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September 22, 2014

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Women architects, designers of Las Vegas showcase talent in downtown gallery

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Lucky Wenzel Photography

The designers featured in COLAB’s “Women in Design” exhibit at celebrate at Hayley Hunter Creative Space Fine Upholstery and Furnishings Boutique.

There are no talented women designers in Las Vegas.

That’s what Amy Finchem was told by her male peers in the architecture and design field when they heard she was planning an exhibit showcasing the work of local female designers.

She proved them wrong Thursday night with the opening of “Women in Design,” a blind juried exhibition featuring work by such women in the fields of architecture, interior design and landscape architecture. Six designers were ultimately selected from a total of 15 submissions.

“I was pleased with the overall quality of the submissions that we got, especially for the first time out. It was really, really difficult to pick just six,” she says.

The exhibit is the latest effort by COLAB, the local design nonprofit and gallery at Art Square that Finchem founded and directs, to further community dialogue about Las Vegas’ architectural landscape. Finchem, along with judges Alex Epstein of El Cortez, Quentin Abramo of Faciliteq Architectural Interiors and Art Square developer Brett Sperry, provide well-rounded looks at both built and unbuilt work that showcase designers’ overall capability and aesthetics, rather than the details of a single project.

“Women in Design” is not the first time Finchem’s efforts have been met with raised eyebrows: She faced similar skepticism when she founded COLAB earlier this spring.

“People said, well we hire outside of the city [for architecture and design work] because we don’t have any local talented designers,” she says, a sentiment COLAB disproved with “Young Guns,” a curated exhibit of work by UNLV School of Architecture graduates who were subsequently hired by the city of Las Vegas to design Project Neon’s gateway to downtown. COLAB’s Downtown Backyard Project, an effort to design and construct parks and gardens in downtown’s Arts District, is also gaining attention and momentum among locals.

“For this show I think it’s the same as ‘Young Guns,’ where there’s a perception that we don’t have local talent here, period, and certainly not women designers. So this has really given the platform to show that we have really great, talented women in this city,” Finchem, 35, says.

While visibility and local employment opportunities are issues faced by Las Vegas’ design community at large, the struggle is particularly challenging for women, who often must juggle the fast-paced fieldwork and round-the-clock schedule that architecture demands with raising a family. While working at a large firm, where meetings often ran late at the end of the day,  Finchem began noticing that women were the only ones who got up to leave when time went over.

“They had to go pick up their kids,” says Finchem, a single mother of three. “It truly does impact the perception of those women in their ability to fulfill their jobs — that they’re distracted, or they’re not reliable. Those are misconceptions because any woman that I’ve worked with in this field works harder and is more persistent, constantly trying to prove themselves to live up to the standards. They don’t automatically get that respect when they walk in the door — you know you’re going to be doubted from the get-go, so you have to be on your game all the time.”

Finchem hopes that exhibits like “Women in Design,” which is open through February, will help shed light on those challenges and catalyze more open discussion about them in both the workplace and the community. In the coming months, she plans to incorporate events such as a film screening about women in design, guest lectures and panel discussions with women in related fields including construction and engineering.

“What it looks like to be an employee for somebody doesn’t have to look the same [from person to person],” she says. “We really want to get in the habit of these exhibit launches being a start to dialogue about whatever the topic is.”

Women in design features the work of local designers Lindzay Green, landscape architecture; Gina Grillo, architecture; Renee Smith, architecture; Alice O’Keefe, interior design; Kim Daoust, interior design; Briana Tiberti, interior design.

COLAB Las Vegas is open Mondays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and also available by appointment.

Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

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