In the ongoing saga of downtown Las Vegas’ redevelopment, it’s easy to get distracted by flashy stories such as Zappos.com’s planned takeover of the soon-to-be-vacated City Hall property, or the Cordish Companies’ intention to build a sports arena at Symphony Park. But the smaller developments often get lost in the chatter, the homegrown businesses whose existence adds character and texture to the evolving landscape of the city’s urban core.
One such business is Studio 8 Ten. You’ve probably unknowingly driven past its unassuming, arched stucco storefront on Las Vegas Boulevard on your way to pay a traffic ticket or abuse your liver on East Fremont Street. Tucked between law offices and a pawn shop, Studio 8 Ten—the name is a play on the location, 810 Las Vegas Blvd. South—feels like the kind of hip art store you’d find in just about any metropolitan downtown, featuring bright green accent walls, bold, modern furniture and shelves filled with colorful merchandise. But the almost-3-year-old gift shop and gallery is actually the public face of Transition Services, a nonprofit organization that has been serving Las Vegas’ disabled community for almost 13 years.
Transition Services provides employment assistance for adults with disabilities across multiple business ventures, including cleaning, yard service and animal care. It started in 1998 selling homemade crafts at art fairs and farmers markets, built up to a team of seven selling products out of a van and is now an organization with more than 400 employees and support staff working in five locations, with more on the way.
The handmade merchandise sold at Studio 8 Ten runs the gamut from bath products and pottery, to greeting cards and home decor. Everything is finely crafted, on par with any comparable product. The only difference is that Studio 8 Ten’s stuff is made by local people with disabilities.
“Studio 8 Ten is our flagship property, our community and public location,” says Angela Esler-Whelan, project manager for Transition Services. “It’s where people can buy products, talk to the artists and see things being made.”
Being a part of the community at large is important for Transition Services in general, but especially for Studio 8 Ten. Its location, near the downtown Arts District, is no accident.
“We love the energy of this area and wanted to be a part of it,” Esler-Whelan says. “We could really make an impact on this part of downtown.”
To that end, Studio 8 Ten has engaged the local arts community, creating a guest artist program that offers exhibit space to solo artists at no charge, asking only that they donate a few hours of time to teach resident studio artists. The gallery also hosts group art shows about once a quarter, collecting a small entry fee from artists to cover the expenses.
One such show is Good Enough to Eat, Studio 8 Ten’s annual open house and holiday shopping event, set for 4-8 p.m. Dec. 16. This group exhibit features food-themed, original works from more than 15 local artists, including Deborah Ortego, Mike Korn and Eddie Canumay. The combination of art, food, wine, live music and raffle prizes usually draws hundreds of people, making the event Studio 8 Ten’s “single best sales day of the year,” Esler-Whelan says.
Merchandise sales, however, merely cover the cost of their production. Transition Services’ primary funding comes from the state of Nevada, and most clients are referred from the Nevada Division of Mental Health and Developmental Services’ Desert Regional Center. The DRC supports more than 3,100 people with intellectual disabilities in finding residential, occupational and recreational opportunities. Because of the state’s support and referrals, Studio 8 Ten has the enviable position of worrying less about its bottom line and focusing more on developing the skill sets of its studio artists.
“By its nature, our company is very frugal,” Esler-Whelan says. “We don’t spend a lot of money and time on fundraising. We use that time and money to create programs.”
One of the newest programs is Circles magazine, a quarterly glossy created by and for people with disabilities and those who support them. However, the publication’s design and content appeals to a wider audience, with features about fashion, dining, entertainment and local events. With an initial print run of 5,000 copies, Circles is being distributed for free to employees, nonprofit agencies, schools and various locations around the Valley, as well as to paid subscribers.
The Circles project offers Transition Services’ employees another venue to sharpen their skills. One such person is Sonia Lopez, a 22-year-old who has worked at Studio 8 Ten since May. While her smiling visage can usually be found greeting customers from behind the cash register, she has a passion and talent for computers, a skill which made her invaluable during the production of Circles, says Esler-Whelan.
“We launch these businesses to create more mainstream-type jobs for people who can’t find work in mainstream businesses. We focus on individuals. You tell us what you want to do, and we’ll create the business to fit you.”