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“I’ve always felt the city has been a little cheated,” Brett Wesley Sperry said, gesturing with his champagne glass amid a small knot of people gathered in The Lady Silvia bar. Cheated, he meant, by the valley’s inability to provide itself the big cultural facilities a proper city ought to have. However, the crowd had just heard a few details about the proposed Modern Contemporary Art Museum, a Sperry-led effort to redress that absence.

According to Sperry and architect Eric Strain of AssemblageStudio, the $29 million MCAM will comprise 35,000 square feet of art space, another 15,000 for an education facility, and a sculpture park. The unveiling was Nov. 14, but the effort — which also includes nonprofit fundraiser Julie Murray — has been under way for a while. “Two and a half, three years,” Strain said.

The site: a plump, 2-acre triangle of empty land at Charleston Boulevard and Art Way, which Sperry donated, and the value of which accounts for a chunk of the $2.4 million organizers say they’ve raised.

The design — an eye-catching stack of rectangles — derives from the convergence of the old 1905 city grid and the current one, Strain said; this area is where they overlap. The MCAM team is especially jazzed about the education component, the Center for Creativity. Providing actual training in cultural production, they believe, will make the museum relevant well beyond downtown.

Support comes from

Nice. Definitely needed for the city’s cultural maturity. But is it feasible? To be sure, the announcement burbled with optimism. Mayor Carolyn Goodman (whose husband, the previous mayor, once said, “I don’t see a museum for art as necessary for downtown”) is all for it: “Art is the heartbeat of a great city.” Murray recalled that her budget at the hunger charity Three Square had been $55 million, making $29 million sound much more doable. Members of the board and advisory board were listed (Denise Cashman, developer Sam Cherry, our own Florence Rogers) — people who can make things happen.

[HEAR MORE: Get a wide-ranging look at the local arts scene from "KNPR’s State of Nevada."]

Still, you could sense a wariness among some. It wasn’t just that many specifics were still TBD: What support, if any, will the city eventually offer? (“We don’t have a pool of money right now for a project,” Councilman Bob Coffin told the RJ.) What will the art program look like? Where will we park? It was also the weight of every toe-tagged effort that’s come before, from LV MOCA to the Las Vegas Art Museum to the Nevada Institute for Contemporary Art — you could fill a museum with renderings of our unrealized dreams. Some of them had powerful boards, too.

Also: Beyond the feedback loop of downtown culture, how receptive is the community? At Lady Silvia, Patrick Duffy, president of LVAM, praised MCAM’s effort. But a few weeks earlier, during a panel at the Vegas Valley Book Festival, he complained that few locals actually visited LVAM. And Sperry’s isn’t the only proposal hunting for donors: That week also saw a $45 million renovation campaign announced for the old Reed Whipple center.

But the opening of The Smith Center and the can-do gestalt of downtown are conducive to optimism, as are groovy renderings and a sense that it’s time the city stop cheating itself. “If you don’t instigate and catalyze the community,” Sperry said, “it’s not going to build itself.” Meanwhile, over his shoulder, in a teasingly ironic counterpoint, a TV screen on the bar’s wall played the fantasy classic The Neverending Story.

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KNPR's State of Nevada
KNPR's State of Nevada
Sep 08, 2009

Art Optimism

KNPR's State of Nevada