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Desert Companion

Give yourself up already

Someone at the podium made an interesting offhand comment during the round of thank-yous and speechlets at the recent media bash for the Neon Museum, the newly opened trophy case of historic Vegas signs. A gloss: Las Vegas may not be known as a global exporter of capital-c Culture, but — woot! — we sure know how to make some pretty signs. True. If we’ve got one item on the resume we want to put a fat bullet point next to, it might be that: our facility for slick, rakish presentation, the art of our packaging, the adoring depth with which we treat surfaces and appearances. We do superficiality so well! This is nothing to be ashamed of. Superficiality can be a high, complex and rich endeavor. When you tour the Neon Museum (, you’ll realize our signs do more than function as mere devices of brash beckoning and sly entrapment. They embody history, culture and commerce. (Case in point: Prepare for a wha? moment when the docents talk about how the Stardust sign was, in part, a giddy gesture to our state’s role in the nation’s atomic testing program — specifically, the radioactive dust the tests would send skyward in deadly, sparkling plumes.) Nearly 20 years in the making, the Neon Museum reflects the passion and commitment of a volunteer board of community leaders who believe our signs have something to say that’s more than neon-deep.

Support comes from

But that’s not why the offhand comment was interesting. It was interesting because it was an incidental call-out to another recent development — one that ultimately seeks to establish Las Vegas as an exporter of that capital-c Culture. I’m talking about the launch of the First Friday Foundation. Now 10 years old, First Friday has become a reliable monthly supernova of creative energy downtown. The hitch: What do those artists do the rest of the month? To be sure, First Friday has already generated plenty of overflow; there are artist talks and preview events dotted throughout the month. The newly launched First Friday Foundation wants to give that evolution a nudge. In addition to helping pay for the hard costs of putting on First Friday (which comes out to about $75,000 a month), it also seeks to connect valley artists with opportunities outside the monthly downtown arts bash. Think of the foundation ( almost as a guild, connecting artists with public and private projects that might otherwise be handed off to some design consultancy in New York. For local artists — industrious but sometimes insular — the foundation can serve as a management agency to hawk their talent well beyond gallery walls.

“Many artists find it challenging to market themselves, or to deal with big entities or corporations,” says Joey Vanas, executive director of the First Friday Foundation. “On the other side, a lot of businesses don’t know where to start to find local talent.” The foundation aims to forge that missing link. Already it’s plugged Las Vegas artists into valley businesses big and small for design, decor and consultation jobs; also on tap are public art competitions to beautify the cityscape.

The big tie-in is that these two organizations, the Neon Museum and the First Friday Foundation, can always use a hand (or a few bucks). More? There are plenty of other golden opportunities to help on page 58. And for a bit of inspiration, check out page 47 for our “Good as gold” profiles, celebrating Southern Nevadans doing good deeds of every kind, from providing life-saving surgery for the uninsured to helping our furry friends find homes. Good times, indeed.

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