LOS ANGELES — A planned art museum in Las Vegas hopes to establish itself as a major cultural center, succeeding where other Sin City art spaces have failed, through a recently announced partnership with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). An “exclusive negotiating agreement” was approved during a December 6 Las Vegas City Council meeting to develop a parcel of land in the city’s downtown, paving the way for a major cultural institution in a destination known primarily for gambling and entertainment.
Of the 30 largest US cities, Las Vegas is the only one without a standalone art museum. Philanthropist and art collector Elaine Wynn, who is also a major partner in this project through her family foundation, said at the city council meeting that the partnership with LACMA would solve the problem of “not having enough art for the space,” according to KTNV’s Anjali Patel. Both Wynn and LACMA director Michael Govan are listed as trustees of the forthcoming institution according to Observer.
“LACMA’s efforts to work with local and regional museums to share our collections and programs to larger and more diverse audiences are a huge priority and this joint effort with the Las Vegas Museum of Art allows us to continue this work,” a LACMA representative told Hyperallergic in an email. “LACMA will help with the development of the Las Vegas Museum of Art by sharing professional expertise in the short term, and then exhibitions and artworks on loan.”
LACMA has developed a program of neighborhood partnerships in several LA neighborhoods, including a satellite gallery at the Charles White Elementary School in LA’s MacArthur Park, and a partnership with the Vincent Price Museum of Art (VPAM) in Monterey Park, which has resulted in joint acquisitions and exhibitions from LACMA’s collection at VPAM. A site at the South Los Angeles Wetlands Park has still not been developed despite the terms of its 2018 lease specifying that it had to open within 18 months.
In 2018, LACMA began a partnership with Arizona State University (ASU) for the ASU-LACMA Master’s Fellowship “with the aim to culturally diversify the staff and leadership of art museums in the United States.”
However, a partnership to send works out of Los Angeles has garnered criticism from some in the LA art community. “This whole idea is so absurd. LACMA is a county museum,” wrote the Los Angeles Times’s art and design columnist Carolina Miranda on Bluesky.
This comes at a time when LACMA’s ambitious new $715 million Peter Zumthor-designed campus has been criticized for devoting less square footage to permanent collection galleries than the museum’s previous layout, a claim that Govan downplays. Elaine Wynn, who is co-chair of LACMA’s Board of Trustees, pledged $50 million in 2016 towards the new building, dubbed the David Geffen Galleries.
Heather Harmon, the executive director of the Las Vegas Museum of Art, sees the partnership as crucial to the new museum’s realization. “We’re not a collecting institution right now, which makes partnership with LACMA so essential for us,” she told Hyperallergic. “It gives our community access to the largest collection in the Western United States.”
The new museum has an estimated price tag of $150 million with between 60,000 and 90,000 square feet of space. It has so far received $5 million in seed funding from the Nevada state legislature and is slated to open in 2028.
Las Vegas has had a few significant art institutions that failed to succeed, including the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum in the Venetian Resort which was open from 2001 to 2008, and a different Las Vegas Museum of Art which closed in 2009. Harmon, a fourth-generation native Las Vegan, views the new museum, which she describes as being encyclopedic in scope, as part of the city’s cultural rebirth, alongside the Smith Center and the Sphere: “This is the culmination of a decades-long effort. There’s so much desire for a museum in our community,” Harmon told Hyperallergic.