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Artists’ backlash prompts Resorts World to pony up

Updated October 24, 2020 - 5:30 pm

Painted into a corner, Resorts World Las Vegas did the right thing Saturday and said Las Vegas artists will be paid for art being presented at the multibillion-dollar resort.

In doing so, the company effectively headed off a protest of Vegas artists and supporters that had been planned for Saturday night near its Strip-facing entrance. Instead, plans shifted to a celebration of art and artists at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at ReBar in the downtown Arts District.

The back story: Resorts World on Wednesday unveiled a program in which local artists would be invited to create murals for the hotel’s back-of-house hallways. The vision was for those workers to experience Las Vegas art, which would be donated by Vegas artists.

But the very artists who would create those murals responded with a tidal wave of criticism on social media after the program was announced.

Resorts World President Scott Sibella responded to the backlash Saturday in an e-mail, “We never wanted to offend anyone. We respect and are proud of our arts community. Resorts World will have an impressive art program throughout the property for our guests to enjoy. This program was for the back of house, where only team members are allowed. We wanted to create a unique opportunity for anyone that has passion for art to showcase their work with our team members.”

The original concern from artists, and arts supporters, was that the dozen Las Vegans selected to contribute to this collection were asked to donate their time and talent. Artists were offered a space, supplies and materials for their efforts. But several adamantly defended their craft, taking to task a $4.3-billion resort asking artists to work for free, especially during a pandemic.

“The employees who are experiencing this art at the hotel are being paid, why should the artists be any different?” A.D. Cook, a Las Vegas gallery artist for 14 years, said Saturday. “It takes a lifetime to produce original art. Yes, employees should have murals, but the people who create them should be compensated, just like anyone else.”

Vegas graffiti artist and digital illustrator Gear Duran had originally said, “There’s a sucker born every minute. I’m not one of them.” But he was grateful at the company’s updated messaging, posting in Facebook, “This is definitely something to celebrate within this arts community!!”

Robin Slonina of Skin City Body Painting had called out the company Friday on Twitter, asking, “Why do so many think it’s OK to ask us to work for free?” She added that it took her 20 years to pay her student loans after studying at School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “Would you ask a dentist to fix your teeth for fun or ‘exposure?’”

Resorts World responded on its official Twitter page that it was “re-evaluating the program” to make sure artists are paid and that the company’s original goal of recognizing Las Vegas art is fulfilled (and those interested in the updated program can submit portfolios to art@rwlasvegas.com). Slonina closed the exchange with a post leading with “Bravo!” and thanking Resorts World on its “response and course correction.”

Las Vegas native Brian “Paco” Alvarez, an arts advocate, historian and community leader, helped organize what was originally to be a demonstration at the resort. As word wound around the arts community that Resorts World was in fact taking care of the artists, those plans shifted to the Arts District.

Alvarez, who has signed on to curate the incoming Museum Fiasco at Area15, said the episode reflects a more widespread concern of artists of all variety. Those in the arts culture are weary of being taken for granted and being under-compensated for their work.

“We see this happening with Cirque acrobats who are out of work, entertainers, musicians, all artists who are not working and struggling to get unemployment,” Alvarez said. “You hear it all the time, exposure doesn’t pay the bills, it doesn’t pay the rent, does not fill my belly with food. This is a very frustrating thing to deal with in my hometown.”

Later, after hearing the resort was indeed planning to take care of the contributing artists, Alvarez said, “This is good news,” and was ready to celebrate his community downtown.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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