Art senator

Dina Titus

Photo By David Robert

Nevada’s senate minority leader, Dina Titus (D-Vegas) is a champion for the arts. So much so that she is receiving Nevada Humanities’ Arts and Humanities Award. (Senator Ray Rawson (R-Vegas) is also a recipient). She is also a political science professor at UNLV. Before ever running for office, Titus served on the Nevada Humanities Committee for six years in the ’80s and served as chair of the committee for two years.

Why are you receiving this award?

Once I went into politics, I founded the arts caucus in the legislature. And I’ve gotten funding over the years for the Nevada Humanities southern office here in Las Vegas. … Higher education is one of my main priorities, which is also related to the arts and humanities. I also pushed a bill for more support for public art and got the arts council involved in the planning and design of all state public buildings.

Do you participate in the fine arts yourself?

For a number of years, I was in the dance program at UNLV and even performed in several concerts, but I have more appreciation than talent. I always wanted to be a tap dancer when I grew up. Instead, I now do political tap dancing. I’m a member of the museum down here and NPR, the Jazz Society, Channel 10, Allied Arts, Las Vegas Little Theater, all those kinds of associations.

Writing is a fine art, and you’ve written Bombs in the Backyard: Atomic Testing and American Politics.

Yeah. That is true.

How did that book come about?

That’s part of Nevada’s history. That’s where art and humanities overlap. I spent a semester in [former] Sen. Howard Cannon’s office in Washington as a faculty intern in 1982, and this was when the issue of down-winders was first starting to appear. Cannon assigned it to me to see what there was to it. The more I looked into it, the more fascinated I became. I wrote a book and now teach a class on atomic politics. One of the offshoots of my atomic research is that I serve on the board of The Nevada Test Site Historical Foundation, and we have a museum affiliated with the Smithsonian that should open next fall.

What does it mean to chair the legislative arts caucus?

It started out as an attempt to identify legislators who would be willing to provide more support for the arts. We started small. There were about six of us, and now, almost every legislator likes to identify with the arts caucus whether they are really that involved or not. People like to be affiliated with it and say, ‘Yes, I support the arts.’

Did your association with Nevada Humanities prompt the move into politics?

I think that was a way that I made a lot of friends around the state, friends in state government. I would certainly say there was a connection. At that time, there was a lot of emphasis on citizen participation and public policy issues. So that was tied into moving into participation myself.

What’s your response to the award?

Well I’m humbled by it because there are a lot of people who have given time and money and effort to support the arts, and to be honored by them means quite a lot. It’s the kind of thing I want to be remembered for—by my service in the legislature—so I’m very pleased by it.

How could the arts in Nevada be improved?

We are still very low compared to funding for the arts and humanities in other states. So I think it will be a continuous struggle for us to give adequate funding and support in the humanities, especially in rural areas. We have to be careful when we start talking about cuts in education that it’s not in the arts and music programs. So it’s a defense approach but also offense in that it’s always in terms of money.