Sunday morning began beautifully. I woke up, made breakfast for my kids, and checked my social media—first Clubhouse, then Facebook, finally Instagram. In my DMs, there was a message from Caitlin Baucom, an activist, performance artist, sound genius, and arts organizer out of NYC.

“Ok do you want to buy that huge castle outside of Las Vegas w us lol”

To this day I don’t know what castle she was referring to, dear reader. 

Caitlin: “IT HAS PIPE ORGANS” … “Beverly Rogers should buy it for us”

This is a common punchline between us. Beverly Rogers is, at least indirectly, responsible for us having met. (To be more precise, Caitlin and I became friends through Rogers Art Loft, a gallery space and residency program funded by the Rogers Foundation, of which Beverly is Chair.)

Pre-pandemic, the Loft provided housing, workshops and exhibition space for visiting creatives from around the globe, following the foundation’s mission of supporting arts and education in Southern Nevada. Since its founding in 2019, this program has brought diverse and intriguing artists and their practices to Sin City. (And in 2020, the Loft brought us the current digital residency.)

Ayanah Moor, a 2019 artist in residence from Virginia, made the “Four Queens” series. Photo: courtesy Rogers Art Loft

It’s a long-overdue institution in a city where the university has long been the mainstay for visiting artist talks and workshops. It’s been so refreshing and engaging to be involved with their program over the past two years. 

Anyone in Las Vegas could have met and worked with these visiting creative minds. The program is free and open to the public via workshops, lectures, and virtual exhibitions.

Last fall I had the privilege of visiting the Rogers Art Loft’s one-year anniversary exhibition, an excellently curated show featuring some of the more interesting contemporary art I’ve seen developed in Las Vegas. It was wonderful to see these visiting artists forge bonds with the desert and its citizens.

Desert cityscapes by resident artist Heather Beardsley. Photo: Courtesy Rogers Art Loft

Ayanah Moor dove into race through gaming iconography with her “Four Queens” prints, co-produced by Vegas printing guru Erik Beehn of Test Site Projects. Heather Beardsley translated our local cityscape into organic, desert metropolis landscapes. Caitlin’s beautiful, intense, live performance involved, among other objects, a jar of crickets. I loved the array of diverse voices from faraway cities providing takes on our hometown and its influences. There are many more incredible artists in this retrospective, too many to mention here. The virtual exhibition is up online for all to see.

San Francisco’s Daniel Melo Morales was an artist in residence in September 2020. Photo: courtesy Rogers Art Loft

Although most of my favorite experiences around the arts loft were in person during the first year, a body movement workshop with the San Francisco dance duo Tableau Stations in February 2020, just before lockdown, was, for me, the absolute highlight of the Loft’s programming. The quality and quantity of the organization’s work through its second year, during the pandemic, is incredible. The British artist Gemma Marmalade’s participatory performance projects “VODA,” and “Dream Operator” were beautiful, interactive experiences that resonated through quarantine and a divisive election. Daniel Melo Morales’ “Bodies Affected By Frequencies and Intensities” is a meditation on many of the tertiary effects the pandemic has had on us all.

British artist Gemma Marmalade presented “VODA,” a project in which people were invited to call in to discuss pandemic problems. Image: courtesy Rogers Art Loft

The most recent artist in residence, Mitsu Salmon, developed an exceptional video piece, a rumination on the desert and its histories. I had a brief conversation with Mitsu the other day about her experience with the Loft. 

“At the start of quarantine, most residences and exhibition spaces disappeared,” she said. “I had trouble pulling together work. Having this residency compelled me to share, make and present work, something which was incredibly meaningful during the pandemic.”

Mitsu Salmon. Photo: courtesy Rogers Art Loft

Her piece “Desert Tortoise” incorporates lush sound arrangements, revelatory monologues, and body movements based on Japanese butoh dance, describing the artist’s relationships—both physical and emotional—with the desert.

“I’ve seen a lot of work about the desert,” Mitsu said. “I became interested in how this land holds so many uses, how this space holds so many things.” Things like the native flora and fauna, atomic testing, and the Manzanar prison camp—the latter two resonating with her Japanese heritage, all compounding beautifully in “Desert Tortoise.”   

“Originally it was to be live, but this is the time of the solo road trip,” Mitsu said. So, she went to her mother’s former home in Barstow, California to touch her desert roots. She staged her work with a background her mother described to her as a child, an isolated house not far from where her mother had lived. 

She hosted a series of Butoh workshops, relaying the post WWII Japanese theatrical art to viewers in Las Vegas and around the world via Zoom. 

“I was interested in connecting to the community, sharing my process and ideas, with the assistance of the arts loft’s supportive staff,” she said.

I’m terribly fond of the Rogers Art Loft and its effects on Las Vegas’s creative community. The Rogers Foundation is instrumental in creating a nexus of creative thought and development in Southern Nevada. 

In conclusion, Beverly Rogers, if you are reading this, the town of Nipton is up for sale again for just $2.5 million. It would make a fantastic artists’ colony. Or you can take up Caitlin’s castle idea.

Applications for Rogers Art Loft’s next round of residencies will open April 15. More info on the website.

The next artist in residence will be Florida-based Meghan Moe Beitiks, beginning May 10.

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.