Keri Schroeder is one of those young ladies who can look glamorous in a black cocktail dress even with all those tattoos on her arms. She’s a Las Vegas native who curated her first exhibit at the Arts Factory when she was just 16 years old. She was volunteering and working for First Friday before it was even called that. In her early 20s, her paintings were already praised in the pages of local newspapers and magazines. Now, at age 28, she’s taken on a new and envy-generating assignment—working as the art director for the newest cool watering hole in town, Insert Coin(s) Videolounge and Gamebar.
“I’m a big gamer nerd,” Schroeder confesses while giving me a tour of the facility that, while not technically in the Arts District, has always maintained a presence (and a table) at First Friday. “And I’m not going to lie to you. I’m pretty sick at Mortal Kombat II and Street Fighter II. I will destroy you.”
Emboldened by a stiff $7 drink named after a Pac-Man ghost, I accept her challenge. She destroys me.
In an effort to change the subject, I ask her to discuss her additional role as curator for the bar’s very first art exhibit, Back in the Day, a group show inspired by the classic games, toys and cartoons of yesterday (with all proceeds going to tsunami-quake relief in Japan). She got the job after beating out a bunch of other applicants with more interior design and curating experience—basically because she’s a hard-core gamer. (She’s no newbie, though, having worked for just about everyone else in town, from the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art to the Fallout Gallery to a number of sign shops where she learned old-school hand-lettering sign painting and pinstriping.) She wanted Insert Coin(s)’ first exhibit to mix graffiti artists, illustrators, photographers and sculptors. And that’s exactly what she accomplished.
From Jerry Misko’s out-of-character yet striking digital prints of Star Wars action figures to Albert Montoya’s “Game Over,” which consists of Mario’s skeletal visage, Back in the Day is yet another distinctive achievement for Schroeder.
“I’m really happy with it, and that we achieved such an eclectic mix of artists and genres,” she says. “The artists come from such varied backgrounds, styles and philosophies, yet we’re all united through childhood memories of games and toys.”
Schroeder attended high school at the Las Vegas Academy of International Studies, Performing and Visual Arts, followed by a degree in art history from UNLV. For a time she owned Against the Wall, a studio and gallery on Commerce Street before becoming heavily involved in Whirlygig, the nonprofit arts organization that operates First Friday. All the while, she continued with her solo shows, including the successful and acclaimed In the Kingdom of the Blind: Traditional Portraits of Extraordinary People at the old Gallery Au Go Go and MTZC spaces. Indeed, it was her time spent in the trenches of First Friday and the Arts District where she first met so many of the artists whose work she has now gathered in Back in the Day—sculptor Jesse Smigel, illustrator Cristina Paulos, stenciler Daniel Bennett, “cutesy” mixed-media maestro Shan Michael Evans. Heck, you’ve probably seen her standing behind a booth on Convention Center Drive, hawking Insert Coin(s) T-shirts. (Yep, she helped design those, too.)
“I basically supervise the aesthetics of Insert Coin(s), as well as curate our space for rotating exhibitions and coordinate events,” she says. “This really is a dream job. It’s a lot of work, yes, and I wish I had time to sleep, but I wouldn’t trade it.”
She’s good at improvising, too. When the barcade’s owner told her she couldn’t put holes in the walls to mount the show, she used the industrial warehouse atmosphere to her advantage, attaching the works to chains that hang from black metal pipes.
“I’d really like to take advantage of the space and the energetic atmosphere to do more innovative, experimental events. We have a huge open space on the back dance floor for performance works, and more than 50 flat screens with which to display video art. The possibilities are endless.”