Shannon McMackin: The Art Instigator


Shannon McMackin has just bought an iPad and doesn’t know how to use it. The gallerist hates technology, but in this case, she’s willing to learn. You see, McMackin is about to travel to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she will spread the gospel about Las Vegas artists to galleries there via iPad slideshow.

This foray into electronics is just one step toward McMackin’s goal of garnering national recognition for the Las Vegas art scene. Her vision of what our city could be is so expansive that it’s both inspiring and daunting. (For example, it includes rigorous standards, where serious critiques will replace cheerleading and boosterism.) You get the sense that when Las Vegas finally does establish itself as a global force in art, McMackin will be on the list of its pioneers.

These are heady words to describe a person who’s been active in the local art scene for only about two years. But they’ve been busy ones. In 2010, after more than 20 years working in the arts in Los Angeles, McMackin returned to Las Vegas to help reopen the family business, the Roadhouse casino in Henderson. In May 2011, she opened a temporary art gallery in a vacant Henderson strip mall that her family owns. Called Pop Up Art House (730 West Sunset Road), the gallery quickly established itself as a worthy presence. Consider the evidence: She has brought in quality artists from L.A. and New York City; curated innovative and thoughtful exhibits, such as The Salon Show last spring; and hosted the satellite exhibition for the London Biennale performance art extravaganza in July. The only thing she hasn’t figured out is how to turn a profit in an art market that has few patrons.

In October, McMackin made her exhibition space permanent and expanded the scope of her efforts. To reflect the changes as well as the openness of the space, McMackin rechristened her gallery Vast Space Projects. It offers a stellar 2013 lineup: an art show by a UNLV architecture studio about the Roadhouse; a “young L.A. show” curated by one of that city’s leading art critics, David Pagel; and the return of beloved Nevada artists Mary Warner and Robert Beckmann. As part of Vast Space, McMackin is also developing an artist residency in Tecopa Hot Springs—just across the California border—which she hopes will be “like a mini Marfa,” a remote Texas town that has become a national arts destination. McMackin also wants to continue the use of printed material. To that purpose, she hires local creative types to make catalogs of each art show, which she sends to national art magazines.

Acting as a sort of agitprop mother hen, McMackin hosts regular dinner parties with local artists, where they cook up healthful food and bright ideas. Right now they are forming a collective, for which she is encouraging these artists to write a “manifesto.” Ultimately, McMackin, who possesses a master’s degree in urban planning, dreams of running a commune. (“What can I say? I like chasing windmills.”) She describes it as a utopian intellectual community “where creative people share a good meal.”

She jokes that while she doesn’t have the requisite organic garden, she has started a compost heap. Then she pauses and adds: “I woke up one day not that long ago and realized I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do.”

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