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Cool heads prevail on Eastern Avenue median project

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Mick Akers

Clark County's public art project “Centered,” takes empty road islands throughout Clark County and beautifies them with art. A look at “Norte y Suerte” by Luis Varela-Rico.

By Mick Akers (contact)

Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017 | 2 a.m.

Centered

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Two large steel art installations in the median of Eastern Avenue near the 215 Beltway have heads turning.

The final pieces of Clark County’s “Centered” art median project were installed last month, featuring a pair of large steel heads titled, "Norte y Sur," created by Las Vegas artist Luis Varela-Rico.

The name translates to “north and south” in English, derived from the direction the heads face at each end of the median.

Varela-Rico, who also designed an oversize hand sculpture located at PublicUs in downtown Las Vegas, got the idea after visiting Mexico and being inspired by the local art in his home country.

“I had taken a trip to the Yucatan Peninsula and was taken aback from Mesoamerican culture,” Varela-Rico said. “(Aztecs and Mayans) are known for their large sculptures.”

The two sculptures, which measure 5 feet by 6 feet and weigh 4,000 pounds each, were developed on a computer-aided design (CAD) program and then laser cut.

“Then I assembled the parts after they were cut,” he said. “It’s all made out of mild steel.”

Both heads have a layered design that allows motorists to see the head only if they’re driving toward the front of the face.

“The reason they are oriented the way they are is, if you are in northbound traffic and you pass by, you would have to look back to look through them,” he said. “So, the viewer should always see a solid piece.”

Beginning in 2015, a panel chose 10 local artists from 46 who applied to have their creations be part of the project aimed at beautifying local medians.

The panel was made up of local artists, arts educators and a representative of the Clark County Public Works Department.

The Clark County Public Art Fund allocated $175,000 for the project, with $17,500 to be paid to each of the 10 selected artists. The budget was intended to pay for materials, fabrication, artwork transportation, installation and any other costs associated with creating the artwork.

Varela’s head creations were finished long before they were installed, but roadwork taking place on Eastern Avenue near the median held up their placing.

Because of that, the project went over its $17,500 budget because of the costs to store the two heads, said Mickey Sprott, Clark County public arts supervisor.

“Most pieces ran between $15,000 and $20,000,” Sprott said. “It did go a little over budget, mainly to this piece being out on hold for over a year.”

Public reaction to the 10 art projects has been mixed, but once a person hears more about a project, they tend to appreciate it more, Sprott said.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some people love it; some people don't understand it,” Sprott said. “When they hear where the artist is coming from with these pieces, it really helps to create that narrative, to exactly what they were thinking, instead of people's imagination.”

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