A Nerd in Vegas: Smith Center for the Performing Arts

Art, it is said, has the power to transform. Tubes of oil paint are transformed into a landscape using brush and canvas; black notes on paper are transformed into a symphony with the aid of brass, strings, reed, and drum.

Las Vegas, it is said, has less culture than a carton of yogurt.

Grand Entrance of Symphony Park Rises from the Dust
Photo by Mark Sedenquist

Okay, I’m not one to propagate that canard. But February 10th, at the Fifth Street School auditorium, the topic under discussion was nothing less than the transformation of Las Vegas culture by building a world-class performing arts venue. No, not another Cirque show; Las Vegas is building a concert hall. City Manager Elizabeth Fretwell started the proceedings for the Symphony Park Lecture Series, and both Mayor Oscar Goodman and Councilman Ricki Barlow gave short talks before the main event, which was a panel discussion about the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

The Smith Center is being built now, in the neighborhood of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, but with straighter walls. In fact, the Smith Center is designed in an Art Deco style. Personally, I’m partial to Art Deco. Some of the most recognizable structures in the world, such as New York’s Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, are Art Deco. The design influence for the Smith Center, however, was geographically closer: Hoover Dam.

The Plaza Hotel Forms a Back Drop for the New Arts Center

The Smith Center is due to be “topped out” later this month (February 25th) and is tentatively scheduled to open in March 2012, regardless of any Mayan predictions of Armageddon.

The panel featured the leadership of the Smith Center “team”, Chairman Donald D. Snyder; President and CEO Myron Martin; Vice President and COO Paul Beard; and Vice President and CFO Rick Johnson. What emerged from the discussion was the transformative power of another medium: money. When amounts of fifty million dollars can be obtained from an individual donor, miracles can happen.

Maybe they can even bring culture to Las Vegas.

The Lou Ruvo Brain Institute's Walls are not at as Angular...

The team had done their homework. They studied performing arts venues in the USA and abroad. They noted how neighborhoods and cities can be changed for the better by the building of a performing arts center. It can be a continuing influence for decades, even a century or more. Then they started raising the money. It’s a job that isn’t quite done, and if you’ve got money to donate to a worthy cause, they’d like to hear from you.

Some public money is also going to the Smith Center. Every tourist who has rented a car here in the past few years has paid a 2% tax that goes to the Center. So let’s all thank a tourist sometime soon. They might not know it, but they are contributing to the transformation of Las Vegas into a place we can be even more proud of.


One response on “A Nerd in Vegas: Smith Center for the Performing Arts

  1. An art deco-themed building will be a sight to see on the former railroad property — but I still wonder if such a performing arts property is really needed in a metro area with several state-of-the-art theater and musical production venues.


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