Fine art museum struggles for citywide recognition

The Southern Nevada Museum of Fine Art has struggled for community recognition since its inception in 2003.

Maybe it’s the economy. Maybe it’s poor marketing. Maybe it’s the location on the second floor of Neonopolis — the near-empty $100 million entertainment and retail complex located a stone’s throw from the Fremont Street Experience.

It’s been three years since the privately funded, nonprofit museum moved from its Henderson location. The museum, at 450 E. Fremont St., Suite 280, touts 22,000 square feet of exhibit space with a main gallery, a special exhibitions gallery and a small works gallery.

A $3 admission fee is charged at the door.

The “International Contemporary Masters” exhibition is on display through July 16. More than 70 artists from around the globe are featured in the brightly colored 176-piece exhibit. About 300 people came to see the show during a reception in April, however; the museum now sees about 15 to 20 — mostly tourists — shuffle in on a given day.

When executive director Joseph Palermo talks about the lack of attendance at his museum, he gets frustrated. He can’t pinpoint exactly why people aren’t showing up.

“The thing about the community is, everyone doesn’t know we’re here,” he said. “Only people that care about art will show up at your place. Unless you’re in Chicago or New York City with a place on the street, you won’t get crowds unless you have a high-profile exhibit.”

A handful of projects — including Emergency Arts and the new video game loungebar Insert Coin(s) — are a block away. Both sites received recognition from the city for bringing business in during tough economic times.

Palermo said the museum hasn’t received that same support from city officials, despite the fact that he tells the artists he exhibits to stay at downtown hotels such as the Golden Nugget.

“We have it on our website where they can stay,” he said. “You think people would recognize that, but they don’t.”

Palermo said he is hopeful that Neonopolis will be able to attract tenants in the near future to help stimulate visitation.

What Las Vegas needs is an education about the art museum, he added. That will come from partnerships being formed with schools in the Clark County School District.

Artist Mike Griesgraber, who also is the museum’s design curator, said the group needs to figure out how to raise awareness.

“It can’t be done overnight,” he said. “It’s a nice space. Maybe we need longer hours or an open house during First Friday. We’re a daytime museum in a nighttime environment.”

The economy has dried up all of the sponsorship dollars, too, Griesgraber added.

“Most people who come through here say they didn’t know we were here, and they never heard of us,” he said. “It takes a long time to establish something. How often do you go to a museum? Once a year? Once every six months?”

There’s the museum side to the facility, but the other half serves as a gift shop and gallery where art on display — not part of the main exhibition — can be purchased. Serious collectors also can display their pieces on the walls for a donation to the museum. Those pieces are not for sale.

In order to be considered a museum, there must be a permanent collection somewhere that is viewed and studied, said Jerry Schefcik, director of the Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The pieces generally support a theme or illustrate a particular point about an artist, media or whatever else curators want to explore to support the goal of the museum.

There also are galleries that do not have a collection to take care of but are still nonprofits hosting exhibitions.

Schefcik said the Neonopolis location seems to combine aspects of both museums and art galleries.

He said he worries that no one knows the museum’s location.

“I don’t know that an art museum is a ‘build it and they will come’ kind of thing,” Schefcik said. “There’s probably a lot of advertising and public relations things letting people know you’re there as a community resource.”

Contact Downtown and North Las Vegas View reporter Kristi Jourdan at or 383-0492.

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