For 13 years, Richard Thomas Hooker served as senior cultural specialist for the City of Las Vegas. During that time, he played an instrumental and collaborative role in a series of projects that transformed Downtown. He co-chaired the Vegas Valley Book Festival; spearheaded the Aerial Gallery (which stretched along Las Vegas Boulevard); secured the first of historic signs that comprise the Neon Museum Boneyard; wrote a NEA grant that branded the Arts District; and helped develop the city’s involvement in First Friday during its first 10 years. He sat down to chat about his recent retirement from the public sector and the opening of his gallery, RTZvegas, in Art Square.
What does “RTZ” stand for?
Richard Thomas with a “Z” for zest. I don’t want it to be called the Hooker gallery!
Why did you feel it was time to retire?
I loved working at the City. I think art is an agent of change for yourself and your community. Before Vegas, I worked in Santa Fe as an artist and had a gallery. But I noticed I was able to effect change on a larger scale whenever I worked with a municipality. That’s the reason I went into public administration. But after 13 years with the City, I felt I’d accomplished everything I could. I know the people working there now are ready help push Vegas along to the next level of growth.
Why open a gallery in Art Square?
When I decided to leave the City, I had to adjust. I asked myself, this time as an entrepreneur instead of a public admin, “What intersection works? Where would I need to exist as a commercial space?” First Street and Boulder Plaza looked best. I really believe Art Square will be an energetic hub of the Arts District. I like the neighborhood’s diversity. Also, my colleagues from the City are just a few blocks away. Now that I’m a civilian, I hope to join some private and public collaborations, only this time from the other side.
What kind of shows can we expect? You’re an artist yourself, so any solo exhibits of your own work?
I think of RTZvegas less as a gallery and more of a project space. I really see it as a platform for other artists, writers and performers. I don’t have a philosophy as far as what I plan to exhibit. It will be work that resonates with the times, work that interests me. In addition to monthly exhibits by local and out-of-town artists, we’ll be launching a writers’ residency and a limited-edition line of collaborative products by artists and designers that will be sold here, online and in other retail spaces.
Your gallery debuted this month with Another Time, Another Place, a show of photographic prints by Charles Morgan. Why?
I was going to open with another artist. But when Charles came in to show me his work for a future group exhibit called Asleep in Vegas, he had these lush images of hotel signs on the Strip taken 15 years go. I love their beauty, which is different now because the landscape has changed since they were taken, and their vernacular, which is familiar. One of the exciting aspects about being a private gallery owner is not having to plan everything out a year in advance. … It was also a chance for me to come full circle, since Charles, a working artist in Vegas since the ’70s, was the first artist I bought work from when I came to town. … I also think it’s important to celebrate artists who have been here for a long time and helped build the arts community. They established a foundation upon which so many younger artists are working today. This is my way of honoring that.
There are great windows in here. Tell us about the Writer in the Window program.
The windows area is a big reason why I’ll be launching what I call our Writer in the Window residency. [Once a month], we’ll invite a writer to sit at this window facing the plaza of Arts Square and spend two hours every day using the space for their work. We’ll provide what they need—desk, lamp, rug. And the residency includes a catered lunch at Mingo, the restaurant next door! Because I worked with the book festival, I met many great writers in Las Vegas, and I want to create a good vibe.