Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
The financially strapped Las Vegas Art Museum is closing its doors Feb. 28.
After three months of trying to keep the 59-year-old institution afloat in the dire economy, board members and staff said Friday they have run out of options.
The board had cut the museum’s budget to less than $1 million for the year and laid off workers.
“We’ve tried everything to keep this afloat. It’s just a challenging time,” said Patrick Duffy, president of the museum board. “The economic climate has eliminated several of our donations” and reduced others significantly.
Public funding accounts for just 3 percent of the museum budget, and in a valley of 2 million people, the museum’s membership was just over 1,000.
“It’s just a lesson in the fact that no serious museum will be possible without public support,” said former executive director Libby Lumpkin, who came aboard in 2005 and helped turn the institution into a respected contemporary art museum. She resigned Dec. 2 when the board announced the budget cuts. “Maybe I missed the readiness of Las Vegas to move in the direction of an urban metropolis.”
The staff and board will meet next week to discuss the future of the art in the museum’s collection. Officials also will talk with the National Museum of Art, which recently announced it was giving 50 works from the Vogel collection to the Las Vegas museum.
The Las Vegas organization formed in 1950 as an art league. In 1974 it became a fine art museum, and in 1997 it moved into the Sahara West Library at 9600 W. Sahara Ave.
Under Lumpkin, the museum presented such exhibits as “Southern California Minimalism,” which included works by Robert Irwin, John McCracken, and James Turrell; “Las Vegas Diaspora: The Emergence of Contemporary Art from the Neon Homeland,” featuring artists who had studied at UNLV with Dave Hickey; and architect Frank Gehry’s models, sketches and drawings for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.
What will now be its final exhibit, “L.A. Now,” curated by art critic David Pagel, features work by Los Angeles contemporary artists.
“We had a lot of really great ideas. We wanted to be able to share them with the community,” said Alex Codlin, interim executive director. “We cut the budget significantly and thought we’d stay one step ahead of the economy. I’ve spoken with people at other institutions around the country. They’re in the same boat. They just maybe have more established donors or bigger endowments.
Duffy said the museum will keep its name so that it can re-emerge when the economy improves. “We’ll dig ourselves out of this. It’s not a possibility, it’s a probability,” he said. “The arts aren’t dead in Las Vegas. One entity that’s gone does not a cultural community make. We’ve got great gallerists, very passionate gallerists. We’ve got people here who are very passionate about art. It’s just not fair to the community to launch insignificant shows, especially after what we’ve had in the last couple of years.”