At first blush, it looks bad. Furniture is stacked up inside the space, and there’s no art on the walls. The “upcoming shows” listed on the window happened months ago. It’s all too easy to jump to the conclusion that the Contemporary Arts Center is in limbo, or worse still, that the visual arts nonprofit—a driver, sometimes a lonely one, of Las Vegas’ contemporary/avant-garde arts scene since 1989—finally succumbed to the financial woes and inconsistent community support that have dogged it for most of its life.
Is CAC doomed? The president of its board, Melissa Petersen, puts it succinctly: Nope.
“Technically, we’re in hibernation. We don’t have a permanent home right now,” Petersen says. She says that the CAC’s most recent home—in one of the ground floor retail spaces of Downtown high-rise residential building Soho Lofts—was never intended to be its last; the CAC enjoyed a one-year lease at Soho, and now, that lease is up.
“The trouble the CAC has—and this is reflective of our broader (arts) community—is that it’s always struggled to find affordable space in the Downtown area. And as new developments happen—and I love it; I’m a huge fan of the changes going on Downtown—the space that years ago was $1 a square foot is going up to $3.50. It makes it challenging for volunteer-run organizations that don’t have a big bank account.”
Petersen also notes that Las Vegas is the largest metropolitan area in the western U.S. that doesn’t have a re-granting program. If CAC were based in Reno, she says, she could apply for grants through the Nevada Arts Council and through the city of Reno itself, and have multiple funding sources. “The fact that Las Vegas doesn’t have that is mind-boggling to me,” she says. “For an organization like CAC to have an extra $10,000, to cover overhead or to pay part-time staff, would make all the difference in the world.”
The CAC’s next steps are unglamorous, but they are necessary and proactive. Petersen says she’s focusing on developing the CAC’s board; a number of board members moved away in the past year. (“This is a citywide issue; we’ve lost a lot of good talent in the arts, because they got better job opportunities.”) There’s also a strong possibility of pop-up CAC shows in the future, like the ones they held in the Alios space on Main a couple of years back.
And Petersen has one other big task ahead, the job that every CAC board member, every artist and every interested party who wants good art on their walls has strived to for in this town since well before CAC was founded.
“As a community, we need to grow more art patrons,” Petersen says. “It’s challenging, and there’s a long road ahead.”