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Two Local Artists On What They Love About The Las Vegas Art Scene

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Elizabeth Quiñones-Zaldaña is a poet who's said our valley's colors and urban life challenge her poetic imagination. Las Vegas native Chase McCurdy, a photographer and painter, creates abstract art infused with social commentary.


For the next issue of Nevada Public Radio's magazine, " Desert Companion," McCurdy and Quiñones-Zaldaña sat down to share the best things about living and making art in Southern Nevada. It's part of a New Year feature on things to love about the city now.


In excerpts from that conversation for State of Nevada, they talk about seeing the hidden aspects of Las Vegas culture -- such as the behind-the-scenes workers who quietly keep the city running. McCurdy fondly remembers his experience of connecting with West Las Vegas history through an art project with a group of elderly women. And Quiñones-Zaldaña waxes poetic on learning to write in a city where cultural touchstones come and go, like casinos being imploded on the Strip.




Quiñones-Zaldaña: One of the things that really strikes me about this place is that there are things we don’t see because they are not there, but then, there are things that we don’t see for other reasons.


I’m interested in taking what can be readily perceived in just the natural sights and sounds and attempting to show how these things like the rush of traffic or cracks in the scorched ground or the sudden rainfall or plodding through the literal desert in the heat of August is somehow linked to a more expansive narrative about people and humanity and reality.

McCurdy: You spoke of plodding through the desert and I think of the desert as a place that seems rather quiet and not much life present but when you quiet yourself – at least when I do – I’m walking, allowing myself to observe, there is so much happening.

I feel the same way about the people of Las Vegas when we think of everything that goes on that supports our city. There is so much unseen that is going on that so many will never see that is truly of the most humble nature that allows this city to operate in the way that it does.

Quiñones-Zaldaña: What kind of things inform your artwork as far as it relates to Las Vegas?

McCurdy: One of the big things for me that Las Vegas allows me to experience in the art practice, which is really kind of an overarching idea that I live my life in pursuit of, is freedom.

Las Vegas allows, and working in Las Vegas, allows an artist, for me at least, a space to be free in whatever one needs to do.

You’re free to experiment. You’re free to try new things. You’re free to be alone in your work. You’re free to go be in the desert. The desert is a place of immense freedom. It is beautiful in that way.

Quiñones-Zaldaña: When I was a child and I would come here from Los Angeles, I only dreamed of returning there. I didn’t have eyes for this place. I just romanticized to the heights this idea of going back to Los Angeles.

But as an adult, when I had more autonomy, and the ability to go and to enjoy it for what it was and see that place and then come back and make that choice for myself to remain. Things like family became so much more valued for me. And the mountains took on a new beauty. And the people here, I just became invested in a way I hadn’t before.

McCurdy: I agreed. And I’m actually happy that you spoke to not always having the eyes forward in that way or looking back. I speak so lovingly about family in Las Vegas now, but as a young person who was born and raised here, I certainly in my early adulthood was determined to find my way elsewhere and figure it out and never come back home.

But with some maturity and understanding and for me experiencing other places there is that renewed appreciation.

McCurdy: What has been an emotionally charged experience for you in your time living and practicing here?

Quiñones-Zaldaña: When I began writing poetry, I was a teenager and a friend of mine had a car and we would go to these cafes off of Maryland Parkway and Harmon, particularly Café Espresso Roma. There were open mics there. That’s where I got to know people and I love that place. It was my first taste of a poetry community and I loved it and then I went to the Enigma Café. I was very young and the Enigma Café closed. That was very sad for me. Later there was another café called Café Copio and I went there frequently, and that place burned down. Then, not long after, Roma’s closed, and it just felt like this graveyard of cafes for me. There was nothing to replace it, not for a while.

Looking back on all that stuff now, that’s pretty common in Las Vegas. Things get demolished. That promenade building where Roma’s was doesn’t even exist anymore.

I guess I’m sharing this just to say as an artist in Las Vegas there are things that pass away, things they evolve, they have their good run, and it creates a kind of urgency. Be where you are in the moment, appreciate the people and the places. Just don’t take it for granted.





Elizabeth Quiñones-Zaldaña, poet;  Chase McCurdy, photographer and painter

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Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022.