The Arts District Gets Its Art Museum


If all goes to plan, that triangular patch of land next to the Arts Factory and Art Square — the bit that’s hemmed in by Art Way and Casino Center, and currently used as a First Friday staging area — will become the site of the Modern Contemporary Art Museum. Today a board of private investors and creative partners, including Moonridge Group’s Julie Murray, Art Square owner Brett Wesley Sperry and Eric Strain of assemblageSTUDIO, announced the beginning of a $29 million capital campaign to build an art museum in the Arts District. And they’ve already collected $2.4 million of it. This is happening.

At a press conference hosted by The Lady Silvia — whose owner, Sam Cherry, is on the museum’s board of directors — Murray, Sperry and Strain provided some background on the project and a teaser of what we can expect from the cultural center, which is composed of three parts:

  • The Modern Contemporary Art Museum, a 35,000-square-foot space that will feature “an important and progressive series of rotating exhibits” of 20th and 21st-century art, spanning three floors. They also promise event spaces, a bistro and a gift shop.
  • The Center for Creativity, a living classroom featuring “a variety of high-quality, interactive educational programs for all ages, serving as an incubator of creative thoughts.” While the word “incubator” bothers me (I’m just about done with startup jargon, and “classroom” shouldn’t be a dirty word), it was impossible not to get excited as Strain described a series of indoor-outdoor classrooms where art will be discussed … and probably made.
  • Luminous Park is “a compelling outdoor sculpture garden.” Hey, any spot of green in Downtown works for me.

It sounds too good to be true, but many of the initial hurdles to building the museum have been cleared. Sperry has donated some two acres of land to the project, free and clear. The City is fully on board; Mayor Carolyn Goodman, while stopping shy of committing funds, says that she’s bullish on making the MCAM happen. (“We will need to go into our own pockets,” she said at the press conference. “Grants will have to be written.”) And Julie Murray is a fundraising superhero, with a track record that includes work with the Andre Agassi Foundation and Three Square Food Bank.

Oh, and we’ve haven’t even talked about the MCAM’s board of directors and advisors, a veritable who’s-who list of People Who Make Stuff Happen Here that includes Denise Cashman, Alexandra Epstein, Katie Binion O’Neill, Tim Bavington, Jenna Morton, Jonathan Jossel, Jim Stanford and many more. It’s an impressive show of creative force — and just in case you’re wondering, it doesn’t seem to include anyone from the Downtown Project, at least at this stage. This is all 18b, beating its chest and howling “I am.”

Unfortunately, there are few other concrete details to share right now. The Q&A that followed the press conference was peppered with “we can’t say yet” and “maybe, if”-style responses, with only a few certainties: Fundraising will begin in earnest soon, and a series of “salons and backyard meetings” will soon be held to determine the direction this thing will take. However, in a quick conversation with one board member, I learned that they hope to “put shovels in the dirt within the next 14 months,” and would dearly love to be open within five years.

My only apprehension about the planned museum is its acronym. “MCAM” is no MOCA, SAM or MoMA; it doesn’t exactly fall trippingly from the tongue. I suggest that, henceforth, we call our museum “The ModCon.” That opens up all sorts of punk rock-inspired branding possibilities.


Vegas Seven