Meet The Locals Who Help Shape The Futures of Music, Art, Dance and Film in Las Vegas

By Josh Bell | December 11, 2019 | People Feature

Support for the arts is one of the key ways that a city can grow into a world-class metropolis, and as Las Vegas expands, so does its community of arts organizations and supporters. These patrons and players represent the bright futures of music, art, dance and film in Las Vegas.

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Patron: Michael Brown
Players: Sergio Alvarez & Mirella Costa Neto

For Nevada Ballet Theatre (nevadaballet.org) board member Michael Brown, ballet had never even crossed his mind until a chance encounter at NBT’s annual Black and White Ball in 2004. “It was the first time I had ever been exposed to ballet or the community around it,” he says. “I was just so impressed with it and found it so fascinating.” Brown, who’s had a lifelong interest in competitive rowing, sees NBT dancers like Sergio Alvarez and Mirella Costa Neto as highly skilled athletes as well as elegant, accomplished artists. “It’s something that until you observe it, it’s kind of hard to come to understand,” he says. Dancers Alvarez and Neto have both literally journeyed a long way to get where they are today. Not only have they studied and practiced with dedication and intensity for many years, but they’ve also left their homes in South America (in São Paulo, Brazil, and Manizales, Colombia, respectively) to pursue their ballet ambitions. “As soon as I decided I wanted to be a ballet dancer, I knew that I had to come here,” says Neto. Since coming to NBT, Alvarez and Neto have danced lead roles in productions including Serenade and Swan Lake, which Alvarez calls “a dream role for everyone in the ballet community.”

For all three, the most important thing is getting new audience members to give NBT a chance. “[People] think they need to know about ballet to be at the ballet, and that’s the biggest mistake,” Neto says. “I often think we ought to put some of our visitors in chairs backstage,” Brown adds, “so they can see the incredible effort that goes into one of these productions.”

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Patron: Dana Lee

Art is more than a static interaction for this cultural advocate.

There have been a lot of stops and starts in the efforts to bring a dedicated, free-standing art museum to Las Vegas, and Dana Lee has been there every step of the way. “It’s something I’ve been closely watching and supporting for some time,” says the philanthropist and arts advocate, who was involved with previous efforts that have converged into the forthcoming Nevada Museum of Art. Lee, who grew up in Southern California, has always made art a part of her life, from visiting museums like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Norton Simon Museum as a kid to earning a master’s degree in arts management from Carnegie Mellon University. Now, she’s excited to contribute to an entirely new museum effort in Las Vegas. “What we think of museums, for instance, of our childhood, it was places where you had to be quiet,” Lee says. “Now it can be so many different things. Art can take on different mediums, different ways to engage the viewer.”

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Player: Heather Harmon

The homegrown leader looks to las vegans to flavor the new museum.

Heather Harmon, the recently appointed deputy director of the Las Vegas outpost of the Nevada Museum of Art (nevadaart.org)moved around the world after graduating from UNLV in 2001, pursuing a career in building museums and overseeing fundraising campaigns. But thanks to a partnership with Reno’s Nevada Museum of Art, Harmon’s dream job has opened up in her hometown. “I’m absolutely, 100 percent back and committed to this project,” she asserts, and she’s been working diligently since returning to town, with the museum’s visitor center set to open in fall 2020. “We have a great opportunity to build the museum from the ground up,” Harmon says. That means that she can study the needs of the community, and help mold an institution that will uniquely serve Las Vegas. She adds, “We want the people of Las Vegas to be able to come to this museum and see themselves reflected in it.”

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Player: Tina Castellanos

LV Phil’s principal flutist is living her childhood dream.

Tina Castellanos knew what she wanted to do with her life when she was 3 years old. “My mom just had the classical station on the radio in the house one day, and I heard the flute and just fell in love with the sound,” she says. “I begged her for lessons.” Castellanos was 11 years old before she got her wish to start learning the flute, and it’s been her central focus ever since.

Castellanos has been playing with the Las Vegas Philharmonic (lvphil.org) since 2001, and she was appointed to the principal flute position a few months ago. She splits her time between orchestras in Nevada and Utah, but Las Vegas offers her the most prominent position. For Castellanos, being part of Las Vegas Philharmonic means providing audiences with a welcome cultural oasis. As she says, “It’s just a totally different experience than any other show in Vegas.”

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Patron: Anne Mazzola

For this passionate patron, classical music is a must.

Anne Mazzola is as enthusiastic about classical music as a teenager who’s just discovered her favorite new pop star. “I think it feels as lively and awesome as anything I ever heard when I was a kid,” says Mazzola, an interior designer who grew up with parents who played classical music in the house and the car all the time. “It’s beautiful music, but if you’ve never heard it, you don’t know what you’re missing.” She’s doing everything she can to bring that music to a wider audience, as a longtime patron of the Las Vegas Philharmonic.

Mazzola sees the philharmonic as essential to Vegas life. “We’ve got to get people to gather there,” she says. “That’s how the passion gets ignited, the love of the music.” From attending preconcert talks to bringing her family for movie-themed performances, Mazzola exudes enthusiasm. “I have felt like I’ve been getting a B.A. in classical music,” she says. “Who wouldn’t want to share it with everybody?”

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Player: Joshua Abbey

The film festival founder creates a pathway for communication.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call Joshua Abbey the godfather of film festivals in Las Vegas. Abbey co-founded CineVegas, the city’s first major film festival, and for nearly two decades he’s served as the director of the longest-running film festival in town, the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival (lvjff.org). “The film festival is an opportunity for the Jewish community to reach out beyond its own constituency,” Abbey says. LVJFF programs a variety of films related to Jewish culture and history. At the 19th edition of the festival in January, Abbey will be premiering Live to Bear Witness, a documentary he directed himself, featuring dialogue between local Holocaust survivors and students. “The goal is that when it’s shown to other students, it’s going to be a peer-to-peer communication about why the Holocaust matters, rather than some older generation telling you that this is important and you should pay attention to it,” says Abbey.

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Patrons: Heidi and David Straus

Education in films is paramount for this philanthropic couple.

Heidi and David Straus have supported the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival for more than 10 years. Heidi has been involved with Jewish Nevada (formerly the Jewish Federation) for 25 years, and David’s artist mother Joyce was good friends with fellow artist Rita Deanin Abbey, mother of LVJFF director Joshua Abbey. “It’s a very small community,” Heidi explains. “It’s a rich experience, and we can see the full spectrum of Jewish life, values and culture,” she says of the festival. For the Strauses, the festival is all about promoting education, and that’s what they value the most in their own movie-watching. “There’s always something of value that you take away from a film,” David says, and Heidi agrees. “For a moment, I can be transported back to, let’s say, the Polish village that my grandparents were in,” she says. “Through film, I can go there, and I can learn about other types of Jewish cultures as well. It’s learning. It’s humanity.”

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