Creating art within less-practied mediums is fostering a new level of interaction in 18b

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<p>An uncarved block of raw clay contrasts the vessel it could become through the skills of the artist. PHOTO: JEFERSON APPLEGATE</p>

THE LAS VEGAS ARTS DISTRICT is populated with places to see art. But few locations allow you to actually make art on site — except for a few places growing in stature.

Last year saw the opening of two new studio locations in the Arts District: Clay Arts Vegas (CAV) and Open Air Printers (OAP), both dedicated to providing spaces for artists to create, learn and interact with one another. These facilities specialize in ceramics and printmaking, respectively — two mediums underrepresented in the 18b district — and provide a much-needed influx of Tier 2 art: creative forms requiring specialized equipment and instruction to begin and advance within the medium. The Las Vegas art scene has been largely dominated by painting and drawing, so facilities offering the means to learn and work in new mediums could inject the area with a welcome jolt of diversity — and expand the horizons of many of its artists in the process.

“The idea of fostering this sort of arts education arm in the Arts District is really needed,” says Suzanne Hackett-Morgan, member of the Goldwell Museum Board of Directors, who organized the opening of Open Air Printers in downtown Las Vegas. “There are just not a lot of ‘making’ spaces down there. Most artists in this town seem to work in isolation from one another. Artists interacting with one another is the kind of dynamic you need in a vibrant arts district.”

Equipment previously housed at the Goldwell Open Air Museum, 110 miles north in Nye County, was transferred to the downtown location, giving Las Vegas residents convenient access to printmaking equipment, classes and exposure to printmaking art. OAP is the first studio of its kind to enter the Arts District.

Education and artistic social interaction are served up in abundance at OAP, and local artists are warming to the idea — but maybe not quickly enough. “If we don’t see some stepped-up action in the next six weeks, it’s going to be hard for us to project staying in such a large studio space,” says Hackett-Morgan.

Traditional hand-pulled prints are a huge step up for two-dimensional artists looking to offer quality art reproductions or add a second medium to their repertoire. Printmaking facilities are a standard fixture in major arts districts around the world; Las Vegas artists would be remiss to let this opportunity slip by.

Meanwhile, the equally important sculpture nexus, Clay Arts Vegas, sits just down the street. The creative energy and positive interaction of artists and students working in ceramics at the facility match the supercharged heat of their ceramic-firing kilns.

“We’re like no one else in terms of the gallery scene,” says CAV founding member Peter Jakubowski. “Most places were focused on 2D work, so there is definitely a niche.”

Stopping by on a Second Saturday night finds the ceramic studio packed with artists and students for the monthly raku-glazing and potluck event. A group of ladies walk in, admitting it’s their first time to the location. Within minutes, they each have a paintbrush and are coating vases with a gloppy brown liquid that will magically transform into shining copper in a 1,800-degree kiln. Outside, John Gregg, raku expert and a CAV founder, uses long metal tongs to pull hot, glowing-orange objects out of another kiln.

Clay Arts also offers a variety of classes, from wheel-throwing to hand-building, and special workshops with visiting artists. The gift shop sells ceramic vessels by students and artists, and its gallery space showcases their work as well.

CAV has fulfilled the need for a ceramic presence in the Arts District and “has become a social hotspot for artists to hang out, share with each other, make with each other, and share ideas,” comments Jakubowski. “You see it in the work that is coming out of the studio … like Roberto [Rico] has been exploring how he can draw on ceramics. KD Matheson is doing the large 3D heads. And there are other people that are doing more traditional cups, bowls and vessels, but even the cups, bowls and vessels are morphing because of the influence of these other artists.”

“The interchange between different mediums really leads to new insights,” adds Hackett-Morgan.

Those insights and interchanges could over time raise the skill level and quality of art happening in Las Vegas — to say nothing of a more active art scene, enlivening the doldrums in between First Fridays.

Open Air Printers: 1039 S. Main St., Suite 150, goldwellmuseum.org/home/open-air-printers. Clay Arts Las Vegas: 1511 S. Main St., clayartsvegas.com.