Can’t Keep a Good Gallery Down

Art returns to a vast library space that once housed the Las Vegas Art Museum


Photo by Jon Estrada

You can do serious yodeling here. Run foot races. Hold a volleyball tourney. Maybe do some modest pole-vaulting.

Or hang an art piece or two or 40. Just like they could in the good old days.

Just like they can again.

“It’s like a coming home for the local art community,” says Jeanne Goodrich, executive director of the Clark County Library District, as she surveys the vast venue dubbed The Studio at the Sahara West Library. “It feels really good to be able to bring this back.”

Once upon better economic times, this impressive space—all 4,427 square feet of it—housed the Las Vegas Art Museum, which shuttered in February 2009 amid much mourning and garment-rending in the local art community. Since then, many pieces in the LVAM collection transitioned to UNLV’s Marjorie Barrick Museum. Meanwhile, though occasionally rented out by community groups, LVAM’s ex-home became a big, lonely chamber, at least artistically.

Last October, creative life returned when the rechristened venue debuted with Canon 21, an exhibit by Jose Bellver that ran into late January, and was followed by My Painted Desert, a collection by local artist Suzanne Hackett-Morgan that’s on display through March 1.

“You really have to have strong credentials,” says Denise Alvarado, the district’s gallery-services coordinator, about the artistic standards for The Studio, which will host three or four shows annually. Artists must be invited to exhibit, and will be considered from both within Nevada and around the country. Next up after My Painted Desert will be Richard Hooker’s Pregnant Neon: A Tale of Conspicuous Devotion, May 23-July 12. “I hang all the shows,” Alvarado says. “Sometimes artists … have so much [art] it’s hard for a patron to focus in on one piece because another piece is right next to it. I always love to give space—especially in this gallery.”

Giving space is easy in this cavernous hall, which stretches 44 feet from the floor to the tip of the skylight, the room’s dimensions almost seeming to dwarf the exhibits, but also lending them a grandeur they likely wouldn’t enjoy in most other venues. Adding to the expansiveness is its linkage, through a connecting doorway, to The Gallery, the library’s smaller art outlet featuring complementary shows. (New works by Roberto Rico occupy it through March 11.)

“The venue makes a big difference; it’s the frame that goes around the whole work. This one says ‘museum’ to people, and there is an expectation people have when they are going to a museum; their behavior changes,” says Hackett-Morgan, whose history with the space dates back to the early ’90s, when the library district hired her to consult on its possible uses.

“When I’ve been at other [smaller] galleries, people would go to one piece, then one piece, then one piece. But this one, I saw people actually stop, back up, take the whole painting in. And it could be a really interesting challenge to local artists to create works specifically for that space. When I got offered the show, I started several new pieces that didn’t get finished in time for the show, but I definitely went larger.”

Enhancing The Studio ambience is the lighting. Ceiling panels can be adjusted to allow natural light to stream in through the skylight during the day, sometimes casting intriguing shadows in and around the pieces, while additional illumination is provided by spotlights hung from overhead grids.

“People are excited this space has come back among the panoply of spaces that are available to the community,” Goodrich says. “We can do ceramics and sculptures and pieces on a pedestal or freestanding pieces or installations. Whatever is shown in this space, it will be a premier art experience.”

During downtime between exhibits, The Studio will accommodate non-art events, such as ethnic festivals and business fairs.

But five years after art reluctantly flew this county-run coop, it has happily returned to its library nest.

My Painted Desert
By Suzanne Hackett-Morgan, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thu, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Fri-Sat, through March 1, The Studio at Sahara West Library, 9600 W. Sahara Ave., free, 507-3630.

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