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Women who laid foundation for arts in Nevada honored by one of their own

Updated March 29, 2017 - 8:25 pm

Only a woman of genuine modesty would be asked to speak about women who made a difference in the arts in Nevada and fail to mention herself.

Angie Wallin is that woman.

Since moving to Las Vegas in 1951 with her first husband, Wallin has been a mainstay in the arts community, yet during her talk last week she never once spoke of her own plentiful contributions.

Instead, her speech to the Southern Nevada Women’s History Project focused on the good deeds of 15 other women, such as Martha Peterson, a driving force at the Charleston Heights Arts Center, when it was once called “The Jewel in the Desert.”

Wallin failed to mention she was the founding president of the Friends of the Charleston Heights Arts Center, even though that center’s creation is near the top of her personal list of achievements.

She praised former Mayor Jan Jones Blackhurst and philanthropist Robin Greenspun for their major efforts to create the Discovery Children’s Museum.

Wallin touched on the contributions of the late Clark County Commissioner Thalia Dondero, who was instrumental in forming the Allied Arts Council.

Nancy Houssels and the Nevada Dance Theater are practically synonymous, and she was also high on Wallin’s partial list of women who made a difference in the arts.

Susan Johnson got a nod for founding the Las Vegas Master Singers in 1993, the chorus in residence for the Las Vegas Philharmonic.

Eileen Hayes began the Nevada Opera Theater in 1985, a first that added another asset to the community.

“Cindy Doumani supports almost every cultural organization and event in the valley,” Wallin told her audience Saturday.

Mary Gafford’s 35 years as a volunteer for the Super Summer Theater at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park reminded me that many of these mostly senior women mentioned made their contributions as volunteers. Some after they retired, some before.

I didn’t recognize all the names, but I respect how many of them raised their children here and, like Wallin, held down jobs and still found time to work on arts projects and nonprofits to help Nevada mature.

Wallin is best known for her 41 years with the Nevada Arts Advocates, where she now serves as executive director and lone staff member. She supported the Nevada Dance Theater, the Las Vegas Philharmonic and The Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

“She brought arts and culture to our town,” said the history project’s Denise Gerdes.

Elected officials turned to Wallin to get things done, appointing her to the Nevada Arts Council, the Nevada Humanities Committee, the Las Vegas Arts Commission and many others.

Politically savvy, Wallin in 1989 created Arts Day in Nevada, where advocates statewide travel to Carson City to sit with legislators and lobby them to support the arts. This year Arts Day will be May 3.

In 2003, when the Legislature created a 10 percent entertainment tax, she helped lobby to exclude nonprofits from the tax — another lasting benefit for the arts.

Women like Wallin and the 15 she named are just some of the women who have worked to build up the arts in Las Vegas, laying a foundation for larger projects such as the Smith Center.

They deserve our applause, even when it’s not Women’s History Month.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column runs Thursdays. Leave messages for her at 702-383-0275 or email jmorrison@reviewjournal.com. Follow @janeannmorrison on Twitter.

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