One year ago last month, Clark County lifted all COVID restrictions except for the mask mandate, and the creative community that survived was whiplashed back to work.
Members of the arts and culture workforce were weakened by personal tragedies, physical ailments, and growing debt as they mourned the loss of housing, storefronts, and liquidated equipment. At the time I was serving as both the Henderson Symphony Orchestra’s Executive Director and as the Artistic Director of The Asylum Theatre. We were eager to create, train, teach, and earn again. Each of my companies produced events that were the first to coax some locals out of their home, and we were not alone.
Artists are humanitarians. We encounter the stress and suffering of our society with exposed nerves and few reserves, but we must keep going because Nevada’s industry and social activity do not happen without us.
What makes the Arts and Culture ecosystem important to all of us?
The economic DATA and lived history of COVID proves that the Arts are not a cause, they are an industry and tool for society; sadly, too many policy makers and business leaders ignore this fact as they continue to suffocate the Creative Economy that generates their prosperity. Professional sports are only profitable because they have been developed as media and marketing empires. There is no media or marketing without arts training. There is no arts training without the arts in our community and in our schools.
Our Creative Economy contributes to a larger share of our state’s GDP than Mining (around 4.7%), a number that those on the ground know is undercounted because the creative workforce is habitually misidentified by Department of Labor codes. Even so, Nevada’s creative professionals are credited with adding $10.66 billion to the national GDP through arts and culture in 2019. In 2001, this number was $4.11 billion. That is 150% growth in less than 20 years.
The lack of DATA betrays the truth laid bare while the world shut down – before we need the creative industries for commerce, we need arts professionals and their work product to cope with living in our own skin as human beings whether we’re isolated, among friends, or relating to strangers. Education gets nowhere without creative skills, and the demand for community learning grows every day as public schools become battle zones in more ways than one. Medical patients struggling with mental health conditions, aging populations, and physical therapies rely on artistic practices to heal us. Life is not worth living without quality arts in houses of worship, at bars and restaurants, streaming at home, or while you sweat at the gym.
How does ongoing public policy impact the Creative Workforce?
Nevada claims to be an “Entertainment Capital of the World.” The powers that be still fail to lead like it. To be fair, there are those who are inclined to “get it” but many are too slow to respond with good stewardship. Whether because of ignorance, greed, or indifference stakeholders who are not artists wrongly dismiss arts educators as campus “window dressers”, eliminate cultural departments, and ignore creative nonprofits as civic leaders and economic developers instead of leveraging and advancing them. Our local creative workforce and its small business leaders (both commercial and nonprofit) have lost a great deal in the past 12 months as a result. They have more talent than places to develop and present it, and the inadequate venues that do exist are dwindling or financially inaccessible to them in our valley’s pay to play environment.
While cabaret acts in bars and restaurants are plentiful, there are now only three active independent black box storefront theatre spaces in Las Vegas. Public agencies continue to invest in outdoor venues that are useless in the winter and summer, and only appropriate for certain types of work. There are no mandates and few incentives for sustainable gallery and studio space. The Henderson Pavilion was replaced with an arena for “mixed use” that has left local arts suffering as it appears neither the city, nor the sports teams want to foot the bill for a scaled up arts experience with quality lights, and sound. The Clark County Library District is about to relinquish the Historic Westside’s West Las Vegas performing arts center venue to the City of Las Vegas, and our BIPOC cultural community rightly fears this will be a tragic blow at the hands of the establishment as a result. Artistry and accessibility are hindered by the lack of access to expensive new technologies that our creative industries need to innovate and evolve.
Creating brick and mortar space for our Creative Economy to thrive is a heavy lift politically and financially but partnering with the copious number of venues in our area to hold events should not be. All it takes is willingness on the part of those who are raking in the tax-free relief by the millions on the Strip and in our Real Estate sector to “play ball” with non-profit arts organizations, but some public officials still chase after business leaders rather than assert our rights as taxpayers, and those who do have arts on their agenda rarely look beyond the same prominent organizations for advice which do not represent the majority of our arts-engaged population.
There is no requirement for the LVCVA (which claims to be “the Voice of Las Vegas Tourism”) to promote local arts that are Off-Strip. Nevada Tourism concentrates almost exclusively on outdoor activities, and anemically on rural artisans. There is no public fund for proper, targeted promotion of southern Nevada’s local arts industry and yet there are HUNDREDS of non-profit, educational, and commercial companies operating in Southern Nevada, as proved by the PETS grant program and the constant feed of event announcements that we scroll past on social media. The valiant efforts of public arts workers in partnership with constituents are met with deafening silence by local officials, chambers of commerce, and educational stakeholders.
What is the result of this negligence?
Southern Nevadans lose. Our creative workforce is making money for other places, instead of Nevada. Artists are accepting residencies in other cities, booking productions to other states, joining international tours and cruise lines, and doing research in other countries. We will not diversify our economy by driving our creative diversity, skillsets, and entrepreneurship out through exploitation and neglect.
Local arts organizations are forced to reduce programs or close their doors when their talent burns out and goes elsewhere, along with trusted sponsors and partners lost in the “Great Resignation.” Venue owners tear up contracts and break leases, squandering the sweat equity and generational wealth that arts entrepreneurs have invested in the community. Beloved murals are painted over for ad campaigns. Artists cannot advance their work and help Nevada lead in the world because their skills are resource-starved. Congressional ARPA funds run the risk of misappropriation to smooth operators with full-time lobbyists who are paid to work the system and block out the sun on non-profit companies who also have employees and customers to manage as they serve their missions.
What can we do to MAKE THE ARTS COUNT for all Nevadans?
We can start by counting the arts through the Arts and Economic Prosperity Study 6 (AEP6) that is ongoing through April 2023. This census of Arts dollars and the economic activity they generate only happens every 5 years, and it is THE ONLY NATIONWIDE STUDY that focuses on the non-profit and educational arts and culture sector.
The AEP6 measures the money audience and organizations spend to consume and create the arts, and it proves that the arts drive our economy, especially in event and tourism-reliant Nevada.
Thanks to advocates across the state, Nevada’s participation will be unprecedented with more official study partners helping to administer it than we have ever had before: the Nevada Arts Council, the City of Reno, the City of Las Vegas Office of Cultural Affairs, and Clark County Public Arts. Eat More Art LLC has recently been engaged to coordinate the AEP6 on behalf of the City of Las Vegas and will help to organize collection with non-profit leaders in support of every “study partner jurisdiction.” Regardless of where an arts or humanities non-profit may operate, its work should be counted by one of the study partners from May 2022 to April 2023 to feed into the national results. Study partners will receive DATA that breaks down economic impact and demographic data by region and zip code.
The report will be the primary source for five years until the next study is conducted. The AEP6 matters now, and it will matter for years to come.
We can meet at The Vegas Arts Table on July 11th, 2022 at 6:30 PM for a hybrid event held at the Nevada Room and via Zoom. The agenda for this meeting will include three important items:
- The AEP6 Study: What it is, why it matters, and how to participate
- Advocacy: Info for the upcoming election season
- Collaborative Climate: Feedback from the creative community about the state of the arts and the challenges we face via a “Snapshot Survey” of local Creative Economy-related issues such as changes in local arts leadership, recent reorganizations of companies and programs, and mitigating the adverse impact of gentrification.
We can insert the local arts, culture, and creative economy into all our conversations about voting, education, healthcare, diversity, tourism, and daily life. We can buy local arts tickets as gifts for family, friends, and business associates. We can take the same pride in our Vegas Born Arts that we do our Vegas Born Sports and demand that our LVCVA do the same.
What is the state of our Arts and Culture ecosystem? The jury is out for now, but the answer depends on all of us. Our arts are your arts, and they are counting on you.
This column was originally published by Sarah O’Connell on Eat More Art Vegas.