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Smith Center crucial to arts recovery in Las Vegas

Updated April 6, 2020 - 5:16 pm

Myron Martin is walking an emotional tightrope across Las Vegas. The president of The Smith Center for the Performing Arts is balancing dark reality with his instinctively sunny disposition.

“I think we’re all in this daze, this funk, this state of disbelief,” says Martin, who appeared on the episode of “PodKats!” posted March 30. “We think about our incredible city and the casinos are closed, we’ve had to cancel Broadway shows, big tours … nearly two months of shows of all kinds at The Smith Center.”

But Martin is not one to relentlessly beat the drum of negativity. He believes in Las Vegas, as a 25-year civic leader who has helped the city navigate through some extraordinarily challenging times. Most memorably, Martin and co-producer Neil Miller headed up the all-star USO benefit concert at the Mandalay Bay Events Center created just two months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Martin recognizes challenges. He understands The Smith Center’s position in Las Vegas’ ultimate recovery.

“As tough as things are for The Smith Center are right now … there is no doubt in my mind that The Smith Center is going to play an important role in the comeback of Las Vegas,” says Martin, who refers to the fortress at Symphony Park as “Las Vegas’ living room.” “We just have to get through this tough period, financially and otherwise.”

The only president of The Smith Center since the venue opened in March 2012, Martin reinforces concepts over timelines. He stresses that before the city can envision a return to normal activity, residents (and tourists) must overcome the discomfort of actually mingling in public.

I asked Martin if it would be possible to lay out the blueprint for another post-9/11 benefit show, or a performance such as the “Vegas Strong” event at T-Mobile Arena two months after the Oct. 1, 2017, shootings.

“I think the answer is no. The idea of bringing 8,000-10,000 people together at a time when we’re told don’t go out in groups just doesn’t feel right,” Martin said. “I don’t think that’s the way we’re going to come out of this one.”

Martin says to expect a period of rediscovery for live entertainment and sporting events.

“People are going to need a minute after we come out of this, to feel comfortable about going into a big, public assembly space whether it’s The Smith Center, Allegiant Stadium, MGM Grand Garden arena, wherever it may be,” he says. “It’s going to take time for people to feel comfortable about going back into a space where they are comfortable sitting with others.”

But conceivably, if the coronavirus pandemic and accompanying health scare clear by the fall, events already on the calendar could help the city heal. Allegiant Stadium is still booked for an Aug. 22 Garth Brooks show, followed by the Raiders’ preseason schedule. The Smith Center is still planning for the return of “Hamilton” at Reynolds Hall in September and October.

“I’m not one to say, ‘Let’s all pick a date and go somewhere.’ But I do think there is a reason to believe and hope that we will be in a place when the Raiders start playing their games, that we’ll be comfortable with going to a stadium, or an arena or a theater,” Martin says. “It’ll be at a time when we’ve been at home for so long, the pent-up demand for events is going to drive us to want to go to a Raiders game.”

Martin also says of the “Hamilton” run at The Smith Center that “we are fortunate to have it coming back for a number of weeks, and we expect it to have a full run, to full houses, and people will leave The Smith Center feeling inspired.”

Martin’s balancing act carries to funding The Smith Center when it has fallen into the same crisis as all Vegas entertainment venues. There is zero revenue coming in. Martin has not asked donors, season ticket holders or single-ticket holders for financial support.

But there is a way for the community to offset that revenue shortfall.

“It doesn’t feel like the right time to say, ‘Times are tough; make a donation,’ but when we have deposited money into people’s ticket accounts when shows canceled, we have said, ‘We’ll gladly refund your money, but we’ll gladly accept a donation if you want to donate these tickets back to The Smith Center,’ ” Martin says. “But other than that, the ticket refund, there has been no appeal for donations, and tickets are 70 percent of The Smith Center’s funding.”

Martin is especially responsive to his team at The Smith Center. From executives to the ushers, The Smith Center staff is a tight-knit group.

“When I think about my extended family, and that’s how I think of those folks I work with at The Smith Center every day, it’s the thing that keeps me up at night,” Martin says. “I am thinking about them and their health and safety, and wondering when we are going to be able to convene again and start inspiring audiences.”

Martin says he is encouraged, but not surprised, at the members of Las Vegas entertainment community flooding online platforms to continue to share their art.

“We as human beings need that kind of inspiration that only music and the arts can bring,” says Martin, who fell for live musical theater as a fourth-grader after seeing an opera at Jones Hall in Houston. “I can’t say enough about the local arts community in Las Vegas and how they are trying to do their part.”

He always comes back to the city’s resilience: “If there is a town in the world that knows how to come back, that knows how to respond and knows how to reinvent themselves to be even better than they were before, it’s Las Vegas.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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