The Brett Wesley Gallery, in Art Square, is just across a parking lot and Art Way from the proposed site of a new modern art museum.
Marty Walsh, owner of the Trifecta Gallery in the Arts Factory, believes a new museum will be very positive for her and her neighbors.
Art Way and Casino Center Boulevard - the planned site for a new modern art museum in the 18b Arts District.
Is a brand-new arts museum in Las Vegas another boon for downtown — or another boondoggle?
The downtown area of Las Vegas has seen the Neon Museum, Mob Museum, the investments of entrepreneur Tony Hsieh, and various other start-ups, restaurants, bars and housing move downtown in the last several years. Now Las Vegas city officials and members of the city’s art community have unveiled a $29 million effort to build a modern arts museum, creativity and design laboratory and outdoor sculpture park in the heart of the Arts District.
Most, though not all, of the neighbors to the project dubbed the Modern Contemporary Art Museum are enthusiastic. The project would include 35,000 square feet of museum galleries, three floors, a restaurant, classrooms and event spaces, a restaurant and other amenities.
Neighbors hope that the museum will draw more people to the 18b Arts District, more traffic to a number of pre-existing galleries, and more customers willing to buy a piece of Las Vegas’ artistic production for the homes and offices.
“Of course it’s an amazing thing for downtown,” says artist Walter Jacques Taieb, who was setting up his installation in a gallery a stone’s throw away from the planned museum location. The museum would help “establish Las Vegas as a cultural center a little more.”
Marty Walsh, owner of the Trifecta Gallery in the Arts Factory, just across Art Way from the planned site, shared the upbeat appraisal of the museum impacts. She notes that much of the investment and city energy recently has gone to the Fremont Street entertainment district, about a mile northeast.
“It will bring some focus back here,” she says. “There are a lot of people down here doing great work.”
And that means visitors will make the trek from the Strip north to the Arts District, Walsh believes. “The tourists understand if you go to a city and you’re interested in art at all, you go to an arts museum.”
She believes there will be impacts. Galleries may have to change their retail plans to include, for example, a small gift shop to accommodate frequent customer walk-throughs. That’s not a negative, Walsh says.
“I couldn’t ask for a better demographic,” she says of visitors to a new arts museum. “Don’t expect everything to stay the same, because this is Las Vegas.”
Before the museum can be built, though, it’s going to take some sustained and impressive fundraising — a projected cost of $29 million. Julie Murray, a professional fundraising advisor, introduced the project last week and told the audience, mostly of art-scene insiders and journalists, that the effort had raised $2.4 million.
And there have been other unsuccessful efforts to build modern, or contemporary, art museums in Las Vegas’ recent past. The Las Vegas Art Museum folded in 2009 and its collection is now at UNLV, while a proposed Museum of Contemporary Art never got off the ground.
One public gallery that has managed to survive even in a time of economic uncertainty and nonprofit austerity is the Contemporary Arts Center. Michele Quinn is the co-president of the Contemporary Arts Center, a scrappy independent gallery which just moved from the Arts Factory, next door to the proposed site, down Main Street a couple of blocks. Still nearby, but not next door.
On Monday, Quinn and her colleagues were setting up a new show to open Thursday, a grand re-opening of the CAC at its new location at 1217 S. Main St., but she shared several thoughts.
“My first concern is the name,” she says of the confluence of “modern” and “contemporary,” which actually refer to two different schools of art. “It’s confusing. The direction is misleading by the name alone. I don’t know of any institution in the world that has both modern and contemporary in its title.”
The fact that her own gallery and the museum would share “contemporary” in their titles, though, doesn’t bother her.
“We don’t hold the rights to that,” she laughs.
But Quinn references the failed efforts to establish other art museums in Las Vegas. She worries that the $29 million target is a “lofty goal” that may be tough to achieve.
“I think all of it could be positive if it is successful,” but “there are additional challenges in trying to build something at this point in time,” Quinn says, referring to tough economic conditions.
And of course, having a big, new player will mean additional competition for scarce charitable dollars. “It’s not something we are unaware of,” she says.
“This town has a tendency to herd itself to the new and unproven rather than the tried and true,” Quinn says. “I’ve never seen it as a direct negative to the CAC, but it’s a fact, there’s limited dollars to go around… It’s really a difficult time to ask the community for money when a lot of people don’t have money to give.”
But she is quick to add that she hopes for the best with the museum and can see the potential for positive impacts on the area. “For me, just the economic challenge is their first challenge. Beyond that, it’s kind of a wait-and-see scenario.”
The economy is not the only challenge. The footprint of the museum would be about two acres, including parking, but the triangle of land at Art Way and Charleston Boulevard is less than one acre. The city has some small parcels of land nearby, and last week Mayor Carolyn Goodman and Deputy City Manager Scott Adams said the city was solidly behind the effort.
Adams and Goodman said the project would catalyze more economic development downtown.
“This city is behind this…” Goodman said. “It will happen.”
The area is within the city’s designated redevelopment zone, and there are down-and-out short-term rental properties nearby. It is a neighborhood in a state of transition. Brett Wesley Sperry, a downtown gallery owner and developer, said he will donate the land at the site free and clear. Sperry said it will be necessary to consolidate other parcels nearby to come up with the needed acreage.
Adams, with the city government, said the city could help with infrastructure and because it is in a designated redevelopment zone, property-tax increases would be reinvested into the neighborhood. One of the biggest issues in the near term will be parking for the project. The city owns the public right-of-way including a smallish house-sized bit at the northern tip of the triangular piece of land. The city also owns about a half-acre north of Casino Center Boulevard, across the street from the site identified Thursday night.
The Modern’s Board of Directors and a parallel advisory board read like a virtual “who’s who” of downtown developers and art-community supporters. According to Murray, the directors are Sperry, Denise Cashman, Quentin Abramo, Dr. Keith Boman, Ed Borgato, Louis Castle, Sam Cherry, Alexandra Epstein, JF Finn, Andy Schuricht, Andrea Maricich, Kelley Nyquist Goldberg and Katie Binion O’Neill. Serving on an advisory board are Tim Bavington, Jenna Morton, Mark Brandenburg, Jonathan Jossel, Hugh Anderson, Flo Rogers, Jim Stanford, Cree Zischke and Geoffrey Beaumont.
Murray and Sperry said the Modern’s organizers will gather input from the public through a series of events. They encouraged members of the public to provide feedback. For more on the project, go to themodernlv.org. CL