Thursday, Feb. 6, 2003 | 8:19 a.m.
Cindy Funkhouser had barely moved into her antique store on South Casino Center Drive when a friend suggested she feature local art on the walls.
At first, Funkhouser said, she was a little reluctant.
"These walls were filled with '50s pictures. I had just moved in here."
But the moment of hesitancy came and went quickly. Two months later the work of local artist Brady Lawrence was hanging in a room now towering with antique furniture and novelty items.
Soon local artists seeking a solo show were looking at the Funk House as viable space as were performance artists and musicians.
Twenty-four art exhibits have since been featured. On the day of this interview, Funkhouser was anticipating a midnight arrival of a late-night theater group scheduled to rehearse in what essentially is her back yard (she lives above the store).
But that's nothing compared to the renaissance/carnival atmosphere the store will emit Friday when a cellist, a surf band, two psychics and a $1-a-poem, on-the-spot poet descend on the Funk House.
The effort is part of First Friday, a monthly neighborhood "block party" initiated by Funkhouser last fall.
The Funk House (featuring a photography exhibit by Geoff Carter, who writes a weekly DVD review column for the Sun) is only one of the stopping points in the several-block area near Main Street and Charleston Boulevard.
Galleries, antique and boutique stores, restaurants and cafes in the Las Vegas Arts District will open their doors to strolling visitors.
Vendors, musicians, belly dancers and artists join in, occasionally setting upon the sidewalk.
"We're getting several hundred people for this," said the 44-year-old Funkhouser, who brought the idea for First Friday back from a trip to Portland, Ore.
"We thought it would die out in the winter and pick up in the spring."
But that hasn't been the case.
"We're getting a lot of the usual crowd and people who have never been in the area," Funkhouser said. "I see a lot of faces I had never seen before."
A well-composed, witty antique dealer with a taste for the outlandish, Funkhouser says she doesn't throw much out. She still has the top from a birthday cake from when she was 7.
"My parents had a fit one year because I still had my Easter eggs in August," she said.
But Funkhouse's amusement toward collecting has fueled a career that is anything but dull.
The Funk House is filled with vintage art, antique furniture, record players, bookends, mounted buck heads, lamps, cigarette cases, ebony carvings from Africa and novelty items.
A mariachi band made of stuffed bullfrogs sits in a glass case. Recently she sold a stuffed wild turkey.
Because of her support of local culture (displaying and often buying work), Funkhouser is considered a gem by many in the art community.
Artists are booked through September. She takes no commission from them. The cell phone in her coat pocket beeps continuously.
"Our hope is to display people who don't have a lot of venues," Funkhouser said. "It's just such a pleasing feeling to see how happy artists are to show their work. I didn't realize there were that many artists out there wanting to show their work."
To support First Fridays and other art endeavors, Funkhouser and friend Julie Brewer formed the nonprofit Whirlygig Inc. with Naomi Arin.
"People want a gathering place," Funkhouser said. "So that's what we're doing, laying out the groundwork."
Arin is a local attorney who returned to Las Vegas after spending five years writing grants at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.
Brewer, former owner of the now-closed Enigma Cafe on South Fourth Street, was the one who originally suggested Funkhouser hang artwork in the Funk House.
Brewer's old mailing list from Enigma Cafe -- where local artwork was featured regularly -- was used to publicize the first show at the Funk House.
Kinko's, Fourth Phase lighting and Shoestring Promotions are among the sponsors for First Friday events.
Businesses in the industrial area in one of downtown's older neighborhoods have long struggled to develop a thriving art area. Some galleries and restaurants have closed. Other business are slowly moving in.
The Arts Factory and S2 Art Center anchors the north end of the fragmented area. Yana's Junk, the Funk House and Talulah G. Boutique are among the shops at the south end. Iowa Cafe, Chicago Joe's restaurant and Tinoco's Bistro are among the eating establishments.
"First Friday is the best thing to happen to unify the arts scene," said Las Vegas artist Joseph Cartino, a participant in First Friday events whose exhibit "Insight and Interplay" was recently featured at the Funk House.
Artists and business owners have wanted to see the neighborhood become a more cohesive unit. However, Cartino said, "There was never really one peg to hang their hat on."
First Friday, he explained, "It's sort of a rallying point. It allows you to build from momentum. It really knits the whole scene together.
"Without Cindy, there wouldn't be a First Friday."
Born in San Diego and raised in Iowa, Funkhouser moved to Las Vegas from Kansas City, Mo., 21 years ago and worked as a bartender/cocktail server, including a 14-year stint at the Four Queens, while slowly building her antique business.
Now a full-time hunter and gatherer, Funkhouser works longer hours and makes less money than when she worked as a bartender.
"I love doing it," she said, calmly admitting, "It's a sickness."
Regulars frequent her store. A large percent of her business is out-of-town buyers and sellers. Much of her clientele was built while at her previous store four blocks away.
Plugging in a collection of model amusement park rides from the Long Beach Pike Amusement Park, Funkhouser said, "I love these. We've had so much enjoyment from them."
Made by an employee who worked at the park in the 1940s and '50s, the $20,000 collection has been whirling and knocking in the store for 2 1/2 years.
"They should be in a museum," Funkhouser said.
Her store almost qualifies.
Preferring the charm and quaintness of an industrial area to that of a traditional neighborhood, Funkhouser moved into the building 2 1/2 years ago. She bought it in August.
The 2,000-square-foot apartment above the white and turquoise store marked simply "antiques" is home.
Vintage and local art hangs on the walls. She hangs what she likes. Among the mix is a Brady Lawrence piece and paintings by Jerry Misko and Dana Bartlett.
Regarding her purchases of local art, Funkhouser said, "I'm trying to exercise some control. I want to have a place to put it."
The building was constructed in 1958 and once owned by Hanks Electric Motors. The owner and his family lived upstairs.
All rooms, including the kitchen, have remained true to their original form. An enclosed courtyard features a ladder leading up to the rooftop. A red dining table surrounded by yellow, red, light blue and mint green chairs is its centerpiece.
Funkhouser's living the dream.
"I've always wanted to have an antique store and live upstairs," she said.
The arts scene
Across the street from the Funk House is a cluster of homes recently purchased by owners who plan to turn the property into an antique mall with a restaurant in back. Down the street from the Funk House is Gypsy Caravan antique shops.
Along with others in the Arts District, Funkhouser welcomes any new business.
"The more places you have, the more interest there is," she said. "Instead of, 'We're going to one antique store, we're going to 20.'
"You can make a day out of it, stop and get a bite to eat."
Defending the area is common among the shop owners, whose old neighborhood is often criticized. But business owners say they are determined to see the area flourish.
A neighborhood association is led by Jack Solomon, owner of S2 Art, and Wes Isbutt, owner of the Arts Factory. Funkhouser serves as secretary.
This week the city of Las Vegas will bring in a shuttle bus to usher First Friday visitors from the Arts Factory to the Funk House to Red Rooster Antique Mall in half-hour increments.
The plan is to attract locals and tourists. First Friday events, Solomon said, are bringing the crowds through.
"We are not set up for making retail sales here," he said. "But people are just wandering in and buying things," Solomon said. "They go and look at the presses seeing what's being made and say, 'Gee can I (buy) that?'
"The important thing is to generate traffic that will buy art."
Meanwhile the Funk House remains a haven for artists who have not yet reached superstar status. The waiting list to show there is six months, rather than two years at some galleries.
Cartino, who hadn't had a solo show since the days when Enigma Cafe was open, said the Funk House provides a great opportunity for artists still trying to establish themselves.
"It's kind of a Catch-22," he said, referring to gallery showings. "You have to have a name to have a show, you have to have a show to have a name."
At the Funk House, Cartino said, "You don't have to have a big resume and a name. Cindy's really open."