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August 21, 2014

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UNLV grads go to work on Project Neon’s Downtown gateway

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COLAB Las Vegas

A rendering of the Project Neon Downtown Gateway.

When Amy Finchem formed the Downtown working gallery space known as COLAB to encourage dialogue within the design community and bring opportunity to local architects and designers, there were a million “yeah, right” comments that could have been applied. It may have seemed like a pipe dream, but there wasn’t much time for skepticism. Finchem’s plans were already falling quickly and precisely into place.

In fact, during COLAB’s first curated exhibit, the City of Las Vegas swooped in and commissioned her organization for Project Neon’s gateway to Downtown, a high-profile project that includes architectural and design enhancements to the bridge that will cross Charleston Boulevard and lead to Symphony Park.

The design team? That would be the seven UNLV School of Architecture grads featured in that May “Young Guns” exhibit, and artist Zak Ostrowski.

“It’s exactly what we wanted to happen,” Finchem says. “We just didn’t think it would happen at our first curated show.”

But it did. Last Friday she hosted her second curated exhibit of sorts—a public viewing at ArtSquare that welcomed the community to see the various ideas the team came up with for the project.

The chosen design, which references area flora, will be on display at COLAB’s temporary space at Art Square for August’s First Friday.

The project may be a chance at redemption for the city’s office of Cultural Affairs, which ran into an assortment of problems after it hired New York artist Dennis Oppenheim (now deceased) for the Gateway to the Arts District project. Project Neon is Nevada Department of Transportation’s multi-phased $1.5 billion re-design project for the I-15 between the Spaghetti Bowl and Sahara Avenue.

Planned for completion in 2017, the gateway project includes agave and reed-inspired steel features: stalks, curved and twisted and jutting up on either side of the bridge and a light field of LED-lit steel reeds on the banks below the bridge.

In addition to Ostrowski, the commissioned designers are Drew Gregory, Clemente Cicoria, Vince Novak, Aaron Reddick, Garrett Sullivan, Leon Cifala and Anthony Diaz.

“It’s a large team for a project like this, but I’m really passionate about community projects,” says Finchem, a graduated from UNLV’s School of Architecture, who began working in the industry in 1997. She says she’s grown tired of watching large public projects going to firms and architects outside of Nevada: “Somehow it’s more appealing to hire somebody from New York or somebody with a big name.”

That was ultimately her impetus for forming COLAB, a needed entity, she says, in a city where there are no museums and galleries dedicated to architecture and so many in the local design community have been laid off.

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