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Mob museum, done right, wonÕt glorify, creative director says

Dennis Barrie Dennis Barrie was the Director of the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center from 1983-1991. His tenure was rocked over a trial in 1990, when he and the gallery were indictd on pornography charges stemming from an exhibit of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe (the exhibit show was  has overseen the SmithsonianÕs Archives of American Art, served as director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and helped create the International Spy Museum The International Spy Museum is a privately owned museum dedicated to the field of espionage located in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of Washington, D.C., and one block west of the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro station.  in Washington. Now heÕs overseeing the creative direction of the mob museum.

We talked with Barrie about the legitimacy of such a museum and about that incident in 1990 when Barrie, then director of the Contemporary Arts Center The Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) is a pioneering contemporary art museum located in Cincinnati, Ohio. The CAC is a non-collecting museum that focuses on new developments in painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, performance art and new media.  in Cincinnati, was arrested on charges of Òpandering obscenityÓ for showing the then-controversial Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit, ÒThe Perfect Moment.Ó He was acquitted following a highly publicized trial.

What do you say to concerns that this museum will glorify the mob?

I think places should be honest with themselves. This is an interesting part of Las VegasÕ history. We know the mob is controversial. Some people say that a mob museum is glorifying the mob. WeÕve taken a very different view. Not to glorify the mob, but to take a look at the history of organized crime and its impact on America — what that has done to our nation and to law enforcement — and to tell the story the way it was, the way it is. There are volumes of books on mobs and mobsters Mobsters is a 1991 crime drama detailing the creation of the National Crime Syndicate/The Commission. Set in New York City during the Prohibition era, it's a somewhat fictionalized account of rise of Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello, and Benjamin "Bugsy" . But people tend to look at the sensational aspect of it.

The story of mobs goes back to the various ethnic enclaves of America. Organized crime comes out of the tough neighborhoods of any society. These characters rise from the slums and wind up controlling big parts of the world in all sorts of things.

What are the challenges with this museum?

YouÕve really got to look at ways of presenting topics that are engaging and that will draw half a million people a year to ensure operating success. In Las Vegas thatÕs a real challenge because there is so much glitz glitz   Informal
Ostentatious showiness; flashiness: "a garish barrage of show-biz glitz" Peter G. Davis.

. The biggest challenge is getting people to come off the Strip into downtown Las Vegas Downtown Las Vegas can have several meanings depending on how it is used.

It can mean:
  • The business area around City Hall
  • The downtown casino area.
For articles that include information about this area see:
  • Las Vegas, Nevada
. The local population, at least at this point, doesnÕt go to museums — your percentage is about 2.5 percent. So mostly itÕs a tourist destination.

Do you see it as an economic booster?

There is a point in which any city has to have more. In Las Vegas, there are some people who could never leave the casino. But by the second or third day many people want to do something else, whether itÕs shopping or the Hoover Dam. The city has to recognize that more attractions and museums diversify options for your audiences. You can do a whole American history tour at the museum because of all the topics you can discuss — ethnicity in America, immigration immigration, entrance of a person (an alien) into a new country for the purpose of establishing permanent residence. Motives for immigration, like those for migration generally, are often economic, although religious or political factors may be very important.  in America, prohibiting of substances in America, the legal system in America, race, entertainment, international politics, unions. All of that is built right into the subject. ThereÕs not a topic it doesnÕt touch.

How do you separate the attraction from the museum?

Whether itÕs the spy museum, the Rock and Roll Museum or the mob museum, these topics have a lot to teach about American and world society. TheyÕre real touchstones to understanding what went on in the 20th century. They can be very serious places and still be entertaining.

Where do the acquisitions come from?

WeÕve had cooperation from collectors of crime memorabilia, law enforcement memorabilia, cooperation from the FBI, cooperation of law enforcement agencies from Las Vegas and other cities, and weÕve had cooperation from family members whose family relation was in organized crime. We have the St. ValentineÕs Day Massacre wall from Chicago that was owned by a woman who was in Las Vegas, whose uncle purchased it when they were tearing down the building in Chicago.

You were the only museum director arrested for pandering obscenity with the 1990 Mapplethorpe exhibit. How did that incident influence your approach to museums?

It made me firmly committed to telling it like it is. YouÕve really got to be honest with your audiences. / 259-2317
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Author:Kristen Peterson
Publication:Las Vegas Sun
Date:Apr 3, 2010
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