It’s 2009, and I’m at the corner of Casino Center and Colorado Avenue, sitting at a little table surrounded by grid walls hung with my admittedly amateurish paintings. It’s a Friday, the first Friday of the month in fact, and I’m doing what most artists under 30 in the Las Vegas “scene” did back then—hustling my work at First Friday. The building behind me is one of the coolest antique shops/gallery spaces I’ve ever seen, The Funk House. It’s a legendary space for the arts, expressive of the DIY sensibilities that defined Vegas art in the late nineties and early aughts.

Brilliantly curated The Funk House bristles with creative energy. Around it, the street bubbles with prattling mirth. This First Friday is not overly busy (maybe 2,000-5,000 attendees), dotted with vendors and customers galvanizing the base of the city’s pre-adolescent cultural life. I ask a friend to watch my booth, and saunter into The Funk House, lightly buzzed on then-illegal cannabis, to strike up a conversation with a local joker. It gets loud and over-energetic, as my conversations tend to. At some clamorous apex, a stern, direct voice shouts from the register “Would you please shut the fuck up!”

Photo courtesy of Ginger Bruner

The woman behind that voice was Cindy Funkhouser—Funk House proprietor and, along with Julie Brewer and Naomi Arin, co-founder of First Friday. She was ornery, clever, sometimes cantankerous, and always dedicated to her cause—a foundational figure in classic Las Vegas style.

“I looked up to Cindy even before I met her, she was a legend,” said Marty Walsh, gallerist, cheerleader, and cultural activator. “When we became close friends, that legendary status was driven even higher. She was the strongest woman I know to this day. She spoke her truth and would not falter, and with no apology. Cindy and her two cofounders spearheaded the movement known as First Friday Las Vegas to bring art to the people. I will never forget the profound effect her vision, spirit, tenacity, and humor continues to have on my life.”

Cindy would tell me to shut up on several other occasions over the years, while doing her due diligence to nurse our awkward, gangly, underdeveloped arts scene into adulthood. She endured countless obstacles, both professional and personal, to make a greater community. Every time she commanded me to shut my gob, it was to fill my ears with advice, support, or planning. Cindy faded from the arts a few years after I first met her, due to a mixture of health and financial concerns.

“Cindy saw art where it didn’t quite exist yet,” said Ginger Bruner, musician, radio host, and photographer. “She supported local artists by showing their work, AND buying it. I distinctly remember the very first Las Vegas First Friday, as I had a show of my photographs at the Funk House, and the original three members of Killian’s Angels played at the reception/event. It garnered about 300 attendees for the evening’s events, in the various galleries. It was considered quite a success, because until that time, art spaces did their own thing, and 300 people was a lot for a gallery opening. It turned into one hell of a happening, spanning several blocks, with various stages, booths, etc”.

Cindy Passed away on Friday Dec. 23, 2022, and I find myself insufficiently equipped to eulogize her. She was so much more than scant words written about fading memories, far grander than any event or place. She should be venerated by our community, a community she helped create. Every working artist in Las Vegas has been influenced by Cindy Funkhouser in large and small ways. For all that she did and continues to do, I am incredibly grateful.

I’ll leave you with one last memory. This one’s from painter/muralist/graphic designer Jerry Misko: “Cindy was a force for good. Her energy and dedication to the neighborhood and creating a community for the arts in Las Vegas was never-ending. She showed generosity, kindness and grace to everyone who was on board and didn’t suffer any bullshit from anyone. I can’t count the artists whose lives she touched and encouraged, from a small art purchase to years-long support and exhibitions. She helped me along the way and was always a cheerleader, even when I wasn’t at my most dedicated. Cancer couldn’t stop her, heart issues mellowed her roll a bit, but she was a lion whose roar we’ll hear for years after her passing. Cindy was full of love, and we should keep that alive in her memory.”

Cover photo: Borrowed from the First Friday Las Vegas Facebook page

Posted by Brent Holmes

Brent Holmes is a wizened veteran of the Las Vegas arts and journalism scene, a lonesome cowboy riding the high desert who occasionally wanders in to communicate dispatches on the innumerable goings on in this thing called civilization. Beware his haggard stare and keen eye.