling down on the mission because it’s a winning message. Make sure no one forgets that the arts are important.”
Her message to our Representatives: “I hope they will learn that the arts are more than just a show. People rely on the arts in order to be successful and feel healthy and happy. It’s not just about commercial theater—everybody in Nevada benefits from the arts. Their support is appreciated so much that we all came here to tell them thank you.”