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Kristen Peterson

At times stormy, scene continues to evolve

31 December 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- This has been quite a year for arts in Las Vegas.

Guggenheim Hermitage Museum closed its doors after seven years at the Venetian. Pace Wildenstein gave the Gallery of Fine Art back to the Bellagio. MGM Mirage announced it would spend $40 million on art at the new CityCenter.

In the face of budget cuts, Libby Lumpkin abruptly resigned as executive director of the Las Vegas Art Museum. The Las Vegas Philharmonic ran out of money and suffered a leadership shake-up.

The Smith Center for the Performing Arts scrapped plans for one of three concert halls but moved closer to breaking ground on the $475 million complex. Nearby, Frank Gehry's twisting design of the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute began to take shape.

The Nevada School of the Arts finally found a fitting home when it moved into downtown's renovated Fifth Street School this summer.

La Concha is back up. Maude Frazier Hall is history.

Here's the rundown:

• Ballet: After 10 years leading the Nevada Ballet Theatre, Artistic Director Bruce Steivel didn't offer an au revoir or a word of explanation when he left after last year's "The Nutcracker." Executive Director Beth Barbre named James Canfield, whom she had worked with at the Oregon Ballet Theatre, as interim director. Ballet officials remain tight-lipped about the search for a permanent artistic director. One of the company's longtime principal dancers, Kyudong Kwak, retired in November.

• Preservation: The Neon Museum spent $1.4 million to cut apart, move and rebuild La Concha's lobby, a conch-shaped design by architect Paul Revere Williams. However, it was short of money to complete the reconstruction of the lobby that will serve as the visitor center and gift shop for the Neon Museum, which rescues and houses signs from Las Vegas' past. This month the Federal Highway Administration announced that it will give Las Vegas an $807,039 grant to help fund the rest of the restoration.

After a more than $13 million renovation, the Fifth Street School was reopened this summer. The former grammar school on Las Vegas Boulevard was built in 1936. It houses the Nevada School of the Arts, city cultural offices and the Downtown Design Center, which is a partnership between UNLV's architecture school and the city.

• Philharmonic: This seemed like it was going to be a banner year for the Las Vegas Philharmonic. Its music director and conductor, David Itkin, began his second season with the 10-year-old orchestra and the musicians have never sounded better. The orchestra launched a pops series. The board and front office weren't as solid. The orchestra ran out of money late in the year, and Executive Director Peter Aaronson was let go. After grumbling and infighting, Barbara Woollen, who'd taken over as board president midway through the year, resigned. Orchestra leaders say they are focused on getting through the season and navigating the rocky economy.

• Las Vegas Art Museum: Facing budget cuts and a tough economy, the Las Vegas Art Museum board told Executive Director Libby Lumpkin to shave payroll. Rather than firing staff, Lumpkin resigned. Lumpkin, who joined the museum in 2005, had been responsible for leading the museum's transformation into a contemporary art institution and for drawing impressive exhibits and national attention to the museum.

The museum dropped plans to renovate the All American Sportspark as a new, temporary home. Instead, it looked to build a downtown museum. It had its eyes on the Smith Center campus, but the partnership fell through because the museum needed more space than was available.

• Arts District: The city's Casino Center Streetscape Project is nearing completion. The $1.8 million redevelopment project is part of the city's effort to make downtown more walkable and visitor-friendly. Landscaping and decorative lighting have been added. A team of artists — Danielle Kelly, Erin Stellmon, Adam Morey and Aaron Sheppard— is incorporating public art into the project.

• Off the shelf: Native son Charles Bock spent 11 years writing a novel that captures Las Vegas culture, particularly its street life and gritty underbelly. "Beautiful Children" won the New York Times trifecta — earning a glowing review, a place on its best-seller list and a full-length profile on Bock in the Sunday magazine. The book, a compelling and sometimes disturbing read, captures Las Vegas in a way that only a local can, even if he now lives in New York.

Las Vegas became a part of the Akashic Noir Series. In "Las Vegas Noir," co-editors Jarret Keene and Todd James Pierce included stories of grit, perversity, drug addiction, and murder and other gruesome crimes, set in Las Vegas' suburbs, downtown and outskirts.

A Berlin publishing house, Jovis Verlag, released "Urbanizing the Mojave Desert: Las Vegas" by urbanists and architects Nicole Huber and Ralph Stern. They observed how rapid — and rabid — development has obscured and erased cultural and physical history. A must-read for anyone who calls this home or for those who wonder about off-Strip life.