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Influence List: Arts & Culture
Brett Sperry - Gallery owner, businessman
Already influential thanks to his Brett Wesley Gallery and Art Square (to say nothing of his role in Westwood Studios, the pioneering video-game company that laid some groundwork for the Vegas tech scene), Sperry has upped his ante with his announcement in November that he’s spearheading a drive to site the Modern Contemporary Art Museum downtown. The project faces long odds and many hurdles, but Sperry seems able to gather quality players — including top-shelf philanthropic fundraiser Julie Murray — around the project.
Elizabeth Blau, Restaurateur
When Elizabeth Blau helped New York’s famed Le Cirque open a sister restaurant in Bellagio, she couldn't have foreseen the impact she would go on to have on the local dining scene. But Steve Wynn saw her potential, and hired her to oversee his restaurant programs — first at Bellagio and later at Wynn and Encore. She partnered with celebrity chef Kerry Simon to open his restaurants, first at The Hard Rock and later at Palms Place. She and her husband, Chef Kim Canteenwalla, operate Summerlin’s Honey Salt. And they recently partnered with "Cake Boss" star Buddy Valastro to open Buddy V’s in The Venetian. It’s a delicious, growing empire that shows no signs of slowing down. — Al Mancini
A study in soft influence, these two. For one thing, they are ubiquitous; if there's an art opening, even at a library, chances are good one or the other will be there. They connect visiting artists — say, those utilizing the P3 Studio at the Cosmopolitan — with locals. Russ blogs for Huff Po, while Matt participates in panel talks, both of them helping drive the conversation about the maturation of the Vegas scene. And their curatorial efforts with CAC have been influential — as has their own high-caliber artwork.
The rush of buyers for tickets to The Book of Mormon at the Smith Center reminded us again of the facility’s cultural preeminence. It is, simply, the crown jewel of the valley’s cultural infrastructure, and Martin is the man at the top of it. If not every booking is a hit — the Kronos Quartet, for example, proved a tough sell to the Vegas audience — The Smith Center still provides previously unavailable cultural and entertainment opportunities. And, by merely existing, Martin’s baby proves that the big-ticket amenities other cosmopolitan cities take for granted are possible here, too.
Duffy’s still on the upswing from the near-universal kudos he earned with the Art Odyssey component of October’s Life Is Beautiful Festival — a motel filled with rooms dedicated to different artists and concepts. Before that, he steered the cream of LVAM's art collection to the Barrick Museum. Plus, he’s a high-profile art enthusiast who actually buys some local work.
The writer to whom the arts scene turns. She’s sympathetic but not sycophantic, capable of tough love when it’s called for. And she’s adept at winching important ideas and questions out of the scene’s swirl of conversation, gossip and exhibitions — last year, a timely story about the state of the arts led to a follow-up panel talk, while a zinger she unleashed at the Vegas Valley Book Festival (“There’s a rage against excellence!”) prompted some artists to start brainstorming a show exploring that idea.
Spiegelworld’s show at Caesars Palace, “Absinthe” — part carnival, part theater, part cabaret — brought an edgy new vibe to Strip entertainment that wowed even veteran show-goers. With “Vegas Nocturne,” his new show in Spiegelworld’s Rose.Rabbit.Lie club at The Cosmopolitan (“Labels such as circus, vaudeville, comedy and burlesque are not easy to apply to ‘Vegas Nocturne,’ yet it will be all those things,” he told broadwayworld.com), Mollison and company are pushing one more chunk of the Strip in a fresh direction. “His vision is the ribald counter-balance to Cirque and such production shows as 'Jersey Boys' and Donny & Marie,” says Las Vegas Sun columnist John Katsilometes.
Her Vegas resume is impressive: corporate curating gigs at THE Hotel, the Lou Ruvo Center, Bellagio and CityCenter. (She does similar work nationally, too.) She’s also helping steer the Contemporary Arts Center's latest reinvention. "Michele brings a global voice to the often insular Las Vegas arts scene," says her CAC co-president, Aurore Giguet. "Her dedication and passion for the arts make her a true community asset."
Jolene Mannina, Dining Entrepreneur
Jolene Manina isn’t underground anymore. For years, the former food truck operator who organizes the Saturday Night Truck Stop food truck gatherings and the late-night Back of the House Brawl cooking competitions has been a central figure in Las Vegas’ local culinary scene. But as the culinary director for the inaugural Life Is Beautiful festival, she took her brand national, organizing an all-star lineup of world-renowned chefs. (Long before the final notes had been played, Manina was talking about ways to make next year’s event better.) This year, she’ll be shooting a cable TV pilot. Sounds like 2014 will be a busy year. But foodies in the know are already whispering about what her next project might be — and few doubt it will be another success. Not bad for a woman who moved to Las Vegas in 2000 to work as a waitress. — Al Mancini
This is, by some accounts, a rather fallow period for local music. But if anyone can help turn that around, it’ll be Stratton, who manages the Gold Spike, considered one of the most inclusive, musically diverse venues in downtown, and will do the same for the revamped Bunkhouse. That puts him in a key position to help enliven the scene.
Gina Quaranto, Operator, Blackbird Studio
Blackbird doesn’t deal in the blue-chip artwork generally sought by big-deal collectors — Quaranto’s curatorial vision is adamantly lowbrow, local. For years, her gallery has been an odd, narrow space in a creaky old Commerce Street joint. But she may be the sweetest person in the city's visual arts scene, and she has a knack for creating community. Both qualities engender loyalty. And her preference for art that’s approachable and intimate, favoring liveliness over theory, offers more entry points for the art-curious. (She gave early shows to Su Limbert and Juan Muniz, among others.) Her aesthetic was validated when she was chosen to open a second Blackbird Studio in downtown’s Container Park, as well as run a sizable mural program on Fourth Street for Zappos.
She led the effort to pivot the Barrick from a musty natural history museum (which also showed art) to a versatile contemporary art space — our city's de facto museum. Meanwhile, she’s helping CAC find its way in these troubled post-recession times. That gives her a starring role in two of the more important art institutions in town. "Aurore has been the driving force in making the CAC a more professional organization," says her co-president, Michele Quinn. "Her skills and insight have made the CAC able to build its programming and exhibition planning to a new level. She is a true professional."
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