Las Vegas’ Contemporary Arts Center is moving out and moving on

The INDELICATE exhibit at the Contemporary Arts Center Las Vegas, Friday Sept. 6, 2013.
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

With the Contemporary Arts Center moving out of the Arts Factory this month, we can only nod our heads and say, “Must be that time of year again,” for dire straits is an annual occurrence with the city’s longest-running non-profit contemporary art group.

The much-loved/much-loathed arts organization started out its 25th year this spring with a celebratory fundraising campaign designed to launch it forward—after all, an anniversary would surely get the community to chip in a few dollars, right?

Not so much.

“We’re running on fumes,” says Michele Quinn, CAC’s co-president, a gallery owner and art advisor, who stepped forward to help out the organization this year. “It’s been tight to run operations at the level we’re at.”

And so when Todd VonBastiaans, owner of Alios lighting company, offered the CAC a six-month, rent-free space, it graciously accepted and readied itself to wind down its days at the Arts Factory, where it has had a long history. Quinn says the group plans to officially open in the Alios space at 1217 S. Main St. later in November.

“It made sense financially and in going forward,” she added. “This gives us an opportunity to catch up. We’re also thinking of a different way to look at CAC, at what we’re doing. Maybe we’re just a pop-up space or an art information center for the local community.”

The switcheroo is sort of an ongoing game of musical chairs. VonBastiaans (an art collector and active philanthropist around town) is moving his business into a retail space in the Container Park for six months. His Alios space on Main Street was once home to Godt-Cleary Projects (later changed to G-C Arts), operated by Quinn, who was active in renovating the storefront so many years ago.

“The timing is perfect,” VonBastiaans says. “We’re moving into Container Park for six months to do some exciting things there. [The CAC] is the oldest arts organization that I know of here and it would be a shame to lose it.”

Its mission as a member-based arts organization dedicated to more risky, experimental (and mostly non-commercial) art exhibits, interspersed with member shows, has made it a valuable entity over the years.

The list of names—artists, advocates and others—who have volunteered for or exhibited at the CAC reads like a who’s who of the Las Vegas arts scene—David Sanchez Burr, Suzanne Hacket-Morgan, Diane Bush, Brian “Paco” Alvarez, Catherine Borg, Wendy Kveck, Erin Stellmon and Tim Bavington, just to name a few.

But turmoil, controversy and general hardship has become the norm for the organization started originally as a collective by UNLV professors seeking alternative exhibition space for students and artists. Its shoestring budget, revolving door of volunteers and board members who’ve exhausted themselves keeping it afloat has mixed over the years with occasional infighting with every regime change.

Two years ago, Arts Factory owner Wes Myles, who’s been noted over the years as the CAC’s largest benefactor, arranged for a fundraising exhibit featuring the work of the late John Wayne Gacy, a convicted child molester and serial killer, which caused members of the CAC’s exhibitions committee to step down in protest while some members vowed to never give the group money again.

But a lot happens in two years. New blood transitioned into the group and its exhibition programming has been some of the best it’s ever had. Adding Quinn, who owns MCQ Art Advisory and co-curated CityCenter’s $40 million art program, helped restore credibility. Sharing the title with her is Aurore Giguet, who runs the Barrick Museum at UNLV, where the Las Vegas Art Museum’s permanent collection is held and exhibited. Artist Jo Russ serves as gallery coordinator.

Its six months at the Main Street location could breathe more life into the CAC in terms of supporters. That section of Main Street is home to Patina Décor, Retro Vegas and other boutique shops that have helped to revive the area and draw locals with money to spend.

“Main Street is finally evolving to where we thought it would be in 2005,” says Quinn, referring to her gallery’s old stomping grounds that took a hit when a proposed arena threatened future businesses there. “We’ll see what kind of other opportunities this gives us. We’ll regroup, look at how to move forward, what programming is going to be like, look for grant opportunities. We’re fairly strong in programming in the six months moving forward. This is a decision that had to be made for CAC to continue.”

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Kristen Peterson

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