The Last of the Hard Hats

To honor its builders, The Smith Center pulls out all the stops

Tim Bavington's sculpture outside The Smith Center/ Photo by Cindi Reed

Tim Bavington’s sculpture outside The Smith Center/ Photo by Cindi Reed

Even the parking attendants were overzealous. They seemed to be positioned every few yards, micromanaging with gleeful waves of those parking-attendant wands, ushering you straight to your spot. The March 2 “Hard Hat” concert at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts honored the construction workers who built the magnificent building, and everything about the night produced the feeling that you were on the frontlines of civic history.

Outside, in Symphony Park, protective Styrofoam still encircled Tim Bavington’s 80,000-pounds-of-steel tubular sculpture, “Fanfare for the Common Man.” The last pieces had been installed earlier in the day, a feat requiring a giant crane and a team of workers. Inside, Bavington’s 2-D incarnation of the sculpture emitted the pungent smell of fresh paint.

At the entrance, ushers passed out lapel pins embossed with The Smith Center’s signature carillon tower and the phrase “I Was There.” It was easy to imagine a future museum display, where a collection of the pins—a different color for each of the different opening events—will someday sit under glass.

The builders and their families wore cowboy hats, because country singer Randy Travis was the headliner. And the executives wore ties with little Smith Center carillons tastefully tiled across them.

“We could have chosen modern dance,” said a giddy Smith Center COO Paul Beard, standing on a balcony overlooking the vast lobby, chatting with passersby. Instead, for this joyous occasion, they picked a musician that the common man would like.

Below Beard, a statue rose 19 feet and gave a feeling of transcendence to the vast room. Called “Genius in Flight,” it embodies the art deco architectural inspiration of the entire building. The sculpture is an evolution of the Hoover Dam’s “Winged Figures of the Republic.” But where the originals are seated, this one is standing—reaching out, ready to fly. The artist’s name, Benjamin Victor, is carved in stone, ready to meet the centuries.

But today, at the beginning of this new history, Victor is still a living, breathing 33-year-old with dark hair and perhaps a little acne. He’s a nice guy who ate lunch with the journalists during the official tour. He once lived here. Now he lives in South Dakota, where, because a man needs to eat, he works as artist-in-residence at Northern State University. Otherwise, he says, he’d move back to Las Vegas, where there’s a statue with his name on it.

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