City Life- Photo by Jefferson Applegate
Prescriptive medicineCan Emergency Arts cure what ails the Las Vegas visual art scene?by JARRET KEENE : AE@LVCITYLIFE.COMLet's face it: Visual art in Las Vegas is on life support and in critical condition. The shuttering of Las Vegas Art Museum earlier this year dealt a near-fatal blow, and the slow, agonizing bleed of cool spaces like Dust in Soho Lofts, White Square Gallery in Summerlin, and Henri & Odette off Fremont Street has been difficult to endure. If not for CityCenter's immense (and jaw-droppingly gorgeous) corporate art program, and for the beautiful new Brett Wesley Gallery building in the Downtown Arts District, one would be tempted to administer last rites and just be resigned to throw money at video games,Avatar and whateverPods.
Luckily, for those of us who crave the finer and more individually expressed arts, Jennifer Harrington and fiancé (and Downtown Cocktail Room owner) Michael Cornthwaite are pulling a powerful albeit low-tech crash cart to the scene in the form of Emergency Arts, a place for Vegas creators to get, well, creative. Now it's up to the patient to decide whether or not his life's worth saving. The new space that the young couple is leasing is too appropriate: the Fremont Medical Arts building on the corner of Fremont and Sixth streets. With two floors and 35 spaces for potential tenants, Emergency Arts will offer an open house from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Jan. 14.
"It's a unique building and the only one downtown that's ready to be occupied and brought up to code," explains Harrington during a recent interview. "Water. Power. Restrooms. It's all set."
It will be a serious challenge to make this project work, sure, and no one knows that better than Harrington and Cornthwaite. After all, a still-deepening recession, the city's increasingly diminishing support for First Friday, and the inability of a real coffeehouse -- heck, even a Starbucks -- to anchor itself to the arts district, seem to thwart the notion that a bunch of artists can make something happen art-wise, particularly in a town already pegged in the local daily as the next Detroit.
"Maybe people aren't working hard enough for art," Harrington says. "Maybe it's harder than anyone thought. Maybe you have to constantly work at it, and maybe it's more than opening your doors and waiting for people to come in."
She has a point: Nothing good is ever easy, and the Rome of Vegas wasn't built with noble intentions. Even the big casino moguls, with their new two-billion dollar casinos, need Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority money to secure success. And success, in spite of Harrington and Cornthwaite's enviable track record, remains a learning process.
"When I started Henri & Odette, I thought I was going to put on all these fantastic shows and never compromise," reveals Harrington. "But if you want a lot of people to show up, you have to be less snobby and offer something more dynamic, more vibrant. I think if you bring different things together -- music, theater -- people might enjoy coming downtown more. Emergency Arts will take a while to build, yes, but it will be diverse enough to draw people from all over the city."
There are many reasons to believe Harrington may be right. Emergency Arts spaces are dirt cheap, starting at $200 per month, and there's free parking at El Cortez. ("You can walk through the casino and across the street," she explains. "No parking meters for anyone to worry about.") And once an anchor tenant, like a coffee shop, moves in, Emergency Arts could be the linchpin the art scene has long needed.
"You can do really whatever you want with the spaces," adds Harrington. "There are a few spaces downstairs absolutely perfect for photography darkrooms, and any one of the old executive offices upstairs would make for great live theater."
Whether you have an idea for a mini-cinema or a cool vintage shop, or if you just want to re-upholster old furniture for the boutique market, or if you want a place with a desk and a chair to punch out your new novel, Harrington says she needs the art community's assistance in making something -- hell, anything -- awesome happen in the downtown arts scene.
"Michael and I see Emergency Arts as an opportunity for any young, open-minded entrepreneurs looking to break out," she insists. "It will be the most people-friendly and small business-friendly project happening down here. It's not just for studios and galleries, because we know those things tend to lead to a pretty quiet area."
And if Emergency Arts doesn't save the patient? Harrington laughs at this outcome.
"Well, at least we can say we tried our best."
Emergency Arts's open house takes place 3 p.m. Jan. 14 at 520 Fremont St. 686-3164. Free
More good news for local art
Wendy Kveck -- she of "food as art" infamy -- has been announced and is now serving as Gallery Director for the Contemporary Arts Center. A longtime member and supporter of CAC, Kveck is best known for her paintings and performance videos that synthesize images of people and food. A highlight: the Cheetos masks she sometimes has her performers wear, as they did during the 2007 Americans for the Arts conference held in Vegas. An adjunct instructor at UNLV, Kveck possesses experience in curating, teaching and administrating arts events and, with any luck, she'll continue to improve CAC, which has been enjoying a rebound in recent years.
Las Vegas Weekly- Kristen Peterson
By Kristen Peterson (contact)
Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010 | 1:28 a.m.
David Curtis stands in the doorway of the Fremont Medical Center, soliciting signatures to put him on the ballot for the gubernatorial race. His bicycle is parked outside. His satchel hangs from his shoulder, and his jacket is tagged with a Green Party button.
Artists stream in and out. They're here for the open house for Emergency Arts, a creative collective that will move into the old medical building at Sixth and Fremont, across from the El Cortez and Beauty Bar. They listen to Curtis' brief pitch and sign the paper with their free hand. In the other: a copy of the building's layout, a price list and the mission statement for Emergency Arts. The artists survey tiny exam rooms, nursing stations and X-ray areas, still showing medical residue — signs, surgical lubricant, hospital-room curtains. If everything goes according to plan, these rooms will soon be studios, boutiques and offices.
Creative types plan to take over the space in March, working amid the medical-center theme. That includes Curtis, who intends to run his campaign from the building, and artist Simone Turner, who plans to have a teaching studio.
"It's an exciting building. It has history to it," Turner says.
She knows its history firsthand, having been stitched up there after splitting her lip at a punk show at Calamity Jayne's back in the '80s. The building's condition — water stains on ceilings, busted walls, stained toilets — makes it hard to imagine getting an exam there, but there are plans to have it cleaned up by March.
Turner isn't bothered by the lack of windows in the rooms off the back corridors: "I can put in the lighting I want."
Michael Cornthwaite, owner of the Downtown Cocktail Room, and Jennifer Harrington, owner of the just-closed Henri & Odette Gallery, are leasing the center and managing the multiuse space as a way to rejuvenate the struggling arts scene and add more diversity to the Downtown entertainment district. That it's not in the neighboring arts district has generated chatter, but not enough to curb interest in the project. Its January 14 open house created a lot of traffic. Eleven of the several-dozen people who turned out signed letters of intent to lease, Harrington says. Others still are considering.
Rents range from $200 to $1,500 per month, plus common-area fees. The informational packet informs "ideal tenants" that they need to be able to "see the vision of this project, and the collective benefits from being involved. If we have to convince you, this project is not for you."
Harrington wants a café in the entry area that serves catered food, and a coffee counter. She and Cornthwaite are reaching out to filmmakers and start-up nonprofits.
"It's great," says artist and Downtown resident Justin Favela, who wants to lease a studio space this summer. "It's so funny. It's like a hospital for art — trying to keep the art alive in Las Vegas. And you can work in here and drink across the street."
— This story originally appeared in Las Vegas Weekly