The Nevada Museum of Art: Mild-mannered sanctuary by day, swinging hot spot by night. Every fourth Thursday night, anyway.
The museum keeps its doors open on the evening of the first Thursday of every month and books a line-up of extracurricular activities.
On the last First Thursday, on Dec. 2, the place was aswirl with buzzy vibe of the Asha Belly Dancers, whose slow-moving bodies and fast-moving, bejeweled bellies kept time with the mellow but spirited sounds emanating from the clarinet, violin and drums of Jim Eaglesmith and friends. The musicians of Slow Djinn Fez rounded out the performance with their lively, Mideastern and folk-infused sonic meandering.
Santa and Mrs. Claus handed out teddy bears near the theater, photographer Nick Forneris gathered volunteers for his Reno 2004 Portrait Project in the lobby and Great Basin Brewing Company served beer and wine outside the café. (One beverage is included with admission.)
Kids are invited to drop by a supervised workshop where, for a $2 supply fee, they can make their own art. Those over 5 can stay and create without parents. In December, they made three-dimensional snowflake dioramas, little winter wonderlands inside boxes.
The museum was packed, with about 900 people in attendance. The lobby, gift shop, the galleries were all full of people. With no traffic-flow-management plan in place, getting from point A to point B felt a bit like it does in a nightclub. Parking on a First Thursday is tight, and a few-block walk may be in order. But budgeting a few extra minutes for arrival should be enough to avoid frustration, and the walk from car to door is just long enough to reflect on how making a trip to the Nevada Art Museum is a lot more convenient than visiting, say, the Guggenheim or the Louvre.
It’s hard to get a close look at the art during First Thursdays. The galleries are open during the event, but the crowds and the party atmosphere impinge on the usual serenity. That’s OK, though. There’s plenty else to do.
“It’s a social mixer,” says Amy Oppio, the museum’s director of communications. “It kind of breaks out of the museum mold altogether and helps people understand that the museum is a very friendly, warm and open place that you can do a multitude of different things at, not just view art.”
Dave Chapman of KTHX radio, the event’s main sponsor, programs the music and entertainment for First Thursdays, also known as X-Night. The line-up for the next shindig, on Jan. 6, includes acoustic singers Amber Rubarth and Joel Ackerson, and an intermission performance by magician and singer Darren Romeo, whose show at the Eldorado is produced by Seigfried and Roy.
Open-house type events have become a staple at forward-thinking museums. As Nick Kaye reports in the Nov. 19 New York Times: “At a growing number of museums around the country, party nights aimed at younger patrons are bringing in everything from DJs spinning house music to double-Dutch jump-ropers (at the Seattle Art Museum’s Thursday After Hours series, which sometimes lasts until midnight).”
The Nevada Museum of Art isn’t necessarily aiming to tap the youth culture market—Oppio says First Thursdays tend to attract visitors from the museum’s usual demographic range—but the idea is similar: Shake off whatever semblance of the old, mothballed reputation that art museums may harbor and have some fun.