Neon Museum director discusses what she’ll miss most about Las Vegas

Vegas Voices is a weekly question-and-answer series featuring notable Las Vegans.

Come October, Neon Museum executive director Danielle Kelly will still be a Las Vegan. But not a Nevadan.

That’s because she, her husband — artist David Sanchez Burr — and their son, Calixto, who’s almost 3, are moving to Las Vegas, N.M., where Sanchez Burr will teach in the media arts department at New Mexico Highlands University.

The prospect of leaving this Las Vegas after 14 years — seven of them at the Neon Museum — prompts Kelly to tear up and reach for a tissue, offering tangible evidence of her ties to, and affection for, Nevada’s Neon Nirvana.

After she moved here (from Portland, Ore.) in 2001, “I really saw this place as this wonderful secret,” with “these wonderful treasures to mine and dig into.”

Some of those treasures surround Kelly at the Neon Museum. But her appreciation of Las Vegas extends far beyond downtown.

We recently spoke with Kelly, 44, about Las Vegas’ cultural life, her favorite things to do here — and what she’ll miss most when she moves to that other Las Vegas.

Review-Journal: How would you describe the overall cultural life of Las Vegas?

Kelly: It’s so unique. That’s what I love about it. I think people are really open and willing to try anything. It’s a very resourceful community. I think it’s one of a kind. It’s hard to sustain things — but anything’s possible. I’ll miss that. There is a pioneering spirit and you see its influence.

Review-Journal: How do you respond when people criticize Las Vegas as a cultural desert?

Kelly: It’s an easy go-to. To me, it always suggests lazy journalism. People point to Las Vegas as a way to make themselves feel better. Las Vegas requires letting go of assumptions and being open to new possibilities. You have to be open to it to discover. It’s just not like anywhere else, and if you come in looking for anywhere else, you’re going to be disappointed.

Review-Journal: What’s your favorite sign at the Neon Museum?

Kelly: My favorite sign is the Mid-Towner Apartments. I have spent perhaps as many hours with that sign as I have with my husband. It’s really lived-in. A lot of eyes have looked at that sign. It has this great mixture of lettering styles that are just dancing for you: “Look over here!” It’s a very unassuming sign. It takes time, but the longer you spend with that sign, it kind of takes your heart.

Review-Journal: What’s your favorite “Vegas-y” activity?

Kelly: Without a doubt, the laser show at Sam’s Town. If I can’t be at the Neon Museum, that’s my happy place. To me, it’s just wild. It’s very kitschy, but it’s also very sweet. It’s an atrium, with a waterfall and laser show. One might think it’s out of date, but it feels very fresh. It’s just so strange and awesome.

Review-Journal: What’s your favorite un-“Vegas-y” activity?

Kelly: There’s so much incredible nature here. Driving out to Red Rock and Mount Charleston, or out to Valley of Fire. Just day drives out in the desert. The desert landscape is so subtle. The longer you’re here, the more you see.

Review-Journal: What will you miss most about living in Las Vegas?

I don’t know what I’m going to miss more, the people or the signs. I feel deep, sincere love for the signs. The way the city is, it’s a big city, but in some ways it’s a small town. The city really attracts interesting people and I will miss them all terribly. The people that get it and really want to engage here are a little wacky — in all the best ways.

For more stories from Carol Cling go to Contact her at and follow @CarolSCling on Twitter.

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