County Commissioners address recent art controversy

An installation view of Cory McMahon’s exhibit “Space Available” at the Rotunda Gallery inside the Government Center, Friday, May 4, 2018. The exhibit was only up for a week after Clark County asked McMahon to take down.
Photo: Yasmina Chavez

What kind of parameters should be set for the display of art in Clark County's public spaces? It seems an unlikely topic for non-artists like the Board of Commissioners to consider, but following the removal of one local artist’s work from a county gallery in May, that’s exactly what they discussed Tuesday afternoon inside the Clark County Government Center.

In between reports about wedding tourism and labor negotiations, the Commission opened the floor to “discuss the policies and procedures for the display of art at the Clark County facilities” and to “direct staff accordingly.” The agenda item was added by the commission after mounting pressure from the arts community, following the eviction of Las Vegas artist Cory McMahon’s work from the Clark County Government Center’s Rotunda Gallery.

“Certainly there’s lots of ways to approach art, and certainly putting restrictions on any type of format like that can come back at you, which is what I think wave understood now,” acting director of Clark County Parks and Recreation Mindy Meyers told the Weekly. “Being able to understand the concepts, I think, is key prior to having the art installed—that we’re getting what’s appropriate for the gallery site. That’s really what was in question in the past: Was the artwork appropriate for the venue?”

Others may have previously posed that question, but it hadn’t become a citywide debate until last month, when McMahon was ordered to remove his work, titled Space Available, from the Rotunda almost immediately after its installation. The decision to remove Space Available was made by Clark County management, Meyers says, based on the criteria that Clark County did not permit discarded materials in its call for artist exhibitions.

Meyers said she hoped to defer to the Clark County Commission for guidance prior to drafting new procedures and parameters for the 2018-2019 Clark County call for artist proposals, but the session did not return any definitive answers.

Specific requests by commissioners Steve Sisolak and Marilyn Kirkpatrick included exhibiting more youth art, while Lawrence Weekly called for more educational, culturally diverse opportunities.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who added the item to the agenda, also weighed in on one of the program’s current restrictions. The clause about discarded items was used to defend and uphold the removal of McMahon’s exhibit in May.

“I do think you should be able to allow discarded materials—I don’t know what the heck that means, anyway,” Giunchigliani said, citing various artworks throughout the city that use found materials. “You don’t want to assume because something is recycled [that it isn’t art]. I think that needs to be re-looked at … I just don’t want the county to be accused of censorship in regards to the arts.”

Meyers told the Weekly that they would be “pulling out that language” regarding discarded materials, and that procedures would change to ensure artworks are vetted prior to being chosen, ensuring they are a fit for display in County spaces.

“We’re going to make sure the artists have a good visual rendering or depiction when they respond to a call to artists,” Meyers said. “I think that hasn’t been as tightened as it needed to be in the past, and we’re going to have more of the art community involved in our assessment team.”

Artist and former Clark County public arts administrator Denise Duarte addressed the commissioners in the meeting, urging the county arts program to consult the Clark County Arts Plan art committee, a separate entity comprised of local arts professionals, before drafting new policies and making major decisions like the removal of a contracted work.

“My main point was to encourage that the [Clark County Arts] program and the staff to utilize the individuals with expertise, [like] the Clark County Art Committee,” Duarte said. “There’s a wealth of experience and knowledge from that committee, and my goal was to get the staff [to] use this committee to guide in the creation of policies and procedures.”

Duarte said she heard “no commitment” made to consulting the art committee or reaching out to artists within the community during the meeting, but that she would “withhold judgment and wait and see.”

Other topics included showing 2-D work inside the Rotunda Gallery, which is currently prohibited due to the room’s design.

“I’m opposed to having easels in the Rotunda,” Duarte said. “Two-dimensional work needs a solid surface behind it that provides a place for the art to breathe and be seen.”

Meyers says the County will put out its call for artists for both Winchester and Rotunda galleries next month, and that both calls would include the program’s new language and updated parameters.

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