Collector Branden Powers plants art on the streets for you to find

A painting by R.A. Miller that Branden Powers hung on a building on Las Vegas Boulevard.
Photo: Mikayla Whitmore

A Wesley Willis drawing.

On Tuesday at noon, art collector Branden Powers nailed an R.A. Miller painting to a Downtown building on Las Vegas Boulevard, then drove off, leaving the art to be found by anyone who happened to come along. Whether they recognize the work as something of value (Miller was an outsider artist whose work is featured in museums and sought after by collectors), keep it, sell it or throw it away, is up to them.

The painting by Miller—a self-taught artist and Southern preacher whose windmill-covered hilltop was featured in R.E.M.’s Left of Reckoning short film—is among more than 100 works of art that Powers plans to release to the community, a sharing of his personal collection that’s part social experiment and part art project.

The entrepreneur and owner of marketing and consulting firm 15n has been collecting American folk art for more than 20 years and wants to give away part of the collection in a nontraditional—and, some might argue, unethical—way, by leaving at least one piece of art on the streets of Las Vegas every day for 100 days.

Much of it is outsider art, made by the likes of Daniel Johnston, Wesley Willis and Howard Finster—pottery, paintings, drawings and works on paper—and it will be left in Downtown areas, across the Strip and other neighborhoods in an effort to “spread folk art throughout the different social strata that exist in the diverse areas of Las Vegas.”

A vase from Branden Powers' collection

It’s a way, Powers says, to share works that are “by the people and for the people.” A former creative director at Hard Rock Hotel and early West Coast rave scene pioneer, Powers says the decision came after a separation and a move, and that he was inspired by people who give money away around the holidays. That the works could be damaged has crossed his mind, but he says, “significant pieces will be put in areas where people will grab it and know it.” He’ll also consider the weather conditions and opt not to tape a Wesley Willis to a fence if it’s raining.

“I have a strong connection to Wesley Willis, having head-butted him on several occasions,” Powers says of the artist/musician, who sometimes greeted people by head-butting them. “I bought some of his stuff on the street in Chicago.”

Mostly, Powers says, “I’ll leave them in an accessible place. I’m not going to make it too hard. I’ve given in to whatever happens happens. Whatever happens is the art itself.”

“I have a strong connection to art,” he adds, “But it needs to be somewhere beyond the boxes in my garage. My life has changed. I have two kids. My house is covered with toys.”

By Tuesday afternoon, the Miller piece (left across from Florida Café) had been picked up by artists Matthew Couper and JK Russ, who’d been tipped off by a clue left by Powers on Facebook, one of few clues he plans to give.

“I think it’s such a great project,” Couper says. “I think people will recognize the works as something artistic and important.” As for the Miller, he says, “It’s kind of an amazing thing to have.”

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Kristen Peterson

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