It’s often two steps forward and one step back in the Vegas cultural community. While big-ticket projects such as the Smith Center for the Performing Arts are moving forward, the local arts community is still reeling from the news last week that Libby Lumpkin, head of the Las Vegas Art Museum, had resigned in the wake of budgetary issues.
It may seem that art has taken a step back, but UNLV’s Department of Art is trying to push forward with the announcement of plans to create an arts advisory board by next spring. Last week school officials held their first exploratory meeting with members of the city’s arts community. The university intends the board as a means to raise its profile across Las Vegas. “We need to get this art department out,” says Jeffrey Koep, dean of the College of Fine Arts. “We need to make a connection with the community. We need to show them what we’re doing.”
UNLV already has other boards in the fine arts college. The theater department has an active advisory board that has helped grow the reputation—and audience—of the Nevada Conservatory Theatre; and the School of Architecture has a Council of Excellence that brings local architects to the school.
Plans about what the board will do are sketchy at this point, but certainly money will have to come into play. “In one sense these advisories are not only so I can shake your hand and put my hand in your pocket,” says Koep good-naturedly. “It’s a group of people who can give us professional input in the program.”
Nevertheless, “They’re going to need people who are willing to support the group with financial commitments somewhere down the line,” notes gallery owner Naomi Arin, who was at the meeting.
Of course, it’s easy for other fields to establish connections between town and gown. Theater students can get internships backstage in Strip production shows; architecture students can spend a summer working in the office of a local firm. But visual arts, as Koep notes, is tougher. While young graphic artists can seek internships in advertising, or even at sign companies such as Yesco, the options dry up after that. “If I’m a painter, there aren’t a lot of people to come by and say, ‘Jeff, I’d like you as an intern.’”
“This kind of support group is at a number of universities around the country,” says Jeff Burden, chair of the art department. “We have an outstanding visiting-artists program, a lecture series, a gallery. That’s our face to the community.” There are also numerous exhibition series and opportunities for students to display—and sometimes even sell—their work.
“This is a way to seek out people who are interested in the fine arts and the visual arts,” Burden adds. “This gives us the ability to have a dialogue with them.”
The meeting was attended by around 10 people, including art patrons Edith and Gilbert Yarchever, local artist and Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art manager Tarissa Tiberti and Arin. “Ultimately art is an educational pursuit,” Arin notes. “The university really does have a very important role to fill. By reaching out to the community and making themselves more visible, hopefully it will garner more support for all the arts in Las Vegas.”
Tiberti described the meeting as a quick meet and greet. “Everybody realized it’s something that Vegas needs, and it’s good for the university. I believe having an institution and a strong presence is necessary. I think it’s a great idea, and people were responsive to it.”
The board’s members have not been named yet, but Koep expects to settle on a total of between eight and 12 people. If you get more than that, Koep feels, it’s hard to get everyone together. Too few—say, five or six—and the board becomes too cliquish.
The news about Lumpkin, Burden says, took him by surprise; he had just seen her give a lecture the day before. He’s reluctant to gauge the impact of her departure. “She’s very influential in the arts community; it’s really hard to tell. The economic downturn took everybody by surprise.”
The emergence of yet another group made of arts-community insiders may strike some as incestuous; but given Lumpkin’s departure, the growth of the art community depends on maintaining ties.
“We’re not a university that can afford to put walls up,” Koep says.