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Las Vegas Arts Leaders Blending Caution, Boldness During Pandemic

Direct from their homes ... the Las Vegas Youth Jazz Orchestra.

Direct from their homes ... the Las Vegas Youth Jazz Orchestra.

Leaders in Southern Nevada’s fine arts community retain an on-with-the-show spirit in the face of the pandemic, even if how, when, and where those shows go on remains a work in progress.

Nancy Uscher, dean of UNLV’s College of Fine Arts, told State of Nevada that the college is pushing ahead with online and in-person initiatives for both classes and performances. It is also continuing its weekly UNLV Arts Worldwide YouTube program.

“We’re offering in-person classes in some of our art forms and some online and remote teaching,” she said. “This is a pause. It’s a difficult time right now. People have to kind of think differently.

She said that in the absence of traditional concerts, currently prohibited under COVID-19 restrictions, the college is preparing a series of performances for the UNLV library, where social distancing can be better maintained.

The Nevada Ballet Theatre recently returned to in-person classes at its academy, but with significant changes to operations, including strict limits on who can come onto its Summerlin campus.

“We’ve really focused on making the experience as safe as possible for every student,” said Roy Kaiser, the company’s artistic director. “Only the students come into the building. They go directly to their studio and to their spot in that studio, and when the class is over they leave.”

He said that while the ballet’s annual holiday performances of “The Nutcracker” at the Smith Center have been canceled, the company hopes to bring that tradition to the community in some form, with details forthcoming.

Kenny Rampton, a noted jazz trumpeter and founder of the Jazz Outreach Initiative, said the group’s mission of introducing young people to jazz became even more vital because of the pandemic. He said rehearsing and performing a difficult piece gives the young players goals to pursue even amid the adversity.

“When COVID hit, I had to look at that and say, ‘OK. We want to keep the students engaged somehow’,” he said. “Working with these kids and engaging them is the key.”

The Las Vegas Youth Jazz Orchestra, formed in conjunction with the Jazz Outreach Initiative, kept rehearsing virtually and released recordings on YouTube of performances the young musicians made together from their homes.

Nevada School of the Arts CEO Patrick Duffy said the school’s students, teachers, and supporters kept faith in the spring when in-person classes abruptly ended because of the pandemic lockdown.

In difficult times, he said, “Las Vegans come together and they take care of the organizations that have taken care of the city.”

Duffy previously headed the Las Vegas Art Museum, which closed a dozen years ago during the recession. He said the Southern Nevada arts community has a stronger foundation today than it did then

“I do not think that this time that we’re in — though as strange and bizarre as it is — is anything similar to the 2008 hit that we took,” Duffy said. “I  think the arts are going to survive, but I do think we’re going to have to be much more creative, much more collaborative."

Nancy Uscher, dean, UNLV College of Fine Arts; Roy Kaiser, artistic director, Nevada Ballet Theatre; Patrick Duffy, CEO, Nevada School of the Arts; Kenny Rampton, founder, Jazz Outreach Initiative.


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With deep experience in journalism, politics, and the nonprofit sector, news producer Doug Puppel has built strong connections statewide that benefit the Nevada Public Radio audience.