Las Vegas Sun

January 27, 2022

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financing the arts:

With Lumpkin’s exit, museum must be ‘creative’ to survive, interim director says

When Libby Lumpkin suddenly resigned as executive director of the Las Vegas Art Museum on Tuesday, some board members were left scratching their heads over what happened.

Beyond the Sun

Some left the board meeting believing the plan was to keep Lumpkin and didn’t learn of her departure until later that day.

The museum’s staff is still “processing everything,” said Alex Codlin, who was named interim director.

The question around town quickly became: “What’s next?”

Lumpkin had led the transformation of the Las Vegas Art Museum from a community museum with a mishmash of traveling exhibits to a cutting-edge contemporary art museum. It has plans to establish an endowment, build a centrally located home and grow a permanent collection.

The museum took a hit when the economy tanked. Dwindling donations forced it to cut its budget in half. Lumpkin resigned when she learned that the budget would affect payroll and require staff cuts. The board has some big decisions to make: filling the hole left by Lumpkin and working with next year’s budget of less than $1 million.

“Our goal is to make sure that LVAM survives with this new budget,” Codlin said. “We’re going to have to get a little bit more creative with our exhibits.”

Some board members and others in the art community are wondering why the board didn’t try harder to keep Lumpkin. Two board members say they left the meeting believing that one of the main goals was to keep Lumpkin on staff.

Board members say Lumpkin has offered her resignation before when times were tough. This time, board President Jim Zeiter and president-elect Patrick Duffy accepted her resignation.

“We took her at her word,” Duffy said.

Dana Lee, secretary of the board, said decisions had to be made to keep the doors open at the museum, which shares a building with the country library at 9600 W. Sahara Ave. “We have to be adaptable and flexible,” she said.

Parties involved referenced a recent situation regarding the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Christopher Knight, the Los Angeles Times’ art critic, wrote an open letter to MOCA’s board members saying that it’s up to them to pony up and save the museum from financial crisis. Several people involved say that’s what Lumpkin hoped the board would do.

Right now, Las Vegas Art Museum staff is installing “L.A. Now,” a show curated by Los Angeles art critic David Pagel, which opens next week. Its next exhibit will be 50 artworks from the Herbert and Dorothy Vogel collection, which the museum received as part of a national gift program initiated by the Vogels and the National Gallery of Art. That show opens in April and runs until August.

Staff members are looking at flushing out the museum’s annual Roundup Show for September. The popular juried exhibition features the work of Las Vegas artists.

Board members say the museum will maintain its direction and get creative about programming in the tight economy. Ideas include bringing in more guest curators, such as Pagel.

Artist Tim Bavington, who joined the board last month, says the museum should definitely stay the course. Lee says that is the plan and board member Naomi Arin says at this juncture it wouldn’t make sense for the museum to change its mission.

Bavington says it will be difficult to replace Lumpkin. “She’s a big asset to the museum. You’ve got to find someone with the depth, the knowledge and the connections she has.”

Arin said, “Having someone of her stature was incredibly important to the development of the museum. It will be challenging to find someone as qualified and as visionary as her.”

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