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Associated Press Newswires

Struggling Hispanic Museum Fills Cultural Void In Las Vegas

June 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Associated Press Newswires. All rights reserved. 

LAS VEGAS (AP) - For more than a decade, the Hispanic Museum of Nevada has struggled to become a focal point for Southern Nevada's fastest growing minority.

It began as a small but colorful display of cultural items from Puerto Rico that museum founder Lynnette Sawyer shelved in an old school library cabinet.

Today, four glass cases of pottery from Mexico, woven fabrics from Peru, and embroidered molas from Panama line the walls of a modest room in the corner of the new East Las Vegas Community and Senior Center.

About once a month, the museum displays exhibits by local artists.

The plain, sunlit room with a number of nails in the walls is a bittersweet success for the museum and Sawyer. The museum has never had a room of its own, jockeying for temporary space in public hallways or at other museums.

Its new home is more suited for an office than a gallery, Sawyer said.

"We feel we fill a cultural void here, connecting families and the community to their culture," she said. "And since it is the only Hispanic museum in Nevada, we feel we have a responsibility to grow with the community and make it the best that we can with whatever we have."

Accommodating the collection's growth and the number of local artists who want their works shown at the museum has, so far, been impossible.

Sawyer and other museum board members have had to refer large exhibits to other community centers and local museums.

Within the past few months, the Hispanic Museum, a nonprofit with an annual operating budget of about $30,000, has turned down a photo exhibit sponsored by the Mexican Consulate and a display of paintings and sports memorabilia by Ferdie Pacheco.

Las Vegas Councilman Gary Reese helped negotiate a $1-a-year lease for the museum shortly after the center was built. Reese said the city can't afford to let any one group take over the whole gallery.

That space, he said, is used for a number of displays and rotating exhibits from the city's visual arts unit. It also serves as a classroom for weaving lessons, and as a storage unit when not in use by artists or students.

"The city has tried to help the museum in any we can," Reese said. "I think they do need a lot bigger space, a building of their own. But how much space can you take when you're paying practically nothing? We can't be grandma to everybody, but we can be a really good big brother."

Edwin Aponte, a museum board member, said the facility is an improvement over its previous location, but the more space is clearly needed.

"But it's limited," he said. "It's hard to get a full sense of the art if you can't stand back too far because you'll hit the wall."

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