Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020 | 2 a.m.
This time last year, Las Vegas was relishing its emerging world-class arts scene.
The Smith Center for the Performing Arts boasted a bustling schedule of Broadway hits and performances by the city’s beloved arts organizations: Nevada Ballet Theatre and the Las Vegas Philharmonic. The eclectic 18b Arts District in downtown Las Vegas continued to attract the creative class to the area. The Neon Museum hosted a world-class exhibit by none other than the legendary Tim Burton of dark fantasy film fame, and plans for a true fine arts museum for the city continued to develop.
Fast forward to the pandemic, and much of the city’s bustling artistic vibrancy is on hold. The Smith Center is dark. Nevada Ballet Theatre and the Las Vegas Philharmonic have gone virtual, shelving much of their planned performance seasons, and the Neon Museum and others have been forced to restrict how they operate, reducing patron numbers and thereby shrinking critical revenue.
So how do we ensure our arts institutions and organizations will survive this difficult time? Support from the business community is needed now more than ever. And why should we care about the arts? Because the arts are a great unifier. If ever there was a time our country, our city and our communities needed unity, it’s now.
When the time is right, we will gather together for shared experiences as theater-goers, festival attendees, art enthusiasts, performers and artists, gallery lovers and more. The value of the arts as a resource, both emotionally and economically, cannot be overstated.
Nationwide, the arts have been hard hit. Broadway — the global icon for performance art — is closed until spring. And, while Las Vegas is unique in so many wonderful ways, our arts community too has been challenged. Those of us who for years have advocated for Las Vegas as an arts and cultural world-class city are redoubling our efforts to focus attention on the importance of the business community’s continued support of the arts. And we’re continuing our work to ensure our policymakers pay attention to the importance of the arts.
Last month, the new Circa resort in downtown Las Vegas unveiled an extensive art collection showcasing local Las Vegas artists. Significant pieces from our homegrown talent are on view throughout the entire property — from Circa’s high-tech transportation hub featuring three large murals to its lobby exhibiting a three-piece rotating mural.
The same is true of the art on display at Allegiant Stadium. While most of us haven’t been able to view it yet, artistic installations that celebrate local history will be one more reason to enjoy one of our city’s newest treasures when the doors open next year.
At the Downtown Grand, the new Gallery Tower features “Transmigrations,” an interactive, augmented reality-based art installation. And for the Smith Center, there was a recent ray of light with the news of a $900,000 COVID-relief grant from the city of Las Vegas, with the possibility of more to come. As Councilman Cedric Crear said, the venue is more than just a place to listen to music or see a play. “It is community. … We have an obligation to support it and to do what we can to ensure its success.”
The Las Vegas Philharmonic, whose last in-person performance before COVID stopped the music featured four world-class violinists playing Stradivarius violins on the Smith Center stage, is creatively delivering a steady stream of virtual education programs and youth concerts. And Nevada Ballet Theatre, which relies heavily on revenues from its beloved annual “Nutcracker” performance to keep the company in the black, has developed a content-driven platform, Dance On with NBT, and is focused on virtual opportunities and partnerships in the community. A digital holiday experience in the spirit of this beloved tradition will go a long way in keeping the magic alive, but is hardly a replacement for the company’s most important annual performance, which accounts for 65% of its annual ticket sales revenue.
In a small but important gesture that holds me personally accountable to my cry for arts support, we launched an Artist in Residence program at Juhl in downtown Las Vegas about four years ago. Now in its sixth installment, the program offers working artists free live/work space for up to six months. While the opportunity is a true gift to oft-starving artists, the gift really belongs to nearby residents and passersby who watch artists create in real-time from a ground-floor studio that is visible from the street, adding to the area’s artistic vibrancy.
It’s no coincidence that Juhl’s current artist in residence, Lance Smith, created commissioned works for Circa in the likeness of Moulin Rouge performers. Thank you, Derek Stevens, for keeping alive the rich history of Black Las Vegas. Similarly, the Neon Museum has selected its 2020 national artist in residence, a talented Nigerian-American, who will work with the museum for eight weeks this fall to create artwork inspired by the museum’s collection.
These are only a few examples of how Las Vegas businesses and organizations are standing in support of the arts during these trying times. Nurturing creative talent and fostering local art is essential and critical to creating the kinds of places where people want to live and visit — something that should matter deeply to Las Vegas.
Especially now, it’s important for everyone, but especially for those businesses that can, to double down on their efforts to help ensure that the Las Vegas arts community will continue on its path to world-class. Together, we can ensure that the arts remain intact so that once our world “normalizes,” we can return to theaters, galleries, festivals and cultural events that feed our souls and sing to our hearts.
Uri Vaknin is a partner in KRE Capital, vice-chair of the Downtown Vegas Alliance and president of the Neon Museum Board of Trustees.