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Architectural company recruits community’s help

An architecture and design gallery in Art Square wants to start a communitywide discussion about the city’s architectural landscape and wants to hear from you.

If you wander into the COLAB studio on a Preview Thursday, the day before First Friday, you’ll likely be pulled into an engaging conversation about sustainability, urban housing or city planning, and that is the goal of executive director and founder Amy Finchem.

"Our target audience is not the design community," she said. "We want to be very visible to the public. We have to have some place that engages the community at large on issues, like housing and transportation, that directly affect it."

COLAB is attempting to accomplish just that, Finchem said.

The gallery moved into Art Square, 1025 S. First St., in September and has already made waves in the city.

One of the gallery’s first design projects brought together local designers to come up with a concept for the Neon Gateway project, part of the Nevada Department of Transportation’s nearly $2 billion Spaghetti Bowl overhaul.

The eight designers – Drew Gregory, Clemente Cicoria, Leon Cifala, Anthony Diaz, Garret Sullivan, Zak Ostrowski, Vince Novak and Aaron Reddick – are University of Nevada, Las Vegas graduates.

The team’s designs, which feature a pedestrian-friendly overpass, LED lighting similar to existing landmarks in the area and shady, desert-friendly landscaping, was featured during the gallery’s first exhibition and caught the attention of the city of Las Vegas Cultural Affairs Department.

The city has commissioned the team to submit the preliminary designs for the project, and Finchem considers it a small victory for the local design community.

"When (city officials) are promoting community involvement and then go out of state to hire an architect, it’s frustrating," Finchem said. "We are showcasing our local talent. We’re out to prove people wrong, that we do have talented people."

Many of the more recent design projects in the city – The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, the Mob Museum and the new Las Vegas City Hall – were outsourced to designers based in cities such as Los Angeles.

Art Square managing partner and gallery owner Brett Wesley Sperry said COLAB has been an invaluable addition to the 18b Arts District.

"There is an educational component to the gallery’s work," he said. "(Finchem) is embracing and engaging the public."

Sperry added that the projects the gallery works on will affect everyone’s daily lives, making the discussion even more important.

"It is part of the 21st-century way of thinking about transparency," he said. "It’s the kind of thing seen in other communities but something we haven’t seen much of in Las Vegas."

COLAB is also working on projects such as the Downtown Backyard, a multi-use green space to be designed and built by the 18b Arts District community . The project is still in the planning phase. Those interested in joining that discussion can take a survey on the project’s website, downtownbackyard.com.

Also in the works is an all-female designer exhibit that is scheduled to open Dec. 6 at the gallery.

"(Projects like these) have to be a community effort," Finchem said. "They will only be successful when you involve the community in the design, building and programming process. The key is getting the community to buy into (the projects) and take ownership. That’s when we’ll make a huge impact."

Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter Nolan Lister at nlister@viewnews.com or 702-383-0492.

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