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Roz Knight lives to spread the good word about art

City of the World gallery sits in the middle of the downtown arts district, a bright, funky little bungalow-style house built in 1946 surrounded by a jumble of renovated warehouse space, vintage shops and low-slung buildings covered in graffiti art.

Walk inside on any given day and chances are Roz Knight will be there, a gregarious 69-year-old art teacher with tufts of short, white-blond hair. She is the creator of the place, its heart.

Twenty years ago, she had the idea of displaying her students’ work in tents at local art festivals. Today, the nonprofit co-op gallery showcases about 35 local artists, offers art classes, exhibits and sends out buses that take mobile art lessons to children at parks and schools — the list goes on.

There’s an unframed painting of hers hanging in the gallery that covers a large chunk of one wall. It’s a background of pale blues and indigo covered with white lines that ripple from one end to the other, eventually flowing past the canvas’ narrow edges.

Like the painting, her world seems just as limitless.

If it were up to Knight, her community art co-op would be replicated across the globe, eclectic franchises that feed the soul with paints and drum classes.

“You’re going to crack up when I tell you this,” she says one day while sitting in the gallery, breaking into a smile. “I want to have City of the World all over the world.”

Knight grew up in Canada, and was raised by parents who satiated her energy with everything from Hebrew school, to dance, art and piano lessons. When she was a young teen around the early ’60s, she wrote a high school paper about famine in Africa, and envisioned herself one day becoming a doctor and working with philosopher/physician Albert Schweitzer.

In college, however, Knight realized she was better suited for the arts than medical school and went straight from a bachelor’s degree in fine arts to a master’s in art education from Concordia University in Montreal, she said.

In 1988, she moved with her then husband to Las Vegas, taught in the Clark County School District for nearly 30 years and worked part time teaching at what was then the Community College of Southern Nevada and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, all the while raising six children.

Somehow she also fit in the creation of the gallery, which has grown into an incorporated nonprofit aimed at fostering the arts and providing a place where artists of all ages and backgrounds can come together.

“I envisioned it like a City of the World community arts center, that’s the mission, to promote the arts any way I can,” said Knight, who is the nonprofit’s executive director and president.

Today, City of the World hosts classes that include wood burning, jewelry design and painting lessons for home-schooled students. Most recently, it has also started a cultural bus tour of the downtown arts district and a Saturday jazz night at the gallery.

One gets the feeling the members of Knight’s board of directors do a lot of eyebrow raising, yet in the end let her fly. She admits to keeping Post-It notes by her bed so she can write down ideas and to-do lists in the middle of the night.

Gayle Nathan, an artist and former family court judge who sits on the board, said Knight has a strong desire to show the community, especially children, the boundless possibilities of art. And while she is a “true visionary” who thinks in giant, bold strokes, she also works tirelessly.

“So much of what she envisioned 20 years ago has come to fruition. That doesn’t just happen, there’s a lot of hard work that goes in there, there’s a lot of networking … there’s just a lot of heart and grit that goes into achieving those kinds of goals,” Nathan said.

Knight’s focus right now is on the organization’s Artz-to-Go program, which is just a few years old. Refurbished city buses travel to schools, festivals and make scheduled visits to local parks such as Lorenzi and Myron Leavitt, bringing trained art teachers and supplies for children’s mobile art classes. The buses are also traveling galleries strewn with artwork from City of the World.

The board has suggested Artz-to-Go be eliminated because of the cost, which includes stipends for the teachers. But Knight believes in it to the extent that last year she stepped out of retirement to become an art teacher at Somerset Academy, a charter school in North Las Vegas, to help pay for the program.

“I’d like to see more people using it and understanding the essence of the arts today. People don’t understand and it’s very hard, I just want to share it,” said Knight, who has a distinctive scratchy voice and gray-green eyes with flecks of brown.

Sitting at a picnic table at Bruce Trent Park in northwest Las Vegas recently, not far from a small group of children building puppets during an Artz-to-Go class, she talked about how visual art sparks innovative thinking and helps children see the world around them — the movement, colors, patterns. She also strongly believes that the arts, in all its forms, are the best source of healing we have in this world.

And deep down, she’s always felt that way.

“It’s my whole soul, it’s my personality. You know, I’m the kind of person who would walk down and say, ‘Look at the crow over there,’ and stand and go, ‘Ahhhh.’ You know, meditate on a crow because I’m a nut, an old hippie, right?” she said, laughing. “That’s probably what I am.”

There will be a fundraiser and 20th anniversary celebration for City of the World on Friday, Oct. 21, at Fabrizio, 818 S. Main St. There will be a three-course meal, entertainment, dancing and an art auction. For more information, go to cityoftheworldlasvegas.org.

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