Make Southern Nevada's Arts & Culture Count
Updated: Jul 4, 2022
What is the state of our Arts and Culture ecosystem?
One year ago this month, Clark County lifted all COVID restrictions except for the mask mandate, and the creative community that survived was whiplashed back to work.
Members of the arts and culture workforce were weakened by personal tragedies, physical ailments, and growing debt as they mourned the loss of housing, storefronts, and liquidated equipment. At the time I was serving as both the Henderson Symphony Orchestra’s Executive Director and as the Artistic Director of The Asylum Theatre. We were eager to create, train, teach, and earn again. Each of my companies produced events that were the first to coax some locals out of their home, and we were not alone.
Artists are humanitarians. We encounter the stress and suffering of our society with exposed nerves and few reserves, but we must keep going because Nevada’s industry and social activity do not happen without us.
What makes the Arts and Culture ecosystem important to all of us?
The economic DATA and lived history of COVID proves that the Arts are not a cause, they are an industry and tool for society; sadly, too many policy makers and business leaders ignore this fact as they continue to suffocate the Creative Economy that generates their prosperity. Professional sports are only profitable because they have been developed as media and marketing empires. There is no media or marketing without arts training. There is no arts training without the arts in our community and in our schools.
Our Creative Economy contributes to a larger share of our state’s GDP than Mining (around 4.7%), a number that those on the ground know is undercounted because the creative workforce is habitually misidentified by Department of Labor codes. Even so, Nevada’s creative professionals are credited with adding $10.66 billion to the national GDP through arts and culture in 2019. In 2001, this number was $4.11 billion. That is 150% growth in less than 20 years.
The lack of DATA betrays the truth laid bare while the world shut down – before we need the creative industries for commerce, we need arts professionals and their work product to cope with living in our own skin as human beings whether we’re isolated, among friends, or relating to strangers. Education gets nowhere without creative skills, and the demand for community learning grows every day as public schools become battle zones in more ways than one. Medical patients struggling with mental health conditions, aging populations, and physical therapies rely on artistic practices to heal us. Life is not worth living without quality arts in houses of worship, at bars and restaurants, streaming at home, or while you sweat at the gym.
How does ongoing public policy impact the Creative Workforce?
Nevada claims to be an “Entertainment Capital of the World.” The powers that be still fail to lead like it. To be fair, there are those who are inclined to “get it” but many are too slow to respond with good stewardship. Whether because of ignorance, greed, or indifference stakeholders who are not artists wrongly dismiss arts educators as campus “window dressers”, eliminate cultural departments, and ignore creative nonprofits as civic leaders and economic developers instead of leveraging and advancing them. Our local creative workforce and its small business leaders (both commercial and nonprofit) have lost a great deal in the past 12 months as a result. They have more talent than places to develop and present it, and the inadequate venues that do exist are dwindling or financially inaccessible to them in our valley’s pay to play environment.
While cabaret acts in bars and restaurants are plentiful, there are now only three active independent black box storefront theatre spaces in Las Vegas. Public agencies continue to invest in outdoor venues that are useless in the winter and summer, and only appropriate for certain types of work. There are no mandates and few incentives for sustainable gallery and studio space. The Henderson Pavilion was replaced with an arena for “mixed use” that has left local arts suffering as it appears neither the city, nor the sports teams want to foot the bill for a scaled up arts experience with quality lights, and sound. The Clark County Library District is about to relinquish the Historic Westside’s West Las Vegas performing arts center venue to the City of Las Vegas, and our BIPOC cultural community rightly fears this will be a tragic blow at the hands of the establishment as a result. Artistry and accessibility are hindered by the lack of access to expensive new technologies that our creative industries need to innovate and evolve.
Creating brick and mortar space for our Creative Economy to thrive is a heavy lift politically and financially but partnering with the copious number of venues in our area to hold events should not be. All it takes is willingness on the part of those who are raking in the tax-free relief by the millions on the Strip and in our Real Estate sector to “play ball” with non-profit arts organizations, but some public officials still chase after business leaders rather than assert our rights as taxpayers, and those who do have arts on their agenda rarely look beyond the same prominent organizations for advice which do not represent the majority of our arts-engaged population.