Patrick Gaffey On The Power of Culture And The Arts


Patrick Gaffey at his office at The Winchester Cultural Center

As cultural program supervisor for Clark County Parks and Recreation for the past two decades, Patrick Gaffey has helped define the arts and cultural life of Southern Nevada. 

Today is Patrick's last day on the job. It's time for retirement from the county. And, other projects are beckoning.

Discussion Highlights:

What brought you to this job coordinating the cultural programs of Clark County?

I had worked previously for a decade at Allied Arts Council of Southern Nevada. When I left that job, I went to work briefly for Parks and Rec writing news releases. Then I left that to start a newspaper, which took a year to go broke. Joan Loma who was the head of the cultural division at Parks and Recreation invited me to come back.

What mark do you think you’re leaving?

Support comes from

I think the whole cultural community not only has come a long, long way in the last several decades. It has achieved a lot of momentum. There are lots and lots of people working very hard to push arts and culture forward here. I anticipate that we’ll be amazed even five years from now at what’s going to be happening.

What was missing 20 years ago that is here now?

We can go back to 1981 when I started working for the Allied Arts Council. There were a lot of good artists here. This was a town that was built – to some extent - on music. In '81, we had probably the most incredible core of professional musicians in this town that any town had.  That doesn’t exist anymore, not to the extent that it did.

We had many good visual artists but we didn’t have public art to speak of. We had a number of theater companies. At one point, we had far too many theater companies. I turned out every actor had his own company. That has steadily improved as well.

You started the poet laureate program?

That was actually the idea of Ed Fuentes, who is kind of just an arts trouble maker. So we took that idea to Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who immediately thought it was a good idea and started pushing for it. The next thing you knew we had Bruce Isaacson has our poet laureate, who far exceeded anybody’s dreams for what the position could be.

What do you see happening in the next five years?

I think that public art is extremely important. I think it has more power over a communities self-image than just about any of the arts. A lot of people don’t know or feel that they don’t know much about visual art. The way to learn about visual art isn’t by reading books it’s to look at it. that’s the thing about public art, it’s out on the streets. People see it again and again and again and they begin to understand it and learn from it. It’s a visual language, not a written language obviously. Between the county and the city of Las Vegas and other programs around here, plus some private efforts, we’re starting to have some quite impressive public art around here. And I think it is starting to change people’s ideas of what this community is.

It seems that art in Nevada is in flux?

It is in flux. There is a new head of the cultural program at the city of Las Vegas. A lot of changes. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s coincidental. So we’ve interviewed people to replace Mike Ogilvy and we’ve raised the level of that job to supervisor level. And I think we’re going to have someone really good in that position.

What do you think your stamp is?

I don’t know if I have a stamp of my own. As you say, I’ve hired people, encouraged people. It’s the artists who put their stamp on what they do. Whether they’re musicians, visual artists, actors, but I think I’ve been open to people with good ideas. Encouraged a lot people who I thought had what it takes to make a strong mark of their own.

You’re working on a book about Guy McAfee, why are working on a book about him?

Because he’s the father of Las Vegas tourist-based gambling and it’s amazing how few people have ever heard of him. Also, his story is quite a story. He by the age of 11 he was an orphan. He was born in Kansas found his way out West. He worked for the railroad for a while. Then became a Los Angeles policeman, became head of the vice squad. And as the Los Angeles vice squad, he consolidated a string of whorehouses in Los Angeles…  He bought them. He married a madam. The two of them together put this chain together. He also knew a lot about gambling. When he quit his job with the police force, he joined with others and formed a gang that eventually ran Los Angeles.

What sparks you to right him?

I was reading history about Las Vegas and in every history, there would be about two lines about Guy McAfee. They said he built the Golden Nugget, that he named the Strip and that he was a former Los Angeles policeman and that was the end. It just made me wonder who was this person.

What are you going to miss most?

The people. I’ve really been lucky to work with just a wonderful, wonderful number of people. I really like working with artists and that’s been a tremendous amount of fun. The people I work with at Parks and Recreation are just a great group of people. The patrons that come into Winchester and that we work with. I’ve had nothing but fun and I’ve got paid for it.  



Patrick Gaffey, cultural program supervisor, Clark CountyParks and Recreation



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