Las Vegas is not known for embracing old buildings. Casinos are imploded instead of remodeled and updated facades fight with old foundations to create an awkward version of what once was. Elizabeth Nelson, Adriana Chavez and Heidi Rider are the founding members of Weft in the Weave, an art collective behind Small Space Fest. The one-day visual and performance art festival will assume every nook and cranny of Emergency Arts on June 20—and the old medical building is the inspiration for it all.
Nelson moved to Vegas the fall of 2014 because her husband was hired on with Spiegelworld, the circus production company behind Absinthe. Feeling disconnected to her new desert home, Nelson challenged herself to do 40 new things in Las Vegas in 40 days.
“The first touchstone of artistic excitement is when I came to Emergency Arts,” she says.
Nelson was inspired by the possibilities of what could happen in the building—opera singers in the bathroom, tap dancers on tables, or a detailed diorama hidden in a drawer—and the idea for Small Space Fest was born in the stairwell.
It didn’t take much convincing to get Chavez and Rider to move from Olympia, Washington to help with the project. The three were roommates while studying for their masters at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theater in Northern California. Physical theater is an approach to performance that begins with the body and emphasizes movement. This particular style plays into how they prepared the building and picked artists for the festival.
The study incorporates the space itself as a character in the performance. Fresh paint and clean floors spruced up the place while things such as old paint drips in the sink were left to tell the story of the building’s past.
“What is the space asking of you? If you don’t do what it’s asking, it’s going to spit you out and it’s going to feel fake,” Chavez says.
The study also demands trust between performers. The Weft in the Weave team fully depended on the 75 local and national performance companies and visual artists who are participating in the festival. (Get a sneak peak of what to expect, here.) Instead of having artists submit work they’d specifically be showing, they had them apply by explaining who they are with examples of their work so Nelson, Rider and Chavez choose artists based on “who would add to the voice of the character the building.” Nelson says they won’t know what some of the pieces will be until they are set up.
And because the team didn’t want to apply an overarching theme—other than for artists to take advantage of their assigned space—the artists had the freedom to create whatever they want. But in the end, this risk allowed for better and more diverse art.
“What our artists are concerned about, it’s so pressing. It’s political. It’s personal. It’s vital that people hear. And if we pushed or squished them with a theme, we wouldn’t have gotten this rich vocabulary,” says Nelson. “This is what the art world is saying. This is what we have to pay attention to right now.”
The team encourages attendees to interact with everyone and everything: open doors and shelves to see what’s hidden underneath, take time to appreciate the artwork and the building itself, and be surprised with what’s waiting around the corner.
Small Space Fest is on June 20 from 6 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Burlesque performances start at 9 p.m. The event is pay-what-you-can and proceeds go directly to performance artist. Visual art will be on display until July 20.