Julie Jacobson / AP
The Smith Center for the Performing Arts is seen in downtown Las Vegas, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012. Scheduled to open in March, the $470-million five-acre campus will host touring Broadway shows, jazz artists and classical singers, as well as the Las Vegas Philharmonic and Nevada Ballet Theater.
Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012 | 2 a.m.
It's a desert oasis that hangs its priciest paintings on casino walls, where neon signs are a point of a pride and theme hotels pay tribute to architecture's golden eras. Still, Las Vegas' cultural offerings have long taken a back seat to the glamour and crudity of its most notorious vices.
Now, a new $470 million arts complex is daring to challenge that. The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, a gleaming art deco-inspired jewel, hopes to reintroduce Las Vegas as a cultural destination.
It will host touring Broadway shows, jazz artists and classical singers as well as the Las Vegas Philharmonic and Nevada Ballet Theatre, two local institutions often drowned out by the wealth and flash of the Las Vegas Strip.
Much is resting on its March 10 opening. Business owners, elected officials, casino executives and local artists are counting on the Smith Center to bring new life to the city's struggling economy and arts scene. Nevada has the nation's highest unemployment and foreclosure rates, and community leaders hope art-seeking tourists will help broaden the state's appeal and job market.
"This will change the world's perception about the place we live in," said Myron Martin, president of the Smith Center.
The attractions and restaurants along the Strip have cultivated a creative class of dancers, chefs, photographers and musicians. But until recently, there was no infrastructure to support them.
The philharmonic performed in a campus concert hall where the acoustics were so poor the musicians couldn't hear themselves. Art houses shuttered because the city's blue-collar workers didn't buy anything. The ballet held its annual "Nutcracker" performance at a casino.
But now, Las Vegas is becoming much more urban. Meanwhile, the housing collapse has made the city more affordable for striving artists. With some studios renting for as little as $250 a month, galleries, playhouses and dance workshops are flourishing. There were 30 art galleries within Las Vegas in 2007. This year, 144 are operating, according to city records.
There are other signs of growth. Emergency Arts, an abandoned medical center converted into a cultural haven, has attracted more than 40 tenants, including artists, galleries, filmmakers and graphic designers. The city's 4-year-old Shakespeare troupe is scheduled to open its first theater in April. And at least three museums are opening or undergoing significant renovations this year.
"Every well-rounded community has an arts community that is part of the fabric of that city, and that's exactly what is now happening in Las Vegas," said Rob McCoy, chairman of the city's arts commission.
The Smith Center, a temple of visual and performing arts, is easily the most grandiose of Las Vegas' new cultural institutions.
Its inaugural season will feature cellist Yo-Yo Ma, author David Sedaris, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Broadway hits "Wicked," ''Mary Poppins" and "The Color Purple." Its campus includes a jazz cafe, a children's museum, a small park earmarked for outdoor concerts and an ornate bell tower that has transformed downtown Las Vegas' skyline.
More than 10,000 season subscriptions have been sold, exceeding the Smith Center's early projections. In a nod to the city's many low-income workers, tickets start at $24.
"We've been very careful to make sure we are not building something for the rich and famous," Martin said.
The Las Vegas Philharmonic plans to expand to a 10-concert season under its residency at the Smith Center. An upcoming show will feature the score from Charlie Chaplin's 1931 romantic comedy "City Lights" as the silent film is shown.
"Most people in the world, in our country, don't have any idea that we have culture," said Jeri Crawford, president of the professional orchestra. "If we ever have a change, it will be with the Smith Center."
Smith Center for the Performing Arts The Smith Center for the Performing Arts offers a blend of performances by resident companies and touring attractions. The 5-acre cultural campus features three performance spaces, which includes a main performance area with more than 2,000 seats. This downtown cultural center of Las Vegas looks to educate, entertain and excite community members.
To provide and preserve a high-quality performing arts center that is embraced by the community and recognized as a vital force by supporting artistic excellence, education and inspiration for all.
To entertain, educate, enrich and inspire the southern Nevada community.
Thanks to the generous support of our dedicated founders, members, donors and community partners, The Smith Center continues to provide a wide variety of services for Southern Nevada residents, including access to world-class performances, inspirational Education and Outreach programs for students and teachers, and a unique space to host events, meetings and special occasions. Celebrating our fifth season, we depend upon public support to fulfill our mission and serve as the Heart of the Arts® for many years to come.
With ticket sales covering just 75 percent of our operating budget for each season, the remaining 25 percent comes from the community we serve. Philanthropic support at all levels helps provide programming that entertains, educates, enriches and inspires. By giving to The Smith Center, you play a vital role in providing an important resource for our community.
There are many opportunities to volunteer and play a direct role with your community’s performing arts complex. Volunteers engage with staff and patrons to enhance experiences at The Smith Center, and can serve in various capacities including tour guide/docent, usher, security team member or community ambassador. As important members of The Smith Center team, volunteers help us remain financially sustainable and provide numerous services for the community. Please show your support for The Smith Center’s mission by gifting your time and unique skills.
Members’ annual support provides crucial resources for The Smith Center’s artistic programming, education opportunities and cultural enrichment each year. There are a variety of giving options and levels, and Members receive exclusive benefits and behind-the-scenes opportunities based on their level of support. To learn more, please visit www.thesmithcenter.com/support-us/members.
The Encore Society recognizes those generous donors who have included The Smith Center as a part of their estate plan. Corporate Sponsorship is available to companies to underwrite all, or part, of a program, performance or event.
Fanfare! is The Smith Center’s young progressional networking organization, open to anyone with an interest in the performing arts who is between the ages of 21-40. And our Show Dedication allows for the celebration of an individual or special occasion with unique recognition opportunities during a specific performance.
The Smith Center provides world-class performing arts and outreach and education throughout the Southern Nevada region.
The organization originally formed in 1996 as the Las Vegas Performing Arts Center.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS Myron G. Martin President and CEO Donald D. Snyder Chairman Dr. Keith Boman Vice Chairman Mark Tratos Secretary Michael Yackira Treasurer David Dunn Alan M. Feldman Richard Haddrill Fred Hipwell Nancy Houssels Todd-Avery Lenahan Scott MacTaggart Jerry Nadal John Nelson Richard Plaster Rory Reid Kim Sinatra Roger P. Thomas
361 Symphony Park Ave Las Vegas, NV Las Vegas,
NV 89106 702-749-2000