Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012 | 2 a.m.
The Las Vegas Art Museum has a new home at UNLV. Thank you, Steve Wynn.
That is what I was thinking as I walked through the Marjorie Barrick Museum on the UNLV campus Tuesday night. It was a paid affair, as most things are when it comes to art and art museums, but the Las Vegans in attendance didn’t mind at all. In fact, they all were thrilled that the previously closed — because of the economy — art museum had found a home at UNLV.
As I walked through the magnificent space — that Marjorie Barrick would have loved — I tried my best to enjoy, make that understand, the deeper meaning of the beautiful pictures that hung on the walls. That is what happens to me in art museums. I either like the art or not. But I rarely seem to “get it.” Call me unsophisticated.
What I do get, however, is the fact that none of this really good stuff that is happening in our community is just happenstance. Somewhere, at sometime, there were people taking risks, people doing what others wouldn’t and people planting the seeds for growth they might not see just because it was the right thing to do.
Making UNLV the home for the Las Vegas Art Museum is the right thing to do. Making beautiful art — the kind that makes you dream and allows you to imagine other possibilities — available to college students, younger schoolchildren and the broader community is the kind of progress that defines a city.
Imagine the scores of high school students who may go to the UNLV campus to see the art exhibits that will grace the walls of the Barrick Museum. Now imagine that many of them might not have college on their minds as a post-high school pursuit. Imagine what happens if just a handful of them decide that a college campus that can afford the opportunity to see beautiful art and which is as serene and comfortable as UNLV is on a beautiful day may be the place at which they would like to pursue a higher education.
All of a sudden — well, maybe over a generation or so — many more people who live in Las Vegas will be college graduates, and many of them might be UNLV alums. That would be a good thing!
And all that could happen because my friend Patrick Duffy led the art museum’s board to the promised land of Las Vegas’ up-and-coming university and in so doing, combined campus and community life in such a way that both on- and off-campus groups could prosper.
That is what happens when a community like ours, ravaged by the Great Recession, is forced to look to itself, look to its own, to come up with the ways and means to make Las Vegas the real city of the 21st century that we were heralded to be just a few years before the bottom fell out.
By the way, if there is anything good to come from the recession and the harsh reality that burst the 50-year growth bubble that we all enjoyed, it is this: What we decide we want as a community, what we decide we need to have for a better quality of life, what we decide is required to provide the best of what this world has to offer, will have to be created and provided from within.
No more will we be able to pawn the cost of what we want on the next fellow to move to town. If we want or need it, we have to pay for it ourselves. That is a good thing because it is true that what we pay for ourselves we also care for in ways far better than that which we are given.
Parks, schools, roads, art museums, performing arts complexes, medical facilities and whatever else enhances our way of life in this valley will be better because we will build and pay for them together.
That brings me back to thanking Steve Wynn.
It was 1998 when Wynn opened the beautiful Bellagio. He was fast becoming one of the country’s great art connoisseurs and wanted to share his art collection as well as other magnificent works with his guests. He also wanted to make that beautiful art available to thousands of Clark County schoolchildren who might, as a consequence of being exposed to the Bellagio collection, dream a little bigger and achieve a little more in their lives.
It was one of those win-win situations that we all wish we could see more of, and it was staring us in the face. Of course, as always, there were the naysayers and the petty people who always can find a way to knock a good idea — mostly, I suppose, because they didn’t think of it.
And knock Wynn’s plan they did. But many in this community realized that, at least for the time being, if there were to be art museums for our citizens to enjoy, they would most likely be housed — like bowling alleys and most movie theaters — in our hotels. Wynn persevered and the community supported him. That was 14 years ago.
With the Las Vegas Art Museum opening at its new home at UNLV, Las Vegas takes yet another step toward becoming a grown-up city. Of course, it remains to be seen if the community will embrace what the pioneers of high culture have created. I suspect it will.
Just like the Smith Center will need and get continued and deserved support, so, too, will the art museum as people learn and grow to appreciate what art can do to make our city a more wonderful place in which to live.
Thanks, Steve, for starting the Las Vegas art world. And thanks to Duffy, all of the patrons who came before him, and everyone at UNLV for nurturing it and making it grow.
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.