Ed Fuentes would have written the hell out of this essay. He wouldn’t have hemmed and hawed over the formulaic niceties of a who/what/when/where, gently guiding readers into the respectable reflection of a life well lived. Nope. Ed would have accelerated from 0 to 50 mph, driving right into the heart of a person, artwork or idea, trusting his readers to use his generous words, imagery and images as traction along the way. There were no seat belts provided for the breakneck speed of Ed Fuente’s insatiable curiosity, in life or in art.
Font of enthusiasm and encouragement. A witness to our world. Imbued with a sense of purpose and conscience. Big brother to us all. Champion of Latinx art. Champion of Chicano art. Champion of art. Force of nature. This is how those who orbited Ed Fuentes describe him.
Most of Las Vegas knows Ed for Paint This Desert, the blog that began as an Andy Warhol Foundation grant-funded platform for exploring Las Vegas murals and public art. In Ed’s hands, it evolved into a living archive of the Las Vegas arts community, a home for showing the world the city’s vibrant creative ecosystem. Few realize that he started in LA with another successful blog, View From a Loft, the scope of his influence felt deeply in art communities across Nevada and Southern California. Or that, in coming to Las Vegas, the journalist and designer began another career as a student, finishing undergraduate and graduate degrees while immersing himself in the cultural community of his new home. Ed was a diviner of energy and ideas, insatiable in his thirst to inspire and be inspired.
As a shape-shifting arts instigator, Ed Fuentes, who died last week at age 59, is perhaps best summoned by the memories of his collaborators. Former Clark County Cultural Program Supervisor Patrick Gaffey remembers the day Ed asked him why on earth Clark County didn’t have a poet laureate. Five plus years later, Clark County is currently seeking its third poet laureate. Susan Boskoff, former executive director of Nevada Arts Council, recalls the passion and vision with which Ed advocated for the arts, serving as an arts delegate to the State Legislature and working with the National Endowment for the Arts on behalf of Nevada. Angela Brommel, director of arts and culture at Nevada State College, treasures the memory of a student whose restless intellect drove him to find the stories that hadn’t yet been told. UNLV Galleries Director Jerry Shefcik knew Ed the UNLV MFA art student, Chicano artist, and co-curator for ¡Americanx!, Las Vegas’ first-ever art exhibition celebrating its fertile Latinx art community. Co-curator Checko Salgado embraced Ed like a big brother, compelled to galvanize the LA and Las Vegas Latinx art communities. Artist Gig Depio remembers a beloved co-conspirator, dreaming up ways of infiltrating and challenging the Las Vegas arts status quo. For artist Brent Holmes, Ed was a constant source of creativity and influence in a town that desperately needed just such a voice: “Sometimes you don’t know how big a space a person fills until it’s empty.”
Through it all, there was Ed the archivist, camera in tow, tirelessly documenting the multitude of moments that coalesce into an art community. This is perhaps his greatest legacy and Las Vegas’ greatest loss, the daily documentation of people, objects, places and ideas that populate the ever-shifting art scene of a desert oasis.
If Ed were writing this piece, he wouldn’t indulge in sappy ruminations about stars, and how they burn so bright in the Mojave, and wonder why they must all too often burn out. He wouldn’t grow maudlin obsessing over the locomotion of this human Hadron Collider, drawn to and thriving in the beautiful electric chaos of Las Vegas. Nope. Ed would have picked up his camera and set about finishing the work that had been started: documenting the people and places he loved so well. Perhaps the most succinct measure of a person is the inspiration they leave behind.