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Press Release

A Church, A Gallery and A Search for Social Justice

Published on Thu, Jan 31, 2013 (4:20 p.m.)

Would a local art gallery partner with a church group in sponsoring a show on social justice? Would artists contribute their work? Would there be a local audience for an exhibit you’d be more likely to find in Boston or Berkeley? These were the questions asked by the Social Justice Council of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Las Vegas (UUCLV) when they decided to sponsor the art show, Looking the Other Way, currently running at the Left of Center Gallery in North Las Vegas. Community forums starting February 16 and running through March 2 will enhance several of the themes brought up by local artists.

Forty-four artists submitted their art, in part because of an effective publicity effort by Marylou Evans, gallery director of the Left of Center Art Gallery. In addition to the gallery’s contact list, notices were sent out to schools, churches, and other non-profits. The theme, Looking the Other Way, refers to the many social issues often too uncomfortable or unpopular for people or governments to tackle head on. The introduction to the exhibit reads:

“We look and walk the other way as the homeless and hungry approach on the street. We look the other way when our neighbors’ homes become empty houses. We look the other way when well-armed countries bomb civilians. Looking back at U.S. history, we looked the other way when Native American populations were decimated and Africans were captured and enslaved, and when children worked in factories and mines at the age of twelve.”

Nearly a hundred guests attended the opening reception on January 12. Music was provided by local musicians Dani and Robert Bell, who are also connected to the UUCLV. The exhibit evolved into three separated art displays covering not only such issues as homelessness and hunger, prejudice, and working conditions, but also other elements necessary in creating a more civil society such as multicultural understanding, peace and freedom.

Las Vegas artist Jevijoe Vitug was a major contributor to a special exhibit on downwind victims of nuclear weapons testing. His painting depicts the satellite image of the old Soviet testing area in Kazakhstan. His artist statement reads,

“At first glance, the paintings look like abstract art but they are actually satellite images of nuclear weapons testing sites particularly in Nevada, and Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan. They look like maps slowly dripping, melting or spilling as if an image of a meltdown which signifies the end of the Cold War.  Much has been said about the technological achievement of both nations regarding the nuclear weapons test but not much about the effects on people and its immediate environment. These paintings also pertain to entropy -- the inevitable social decline caused by wars and conflicts. In war such as the Cold War or any future war involving nuclear weapons, nobody wins and people and environment are always the victims.”

While some artists paid tribute to such leaders as Presidents Barrack Obama and Nelson Mandela and labor leader Cesar Chavez, others were critical of government programs or relief efforts, such as Harold Bradford’s Abandoned Spirit. His artist statement reads, "The people of New Orleans felt abandoned in the face of disaster and tragedy left by Hurricane Katrina.  Hands in the water represent the people reaching out for hope in spite of the flood.  The saxophone player represents the jazz that is the spirit of New Orleans.  The church represents the faith of the people.  Flags represent the governments that let the people down.  The dove and cross represent faith and hope."  (see painting below)

Community Forums Relating to Art and Social Justice

On Saturday, February 16, a panel discussion will focus on the advances and setbacks experienced by the Las Vegas black community in housing, economics, spiritual pursuits, work, gaming, and entertainment. The panel will be facilitated by Claytee White, director of the Oral History Research Center at the UNLV Library. Her publications include "Eight Dollars A Day and Working in the Shade: An Oral History of African American Migrant Women in the Las Vegas Gaming Industry;" "The March That Never Happened: Desegregating the Las Vegas Strip;" and "Marking the Unique Moulin Rouge Era."

On Saturday, February 23, a community forum will feature people affected by nuclear weapons testing in southern Nevada and Utah, as well as those with information about U.S. testing in the Marshall Islands after World War II and Russian testing in Kazakhstan. Speakers will include representatives of the ranching communities in southern Utah, and members of a local student group who participated in an exchange program with students from Kazakhstan. Both student groups studied the ill effects of nuclear weapons testing in the country they visited. This panel will be facilitated by UNLV History Professor Andy Kirk, whose research and teaching focus is on the intersections of cultural and environmental history in the modern United States with a special interest in the American West. He has written extensively on these issues including the 2007 book, “Counter Culture Green, The Whole Earth Catalog and American Environmentalism.”

On Saturday, March 2, a community forum will discuss the struggle for fair wages and benefits in Las Vegas. Workers who experienced various labor actions will discuss: (1) the 1984 Citywide Strike; (2) the immigrant Workers Freedom Ride; (3) the Frontier Casino Strike; (4) the Workers' Fast at Palace Station; and (5) How the Culinary Union impacted the African American Community historically. This panel will be facilitated by UNLV Law School Professor Ruben Garcia. He has written extensively on labor issues including: “Marginal Workers: How Legal Fault Lines Divide Workers and Leave Them Without Protection” (2012).

The Left of Center Art Gallery is located at 2207 West Gowan Rd. For more information call 702-647-7378.

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