An architectural model of The Smith Center sits in the lobby of its temporary offices at the downtown Holsum Lofts. Even in miniature, the building is impressive. Looking down at its courtyard, glowing windows and soon-to-be-iconic tower, it produces a quickening in your chest. It's as if the future of this place, all its myriad possibilities, are pressing against the glass encasing the scale model, eager to be unleashed. And on March 10 it will.
But for now, it's time to wonder what it all means for the local arts scene. Certainly, The Smith Center gives further validity to our claim to being the Entertainment Capital of the World. But how will the presence of a world-class performing arts complex play out in our day-to-day lives? Will it be a new engine of artistic synergy, uniting and expanding the downtown arts district, maybe the entire Valley? Or will it be an island of creativity, contained under glass in the middle of an empty space, just like its scale model? The latter is how most Strip shows operate. Fortunately, The Smith Center strives to be more. Here's how it will change the face of entertainment in Las Vegas:
A rising tide. "The Smith Center is the rising tide that will help arts organizations around the Valley," says Myron Martin, The Smith Center's president and CEO, who once faced snickers from his East Coast friends for being the "arts and culture guy from Las Vegas." (To learn more about Martin, see Seven Questions, Page 102.) "I don't mean to infer that all of a sudden every theater company in town is going to move to The Smith Center—they're not. But a lot more people are going to be talking about the art. Face it, people are going to come to see David Sedaris talk, and he's going to spur people's thinking about theater. People are going to come see The Color Purple, and it's going to make them want to see the next performance at Insurgo because they're connected to the theater in a new and different and exciting way."
Resident companies. Finally, two venerable Las Vegas institutions will have a place to call their own. The Nevada Ballet Theatre and the Las Vegas Philharmonic will see their stock skyrocket because of their association with The Smith Center. "The two resident companies performing in a world-class venue will be perceived differently," Martin says. "And for those of us who live here, isn't it nice to go someplace where you don't have to walk through a casino to get there? Especially a production like the Nutcracker where you're bringing kids, right?"
Education. While showrooms must focus on profit, The Smith Center aspires to be embraced by the community—its mission statement ends with the phrase "excellence, education and inspiration for all." In fact, The Smith Center offers so many educational opportunities, it's hard to list them. A few examples include The Elaine Wynn Studio for Arts Education; the soon-to-be annual field trip for fourth-graders; and workshops and master classes for teachers that bring in all sorts of playwrights and creatives. It's enough to make a grown-up jealous. But soon, adults may get to join in the fun with a still-in-the-works lecture series. "One of my dreams that were getting close is to also offer a really special lecture series," Martin says, "so that the whole community now can participate when a playwright comes, interesting people that you like to hear talk." (You heard it here first.)
Priced for locals. The Smith Center is committed to being consistently accessible to locals. "Unlike our colleagues who operate entertainment venues on the Strip, The Smith Center is built for those of us who live here," Martin says. "We could've charged a lot more than $24 for The Color Purple or Mary Poppins, but we want this to be the living room for Las Vegas—we want this to be a place that's not for the rich and famous, but for everybody in Las Vegas. That's a commitment we made a long time ago, and we're sticking to it." (Broadway season tickets range from $99-$519; a single ticket costs $24-$129.)
Potential for collaboration. With so many international-caliber performances, will there be opportunities for creative locals to contribute? Yes, but it's not yet certain how. "One of my dreams is to create an incubator for local talent," Martin says. "A way that we give local theater companies—a children's theater company is a good example—a chance to do something great. And one day I'm going to make that happen. But to make it happen would require raising a lot more money, and at the moment I have to be focused on getting the building open." In the meantime, UNLV's Theater Department has already expressed interest in student internships and volunteer opportunities. In fact, The Smith Center has been flooded with inquiries by people who want to get involved.
Sparking a renaissance. There's another architectural model in The Smith Center lobby. This one is a map of downtown Las Vegas with a cluster of skyscrapers rising from the 2-D image, like hotels on a monopoly board. It's a dream resurrected from the pre-recession era, and The Smith Center is in the middle of it all. You can imagine its energy combining with the energy of First Friday and Zappos and all the downtown cheerleaders to create something like San Diego's Gaslamp District (to learn more, see our cover story, Page 28). If it all seems a little lofty, just remember this: It took more than 120 years for Carnegie Hall to reach the status it has, and we're still looking ahead to Day 1.
Something lasting. We won't be around to see this one, but with the opening of The Smith Center, we're witnessing the beginning of a legacy. In a city whose landmarks are built to be imploded, The Smith Center was built to last generations.