Paseo Verde library. May 30, 2018.
This Is Our Chance
by Patrick Gaffey
Artists created Las Vegas. Without musicians, dancers, neon sign makers, and designers of every other stripe, Nevada’s cash cow would not exist. Yet through the decades Nevada politicians have paid little attention to our huge arts community. Since 1981, when I started working for the Allied Arts Council of Southern Nevada, I watched for a politician who would work for the arts and for artists of all kinds. Now we finally have a candidate, and it is time artists and patrons put her in the Governor’s office—not on the basis of candidate promises, but on the basis of her record.
Voting has already begun in the Democratic primary for Governor, and if artists and art lovers vote, Christine (Chris G) Giunchigliani will be nominated to be Nevada’s next Governor June 12, the Governor our arts community has always needed.
Watching television, you may think Chris G has no chance, as her primary opponent, Steve Sisolak, has outspent her more than five to one. But appearances lie. During her opponent’s spending spree, Chris’ support has surged. Polls say she started the race down more than twenty points. She gained twelve points just since April, while her big-spending opponent lost four. The latest poll, through May 23, shows her down just three points. The poll’s margin of error is four. Her momentum should carry her to victory.
The circumstances of this primary election will determine the winner. Only registered Democrats may vote. That makes it difficult for Chris’ opponent, who has acted like a Republican, leaning heavily toward big business. For instance, he voted on the County Commission to allow a developer to build a new city in Red Rock Canyon. His friendliness to such vulture capitalists explains why he has so much money. Chris, on the other hand, voted against that development and has vowed to fight the destruction of Red Rock to the last stone.
Another critically important factor is that this primary is happening in a non-presidential election year, so turnout will be very light. Turnout will be everything. A small number of voters will swing the election. There has never been such a ripe opportunity for the arts community to demonstrate its political power. If artists and art lovers vote, Chris G wins.
So what about her record?
Chris started as a teacher, then became an officer in the teachers’ union, then was elected to the Nevada State Assembly in 1991, serving through 2006. In the Assembly she introduced and managed to pass a bill allocating a portion of the tax on rental cars to support the arts. The fund she created with that bill made possible the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. If you have enjoyed performances at the Smith Center, you may thank Chris G.
In 2007 Chris was elected to the Clark County Commission. There she introduced the ordinance that created the Clark County Public Art Fund, which now receives allocations each year from the county’s share of the statewide room tax and from the Special Ad Valorem Tax. In its first year the Public Art Fund received about $700,000. That allocation has increased each year and will top out at 1.25 million dollars per year. The money is spent on art, and so far all of the money spent has gone to artists who live in Clark County.
Chris has been an eager supporter of the arts on the county commission, carefully protecting the free summer jazz series at the Clark County Government Center and watching over Winchester Cultural Center, which hires so many local performing artists. She initiated a major expansion of the cultural center, which is currently under construction. I never saw her pass up an opportunity to support the arts.
When arts blogger Ed Fuentes suggested Clark County should have a poet laureate, the idea landed on many brains like a dead fish. But when Chris heard the idea, she jumped on board, wrote the ordinance creating the position, and made it happen. The county now has its second poet laureate, and the two laureates so far have worked together and used their positions to create a Poetry in Schools program, which is actually paying a growing number of local poets to teach poetry in Clark County Schools.
If Chris G’s political career were to end tomorrow, the work she has done for our artists would continue to pay dividends into the far, far future. But think what she will be able to do as Governor. The Nevada Arts Council is the main provider of arts grants in this state, but it has always been starved for funds. The Governor recommends the budget to the legislature, which in the coming year will be the most arts-friendly legislature ever.
Chris would create a whole new atmosphere of arts funding. But beyond that, a Governor who celebrates our artists can change everything for the arts community and the cultural climate of Nevada.
At the county I worked with both candidates. One showed a marked distaste for spending public money on art, while the other is the most dedicated arts supporter I have met.
We have never had such an opportunity to exercise the power of the Nevada arts community. If we grab this chance, we can show every Nevada politician that the arts are a force to be respected. All each of us has to do is vote by June 12 and bring as many friends to the polls as we can.
Pictured above: Patrick Gaffey on his last day at WInchester in July 2017. Gaffey worked for Clark County for twenty-one years, mostly at the Winchester Cultural Center, as a cultural leader in Southern Nevada.
Above: "Blue Angel: Between Heaven and Earth" at The Neon Museum's Ne10studio.