Burlesque fans save the curtains from falling on museum’s memorabilia

In a small room tucked in a corner on the first floor of Emergency Arts, 520 E. Fremont St., is the Burlesque Hall of Fame, dedicated to the history in artifacts and photographs of the unique art form. So many artifacts exist, in fact, that only a fraction of the hall’s collection is displayed in its 1,200-square-foot space, with the rest in storage.

"I think we show half of 1 percent of what we have," said Dustin Wax, Burlesque Hall of Fame executive director. "We have a huge collection – about 4,000 pieces – and people still donate things all the time."

The remainder of the hall’s collection was temporarily in jeopardy when Wax found out July 23 that it could be seized under eminent domain from its storage units on Martin Luther King Boulevard near Interstate 15 because of the widening of the highway and pending construction. To relocate and house the collection, Wax aimed to raise $20,000 by Aug. 31, a goal he was able to reach the day before deadline through indiegogo.com.

"We have a great community of people who support us," Wax said. "A lot of people were immediately pouring out support. We raised about $8,000 within three weeks, and people hosted benefits in five cities."

As of Sept. 6, the campaign topped more than $23,000, which Wax said covers moving and storage costs and provides an opportunity to put together burlesque shows and traveling exhibitions. It’s a big step in the right direction, he said, for eventually finding a space large enough to house a collection that spans more than 100 years.

The collection was originally housed in a barn in Helendale, Calif., until a small team of people that included Laura Herbert, president of the museum’s board of directors, led its move to Las Vegas in 2010. Herbert said that since then, the Burlesque Hall of Fame has evolved into something valuable for a small burlesque community.

"From this (campaign), you can see that people believe the collection is deserving of a bigger, better home," Herbert said. "Every baby step has this ripple effect in the community. There is such an incredible wealth of talent and performers here, and it’s a great symbol of our community."

Wax, who opens the museum from noon to 5 p.m. every Wednesday to Sunday, said he hopes to extend hours and acquire a larger space within the next five years. Staying downtown, he said, is a priority.

"There’s a lot of synergy with old Vegas, the Cultural Corridor and the Arts District all coming together in a big way," Wax said. "We’re a part of that, and we want to stay downtown. People on (the Burlesque Hall of Fame) wall dated people on the Mob Museum wall under signs at the Neon Museum. Someone can go visit the Mob Museum and then go down to the Neon Museum and the burlesque museum and see all of this. I think that makes for a pretty good afternoon."

On a topic that Wax said is often considered risqué and "always a marginal part of society," he views showcasing burlesque history as something beneficial to residents and tourists.

"Burlesque is part of our heritage," Wax said. "There’s this whole model of femininity, sexuality and feminine representation. Burlesque has always been about parody, the roles of women and how to deal with problems in society. I think we’re in the process of doing justice to the collection we have and displaying it well."

For more information on the Burlesque Hall of Fame, call 888-661-6465 or visit burlesquehall.com.

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