Do People Care About Art in Las Vegas?
The heart of Las Vegas is subterranean. With 40 million tourists pounding the pavement searching for a hit of fleeting hedonism, Las Vegas holds a growing community of residents who build the sustaining framework that allows you to rub your face in a stripper’s tits after trading two purple chips for half a bag of bad coke in the Bellagio bathroom. But when the mission statement is debauchery, fine art and culture have a hard time making inroads with anyone but the locals. This begs the question: in a city that doesn’t organically demand an art scene, can art continue to exist? The answer came in early 2009 with the shutdown of the Las Vegas Art Museum, a 60-year-old staple of the local community. Patrick C. Duffy, ex-President of the LVAM has spent the past 14 years supporting the local arts, and personally funding and contributing to the museum. He has been working hard the last four years to restore what little cultural influence the Las Vegas community has grown to appreciate. I got in touch with him to learn the full story about what it takes to maintain an artistic presence in Sin City.
VICE: So, what’s the story?
Patrick C. Duffy: Well, when the, shall we call it, financial tsunami shook the world, it shook the cultural markets quite severely and it really hit our donor base. It also hit our audience base. So, simply put, the museum funding from outside pledges that we had, and also donors, just dried up. If there ain’t no dough, there ain’t no show. Several of our board members had very generously stepped up to really kind of bolster the prior years to get us through some spending that we were doing back then to move the institution to a larger facility. A lot of our “titty” was used for those purposes, so when we went into this financial malaise, we found it necessary to close.
How much of it was local art?
It only had about 191 pieces, and 91 of those pieces my late partner and I gave as a promise gift to begin to seed the collection, to send a message out to the community that, “Hey, if you are a collector, this is a good local community repository.” Then we were able to also mount a show called “The Las Vegas Diaspora” and it highlighted many of the UNLV students and their works that were out in galleries in the world and really doing quite well. A lot of those artists gave pieces to the museum, so we had a beautiful heritage collection. It wasn’t just a local collection. We contributed pieces from London, from Germany. My late partner was a very dynamic and well-known collector in the Bay Area back in the 60s and 70s, so I carried the collection on.