USF's Museum Blog

Learning in Las Vegas

Editor’s note:  University of San Francisco is proud to announce that it has become a lead sponsor of the Western Museums Association professional conference in San Jose, California, to take place in late October 2015.  The post below was written by faculty member Marjorie Schwarzer last fall when she attended the Fall 2014 conference in Las Vegas with several USF museum studies graduate students.


In 1972, architects Robert Venturi, Steven Izenour and Denise Scott Brown wrote their controversial manifesto about one of the world’s most puzzling places: Las Vegas. Their seminal book Learning From Las Vegas argued that architects and designers need to pay attention to how crassly and deeply commercialism infiltrates the American landscape. There was no place better to do that than by studying Vegas’ tawdry mega-boulevard of neon-ornamented sheds: “high and low art, the sacred and the putrefying.”

Las Vegas lit up at night

Las Vegas lit up at night


Dale Chihuly installation in Las Vegas' Bellagio casino

Dale Chihuly installation in Las Vegas’ Bellagio casino

As museum professionals, we too can’t ignore Las Vegas especially since our work intertwines with tourism, cultural phenomena and serving a large and diverse public. Consider that Vegas attracts 40 million visitors a year, making it the top tourism destination in the United States, if not the world. Consider that its architecture and attractions pull in a diverse public from across the nation and the world.  And consider that some Vegas tycoons are investing in museums and high-end art including works by block-busting artists like James Turrell and Dale Chihuly.


With this in mind, in early October 2014, a group of USF students and faculty ventured to Las Vegas to participate in this year’s Western Museums Association annual meeting.


Wanda Chin scholarship recipients.  (Alexa is second from the left.  Cho is to Alexa's left, standing slightly behind Alexa.  Ryan is standing behind Alexa.)

Wanda Chin scholarship recipients. (Alexa is second from the left. Cho is to Alexa’s left, standing slightly behind Alexa. Ryan is standing behind Alexa.)

Congratulations go to Cho Rao, Alexa Beaman and Ryan Pinter, who each received a prestigious Wanda Chin scholarship to attend the meeting along with graduate students at other universities. Joining them from USF were Briana Commins, Kaitlin Buickel and Professor Marjorie Schwarzer. For the formal part of the conference, Alexa presented a poster session on her work on the impact of Common Core Standards on museum education. Ryan and Marjorie co-presented a session on tools for fiscal responsibility called “Playing the Numbers: Learning the New Rules of Museum FinanceSeveral other conference presenters explored the future needs of the field in regard to collections care, education and leadership.

You can read Alexa’s report of her experiences on the WMA blog by clicking here.

You can read Ryan’s report on his experience presenting at WMA by clicking here.

You can read Cho’s report, aptly titled “What happens in Vegas doesn’t necessarily stay in Vegas” by clicking here.

Alexa Beaman at her poster session.

Alexa Beaman at her poster session.

“One session that really stuck with me,” said Kaitlin Buickel (echoing Alexa), “was Museum Leadership in the 21st Century, especially since it hit on the future of museum leadership practices. I learned that it is possible to “lead from the middle”, and that leadership comes in many forms. To be a true leader, one must be fully confident and willing to take risks; anything that does not work out as it was supposed to should not be seen as a failure.”

Kaitlin adds that “one museum I really enjoyed was the Polaroid Museum, located above the Polaroid Fotobar. Both spaces were very modern and quite fashionable, in a sense. Interesting to me was how the Fotobar acts as a gift shop/interactive room that compliments the museum upstairs, which is opposite from the normal experience of going to a museum AND THEN visiting the gift shop. I think in this way, if visitors enjoy creating their own polaroids enough, they will want to come visit the museum. The museum itself showcased polaroid history very colorfully and engagingly without being too overwhelming in content.”


imagesDuring off-hours, we ventured to other icons such as Vegas’ famous casinos, the Eiffel Tower replica, the Mob Museum and perhaps the highlight: the outdoor residence of the three new baby white lions at Seigfried and Roy’s Secret Garden, where Kaitlin spent a delightful half hour gazing at those gorgeous animals, blissfully oblivious to the strangeness of the city around them.



Alexa and Ryan hanging out in Vegas (but they’d rather be in …)

Marjorie Schwarzer takes in Nevada nature.

Marjorie Schwarzer recovers from crass commercialism by traveling with a group of WMA delegates to see environmental art in the desert outside of Las Vegas.


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