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Thinking local on the Strip: SKYE Gallery is building an art bridge

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A variety of artwork awaits purchase inside SKYE Art Gallery at the Forum Shops.
Photo: Mona Shield Payne

The galleries inside Strip properties generally favor works by artists who reside elsewhere, with only a handful of locals in the mix. Local artists prefer the galleries and creative atmosphere of Downtown. These narratives have defined our city for years. Now, a pair of local women are working to change them.

SKYE Art Gallery—founded in December 2015 by Peruvian native Vanessa Skye and her wife, Russian-born Elena Skye—is nestled within the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, among high-end retail stores and upscale restaurants, plus a handful of fine art dealers like Exclusive Collections Gallery and Martin Lawrence Galleries. SKYE has distinguished itself from its neighbors not only with its local roots, but through its smartly curated lineup of Las Vegas and international exhibiting artists—and a desire to integrate the Downtown arts scene with the Strip.

“I’m a young, Latina female. The possibility that a person like me could do this is rare,” says Vanessa Skye, 34. “But I loved the art world. It was where I was happiest. I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life there.”

The Skyes have created one of few fine arts galleries in Las Vegas emphasizing pop art, a bright, inviting space with an impressive repertoire of talent from England, Armenia, Belgium, Mexico and the Vegas Valley.

“The galleries that are [in the Forum Shops] already have years of experience. That’s the challenge [for us], but that’s also the beauty,” she says. “They are not bringing anything new here; they’re extensions, continuations. They’re not showing what’s new from Las Vegas.”

Vanessa Skye moved here in April 2011 after working in the New York City art scene, and is adamant about influencing the growth of our creative community. “Vegas is like how New York City would have been when it was an exciting city, new to everything,” Skye says. “I feel like Vegas is a new New York.”

SKYE’s exhibiting artists include the Cuban-born “King of Pop Art,” Nelson De La Nuez, who has a permanent home at the gallery; Des Taylor, a British illustrator renowned for his DC Comics work and feminist-oriented art, who has his first fine artworks showing there; and William Sweetlove, a Belgian sculptor who recycles plastic, resin and polyurethane to create animal sculptures as an environmental statement. Even hip-hop legend DMC has made an appearance at SKYE with DMC (Darryl Makes Comics) Fine Art, and is expected to return this summer for a bigger show and live performance.

Although the Skyes already boast a high-caliber repertoire of artists, they emphasize their role as a community gallery. SKYE exhibits local talents like portraiture artist AraDona, who moved here from California after being given an opportunity at the gallery. A recent art and fashion collaboration show featured AraDona and haute couture fashion icon David Tupaz, who’s involved in the creation of a Las Vegas fashion district.

“The art here is not just from artists that are commercial or hot at the moment, but artists that are so passionate about what they do that they would never stop doing it,” Skye says. “They don’t do it because it’s what sells; it’s because it’s an extension of themselves.”

The Skyes want to extend the art presence on the Strip to Downtown, and to the rest of our city, starting with murals and internship programs. Vanessa hopes to have Sweetlove create an installation at Symphony Park, and Taylor design a mural at the Plaza. She also wants to construct better art programs for her current artists, while devising opportunities for new ones, including internships for UNLV art students.

Brian “Paco” Alvarez, longtime Downtown arts advocate and Art Curator and Boutique Buyer for Zappos, has known Vanessa for years. He looks forward to working with the Skyes to curate public art shows for Zappos’ Downtown headquarters, and for SKYE artists like Michael Summers to design custom collectibles for Zappos’ gift shop, Z’Boutique—further linking Strip-exhibiting artists with Downtown.

“She’s more than proven herself in the art scene here,” he says. “I think what Vanessa and her wife are doing on the Strip is nothing short of revolutionary.”

Not many have successfully linked the local and tourist worlds. Alvarez favorably likens the Skyes to local gallerist Michele Quinn, a strong presence on both sides of our city’s art scene. “If you’re going to be in the art gallery business, you have to look at the Strip in order to make it successful, or really market yourself,” Alvarez says.

There’s also the issue of locals’ common disdain for the Strip and its gridlock. But Alvarez says he believes all of Las Vegas will be unified within 10 to 15 years, through the rollout of a light rail system.

Vanessa Skye, meanwhile, points out the positive. “The locals see the Strip as the enemy … ‘Why aren’t we representing there? Isn’t this our town?’” Vanessa says. “If you’re an art lover here, you cannot afford to miss great opportunities that are happening on the Strip. And if you’re stuck in traffic, it’s an indicator that something good is happening.”

So, faced with these transportation and communication challenges, is it possible to unite the two communities? “Yes, it is absolutely possible. Is it imperative? Yes, it has to happen,” Alvarez says. “Vanessa and I feel that you can do a lot with a little.”

Vanessa plans to remain in the Forum Shops, the location of her “wildest dream.” She says last year she had the opportunity to open another SKYE in Paris, but that she’s not ready to expand so far away when there’s much work still to be done in Las Vegas.

“There’s a lot to do for sure, but most importantly the passion, desire and talent are there,” Vanessa says. “I [have my gallery] on the Strip, but I believe in what Downtown is doing. We need artists in both places. Use me. Use my location. Let me make that bridge.”

Skye Art Gallery Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday, 10 a.m.-midnight, free. The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, 702-836-3538.

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