The art scene has lost talent before. It has shed ideas, burst bubbles and shattered dreams. It has worn out many of the heavy lifters who have propped up our culture. It has chased away institutions and burned out vibes. But the Las Vegas art scene has always survived and, somehow amid the many steps forward and back, it has managed to inch ahead. At least once, it even flirted with greatness. Then came the Great Recession and its wake of bad news. The Las Vegas Art Museum shut down after 50 years. Its suddenly unemployed executive director, Libby Lumpkin, was quickly rumored to be packing up her international credibility (and her MacArthur Award-winning art critic husband, Dave Hickey) for a new promised land. Not long after that shocker, the Las Vegas MOCA project downtown was canceled. Then the Fontainebleau resort lost its leader—Glenn Schaeffer, one of the top modern art collectors in the world—and went into Chapter 11. Ambitious gallerist Naomi Arin split town for SoCal, and, on the very same day, the Contemporary Arts Center, having just made some of the most impressive strides in its 20-year history, lost its skilled director, Beate Kirmse, to bigger and better things away from Las Vegas. All that in just six months. By early summer, we decided that things had gotten so bad that we should resort to optimism. So, despite a gut feeling that it would be a long, hot season of further budget-cutting, we launched this exercise in enthusiasm. We put on blinders and rode into the storm in search of silver linings. And we hope that the fruits of our surveying, networking and (why not?) wishful thinking on the next 20 pages not only serve as a pleasant introduction to the beginning of the autumn arts season, but also as an indication that maybe, just maybe, bigger and better things lie ahead.
S e p t e m b e r - O c t o b e r 2 0 0 9 D e s e r t C o m p a n i o n 23