UNLV art department chair Marcus Civin looks to unite, inspire and entertain

Marcus Civin performs during Radar 3 at Space 9Twenty.
Photo: Michael Barrett / Courtesy

When Marcus Civin decided to move from Maryland to Las Vegas to start his new role as Department Chair of UNLV’s art department, it was the diversity of the university that caught his attention.

“I’ve been thinking about the old Obama quote,” he says. His demeanor is casual and inviting, not pretentious or loaded with artspeak as one might expect (although he has the credentials to switch into that mode whenever he sees fit). “He used to say ‘We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,’ and I think that’s true of Las Vegas as well. Everything we need is here. It’s just coming together in a slightly different way and expanding our circles and imagination.”

In the seven months Civin has been here—he relocated to Vegas in July—he has canvassed the community and taken stock of ways UNLV’s art department could help bring people together, to create a dialog and communication between artists of all kinds.

Prior to arriving at UNLV, Civin worked at the Maryland Institute College of Art, in roles ranging from Associate Dean for Curriculum to Interim Director of Curatorial Practice. He also co-founded the nonprofit arts studio New Urban Arts for high school students in Providence, Rhode Island. He’s promoted diversity everywhere he’s been.

“To arrive on campus at UNLV and be like, ‘Oh, things are ahead here; the student population is already quite diverse; the students already have a sophistication in how they talk about their identities and how they listen to each other’” was a breath of fresh air, Civin says.

But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t work to be done. Civin, who’s background is in performance, has been working closely with new appointees—graduate coordinator Wendy Kveck and Barrick Museum executive director Alisha Kerlin—to usher in a new tide of inclusive programming. Kerlin and Civin, along with the interdisciplinary gender and ethnic studies faculty and a coalition of indigenous faculty, generated a “massive list” of indigenous artists to host at UNLV, at student behest.

And while the department will be writing grants and working with various artists to bring more speakers in the fall, that search also led to the creation of the art department’s Transformation Fellowship (inaugural fellow Amanda Browder gave her first lecture on February 21). “We were looking for an artist with a slightly different focus … to shape something even larger than the department culture, to help shape the culture in the city and in the state,” Civin says.

And that’s a role he’s taking on, too (in tandem with local artist Brent Holmes). When he isn’t evaluating faculty and proposing new courses—“I enjoy it because I’m a nerd, but it’s not the most glamorous thing,” he jokes—he’s working on Radar, a performance-based art event that just finished its sixth installment in Downtown’s Space 9Twenty warehouse. Radar’s catchphrase: “It beats spending another Wednesday night at a bar.”

“You can get sucked into a routine and let your passions sort of dry up on the vine. Radar seemed like a way to keep seeing what I want to see,” Civin says. “There’s kind of an immediacy to performance that keeps us all on our toes—it just kind of keeps me alive.”

For more information on the next Radar event, follow r.a.d.a.r_lv on Instagram.

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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