A stone’s throw away from a fire station, a small nondenominational church and a Buddhist temple, its location is in keeping with the sanctity of the space Vicki Richardson has created at Left of Center Art Gallery. Born in Wilmington, Delaware and educated at Fisk, with a master’s in art education from the University of Chicago, Richardson has made her nonprofit gallery a home for live jazz performances, poetry readings and panels on social justice. LOC’s studio spaces and collaborative opportunities for emerging and established artists have resulted in large-scale art installations across the valley, including Harold Bradford’s “Tryptych Passages” at McCarran Airport, and the three soaring obelisks at the center of Police Memorial Park in the valley’s northwest. A long-time arts educator and artist in her own right, a retrospective of Richardson’s work, “After Image,” opened at Las Vegas City Hall in 2019.
The first time I came to Las Vegas was because my brother was here. He was in the service and he was stationed at Nellis. I came in to visit, and then a few years later, I was job hunting and decided to see what Vegas had to offer. I came in to visit again and to plan for some interviews. Every place I went, I got a job. So, I said, “This must be the place I’m supposed to be.” I was recently divorced. I had two babies and I knew that I would need some kind of support. I got a job with the school district; I got a job with the community college, and a job with the city. I felt the school district was the best fit for me. My background was in urban education. When I came in, I told them I was looking for an inner-city school and they looked at me like, “We don’t have any inner-city schools.” And I said, “Well, I would like to work in a school that was very diverse.” And they said, “All of our schools are diverse.” So, I decided I would look on my own and I found Rancho High school. I had a Master’s in Arts Education from the University of Chicago and had come in on a Ford Fellowship where a lot of the curriculum was developed around elevating the students. I brought that background to Las Vegas, and I started immediately working on curriculum development for Clark County in art. I also taught a few classes for the City on weekends and got involved in the only small Black gallery that was here — Benny Cassel’s. Benny Cassel was an artist. I still have a picture of him when I open my top desk drawer, because he was a very good mentor to me. His idea was that art should be in the community and not isolated to other places where you must go outside of your community to find it. He had started sort of an art-gallery bookstore, a place where people could meet and support each other, and where young people could be mentored. The community really needed it. We were located right on Martin Luther King and Lake Mead, that area. The others involved were Dave Washington and Orlando Hogan. Between the three of us, we tried to keep Benny’s vision alive. That was my first introduction to this feeling of commitment and being a part of this new community that I was in. It was a great opportunity with two young children because I wanted them to be a part of this community, too. I’ve always thought of art as something very, very important to teach people about and to have people experience. I think you can teach everything through art. You can teach appreciation for cultures; you can teach values; you can teach appreciation for beauty. There are things that you can use for the rest of your life — it sort of elevates you. You can see yourself and your history in some types of art. It can give you a sense of pride, too, if it’s right there in your community. I’ve gotten very involved in public art. The sculpture at Doolittle in front of the Agassi School, called “Ancestral Gateway,” we were commissioned by the city to do that piece. The work we have at Pearson was a County project, and we have the North Las Vegas, the Zap project. What I do is facilitate in putting the teams of artists together, knowing the background of each person. We have people who are very good at design; we have people who are good at construction. They can come together and formulate ideas. When we first got here to Vegas, it was very hard to get into other galleries. The work they wanted was mostly western or desert-themed. It was even hard to get our work into public competitions, but I really encourage my artists to just show up. Whether your work gets in there or not, it’s making the community of artists aware that you exist.