Ed Fuentes takes a break from documenting the murals of Vegas’ Arts District, a role he also performed in LA.
By Danielle Kelly, Las Vegas Weekly
Photo: Sun File
Ed Fuentes would have written the hell out of this essay. He wouldn’t have hemmed and hawed over the formulaic niceties of a who/what/when/where, gently guiding readers into the respectable reflection of a life well lived. Nope. Ed would have accelerated from 0 to 50 mph, driving right into the heart of a person, artwork or idea, trusting his readers to use his generous words, imagery and images as traction along the way. There were no seat belts provided for the breakneck speed of Ed Fuente’s insatiable curiosity, in life or in art.
Font of enthusiasm and encouragement. A witness to our world. Imbued with a sense of purpose and conscience. Big brother to us all. Champion of Latinx art. Champion of Chicano art. Champion of art. Force of nature. This is how those who orbited Ed Fuentes describe him.
Most of Las Vegas knows Ed for Paint This Desert, the blog that began as an Andy Warhol Foundation grant-funded platform for exploring Las Vegas murals and public art. In Ed’s hands, it evolved into a living archive of the Las Vegas arts community, a home for showing the world the city’s vibrant creative ecosystem. Few realize that he started in LA with another successful blog, View From a Loft, the scope of his influence felt deeply in art communities across Nevada and Southern California. Or that, in coming to Las Vegas, the journalist and designer began another career as a student, finishing undergraduate and graduate degrees while immersing himself in the cultural community of his new home. Ed was a diviner of energy and ideas, insatiable in his thirst to inspire and be inspired.
As a shape-shifting arts instigator, Ed Fuentes, who died last week at age 59, is perhaps best summoned by the memories of his collaborators. Former Clark County Cultural Program Supervisor Patrick Gaffey remembers the day Ed asked him why on earth Clark County didn’t have a poet laureate. Five plus years later, Clark County is currently seeking its third poet laureate. Susan Boskoff, former executive director of Nevada Arts Council, recalls the passion and vision with which Ed advocated for the arts, serving as an arts delegate to the State Legislature and working with the National Endowment for the Arts on behalf of Nevada. Angela Brommel, director of arts and culture at Nevada State College, treasures the memory of a student whose restless intellect drove him to find the stories that hadn’t yet been told. UNLV Galleries Director Jerry Shefcik knew Ed the UNLV MFA art student, Chicano artist, and co-curator for ¡Americanx!, Las Vegas’ first-ever art exhibition celebrating its fertile Latinx art community. Co-curator Checko Salgado embraced Ed like a big brother, compelled to galvanize the LA and Las Vegas Latinx art communities. Artist Gig Depio remembers a beloved co-conspirator, dreaming up ways of infiltrating and challenging the Las Vegas arts status quo. For artist Brent Holmes, Ed was a constant source of creativity and influence in a town that desperately needed just such a voice: “Sometimes you don’t know how big a space a person fills until it’s empty.”
Through it all, there was Ed the archivist, camera in tow, tirelessly documenting the multitude of moments that coalesce into an art community. This is perhaps his greatest legacy and Las Vegas’ greatest loss, the daily documentation of people, objects, places and ideas that populate the ever-shifting art scene of a desert oasis.
If Ed were writing this piece, he wouldn’t indulge in sappy ruminations about stars, and how they burn so bright in the Mojave, and wonder why they must all too often burn out. He wouldn’t grow maudlin obsessing over the locomotion of this human Hadron Collider, drawn to and thriving in the beautiful electric chaos of Las Vegas. Nope. Ed would have picked up his camera and set about finishing the work that had been started: documenting the people and places he loved so well. Perhaps the most succinct measure of a person is the inspiration they leave behind.
Cultural journalist Ed Fuentes poses in front of artwork by Colette Miller at the 2016 Los Angeles Art Show. (Isabel Rojas-Williams / Courtesy)
By SUHAUNA HUSSAIN
Los Angeles Times
Wherever Ed Fuentes went, whether it was an art gallery or community meeting, he had his camera hanging around his neck.
Both Fuentes and his camera became fixtures of the downtown Los Angeles Arts District, as he meticulously and lovingly documented the neighborhood and its transformation in photos and writing on his blog, View From a Loft, starting in 2006.
Fuentes, who emerged as a voice and staunch advocate for the local arts scene, died Thursday morning at the age of 59 after suffering a heart attack, according to his father Edward Fuentes Sr.
In addition to his role as a local historian, Fuentes was a muralist, blogger, poet, photographer, graphic designer and comedian. Larry Harnisch described Fuentes in an LA Times column as a “human cyclone” because he wore so many hats.
"He really had his finger on the pulse of the art community downtown. There are so few voices like Ed's out there,” said Maria Margarita Lopez, who met Fuentes while he was doing graphic design work at Variety more than 20 years ago.
A big guy with a scruffy beard, Fuentes was frequently described as “larger than life,” both in the physical sense and in personality, said cultural producer and photographer Melissa Richardson Banks. He was outgoing, funny, knowledgeable and passionate, said art curator Isabel Rojas-Williams.
And he could talk for hours. He would always play the devil's advocate, pushing conversations in unexpected ways, said Alex Poli, an L.A. artist also known as Man One.
"If you gave him a microphone, he probably wouldn't give it back to you,” she said.
Born and raised in Riverside, Fuentes lived there until the late ’90s. Fuentes was always artistic growing up; he won a graphic design contest in his hometown paper, the Press-Enterprise, when he was just 6 years old, his father said.
When he moved to L.A., he worked almost feverishly to document downtown public art and buildings. "You never know what's going to be gone next," Fuentes told Harnisch in 2013.
Fuentes’ championing of Latino artists helped fill a void in the Los Angeles art scene and his death is a searing loss, Lopez said.
“He used to tell me he was people's worst nightmare because he was a Chicano who knew how to write," Alex Poli said.
Fuentes’ writing brought much-needed visibility to historic murals, Rojas-Williams said, and to her own advocacy for an ordinance removing a ban on public murals that the city eventually passed 2013.
People should look to Latino street artists, such as those in East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights, who use "paint as a protest tool, a practice that came from the barrios, where villagers rose up with brushes for pitchforks and paint as torches," Fuentes wrote in 2017.Underserved communities have “always spoken up by writing on the walls of their neighborhoods, demanding for better education and shared civic liberties."
Murals, he wrote, redefined what art can be for a city, but work to recognize art from neglected communities is ongoing.
Although Fuentes left Los Angeles in 2012 to earn his MFA at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, he continued to write for LA's KCET and dove into documenting similar movements in Las Vegas. Fuentes chronicled downtown Las Vegas murals and street art on another blog, Paint This Desert which he launched in 2013 with money from a Warhol Foundation grant.
In Las Vegas, Fuentes branched out into teaching and curating art exhibits. He was planning to open “Homeboy Fauxism,” an exhibit on an imaginary Chicano political artist from the early ‘80s ("Bunko”) and his influence on contemporary (also fictional) street art at Riverside Art Museum this month.
Fuentes saw what he loved about L.A. echoed in Las Vegas, and told Joe Schoenmann of Las Vegas Weekly that public art helps a city become a community.
“I watched it happen in downtown L.A.,” Fuentes said, according to the Las Vegas Weekly. “Street art and murals help people feel engaged in the streets. And that gray line of what is legal and illegal will never be agreed upon, but the art attracts people and allows them to experience a city as a city.”
Fuentes is survived by his mother, Dora Fuentes, and father, Edward Fuentes and brother Ron Fuentes.
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