This article contains additional reporting by Crystal Lugo.
You know the old saying: If you need something done, ask a busy person. Fawn Douglas is one. Her current roles include activist, mother, dancer, artist, grad student, instructor, and Meow Wolf Community Associate. A.B. Wilkinson, her partner (in both life and business), is another. He’s a UNLV history professor who’s contributed to publications like Huffington Post and the Atlantic, and whose book on race in Colonial America came out last year. So, naturally, one of the questions they asked themselves early in 2020 was, “What else can we do?”
The idea of opening art studios came up. Fawn said her initial reaction was “no.”
“I was in the middle of my second year of the MFA programs for my masters at UNLV,” she said in a phone interview with Double Scoop reporter Crystal Lugo. “And I knew this was something I wanted to do after grad school … community center, art studios, gallery spaces, all these wonderful things.”
You know the other saying: Sometimes opportunity knocks at the weirdest times. (I just made that one up, but I bet you’ve seen it happen.)
“We kept driving down Maryland Parkway, here in our neighborhood, and noticed that the old synagogue was for sale,” Fawn said. “We went to go see it. It was pretty run down, and there was a hole in the ceiling. The property, which also contains a 1944 Huntridge home with a casita behind it, had sat empty for years.
In March, the couple combined their savings and credit and made an offer that was under the asking price.
“COVID was, you know, just starting to run rampant through the United States,” Fawn said. “Stock started to plummet.” The sellers accepted the offer.
“We were very shocked and surprised,” Fawn said. “Like, I guess we’re gonna do this now. OK, let’s breathe.”
“We closed on the first properties in April,” A.B. said via email. “The last property did not close until November, due to a lengthy probate court process.”
“We weren’t shy on repairs,” Fawn said. “We knew how to get things fixed and done. We had worked with contractors in the past. And so we started to work on the buildings, repairing them little by little, you know, what we could do each day, through the spring, summer, fall.” Her Instagram feed over the last several months is, in part, a DIY diary of paints, lumber, architectural drawings, “that kaleidoscope bathroom Indigenized” with complex tile patterns, and people in masks marveling at clean, cement floors and fresh white walls that ring with possibility.
Thus began the Nuwu Art Studios—a handful of so-far-nondescript stucco buildings with an enormous amount of heart inside them.
“Nuwu” means “the people,” Fawn said. “Nuwu also means ‘Southern Paiute people,’ ‘Southern Paiute person,’ and I’m Southern Paiute. I’m a member of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe. … These are also our Southern Paiute lands that these buildings are built on.”
The facility has eight studios for artists, a kitchen, a back parking lot large enough for outdoor events, and a 600-square-foot front room that’s slated to become a shared gallery. A grand opening is yet to be announced, but there was a soft, socially distanced opening with an outdoor Indigenous artists’ market in December.
A few artists have moved in—among them Xochil Zitlalli, Juan Quetzal, Ashanti McGee, Brent Holmes, and filmmaker Ben Dupris. As of this writing, there’s one vacant workspace.
“These aren’t just for any type of artist to apply and just come in, draw and leave,” Fawn explained. We’re looking for people who are community builders, people who are into their cultures, whatever that may be, and people who are into educating and that want to do things on a bigger level, that want to host educational forums, that want to work with the community that have something extra to lend to other generations.”
The Nuwu Art Studios complex is located at 1335 S. Maryland Pkwy. in Las Vegas. To stay up to date on progress and events, follow Fawn on Instagram. She’s scheduled to give an Art Bite talk on the studios and other projects for the Nevada Museum of Art at noon on Feb. 12 on Zoom. Registration info here.