We had the good fortune of connecting with Alisha Kerlin and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Alisha, how has your work-life balance changed over time?

I met my colleague and neuroscientist friend Rochelle Hines at the UNLV Preschool. I really look up to her. When we first met we both had 3-month-old babies and I felt like I was barely keeping it together. Everyone else seemed OK and balanced. When I asked her how she keeps her career and family life in balance, she said, “the boat is floating.” I could relate to that.

It’s messy. I make art at our kitchen table and my kid comes to museum events. When she was very little she assumed that I ate cookies all day because every time she visited the museum we had a reception with a sweets spread. Once I stopped trying to balance and compartmentalize my life, I became a lot happier.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I live and work in Las Vegas, Nevada with my family. I am an artist. I am an executive director. I am a mother. It took a long time for me to express and feel comfortable with those three roles fitting into one person without causing too much friction.  Recently, I started making art again.  My work is made at my breakfast table in our living room. I paint on junk mail and other disposable or disregarded materials. I use fragments from family conversations for the text in my paintings. I collaborate with artists and writers. Childhood memory is a big part of the work as is my role as a mother. My job as museum director leaks in as well. These conditions shape what I make—imperfect, quick, gestures made to acknowledge the roles others have in my life.
Becoming a mother and director within months of each other resulted in me tabling my art practice for five years and picking up a healthy dose of imposter syndrome. It hasn’t been easy, however, my life has always been centered around the arts.  I have a graduate degree in painting. I love to teach.   My current work in direction and curation is informed by my background as a working artist. As a painter, I bring a rare sensitivity and care to the work of running the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art. I hear from artists and collaborators this level of care isn’t as common as it should be.
Being in charge has its perks. I have the privilege of providing first-time art-viewing experiences for many of our visitors. What a huge challenge and responsibility!  The museum is free and on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. UNLV is a diverse and wonderful place where we can take risks and carve out a museum that has, over time, become a community meeting place– a place for experimentation and trying new things. We are nimble and flexible and have gotten pretty good at pivoting during the pandemic.
I work with a small and mighty team of folks, and I would much rather talk about them and the artists who have shown here than myself. (As you can see in the photos I avoid the spotlight.) Together we have brought in prestigious grants, hosted thousands of little kids, conducted hundreds of college classes, workshops, and events. This growth took a lot of labor from a lot of people, and I am so proud of what we have accomplished. I thank the artists for believing in the mighty Barrick Museum of Art.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
One great thing about Las Vegas is that the flights are cheap and it is never hard to get people to visit you. I arrived in Las Vegas for a residency and was only supposed to stay for eight weeks. I’m now in my ninth year and I still am learning from this city. When artists or friends visit me in the desert, I take them to breathtaking national and state parks and on the same day introduce them to the extremes of the Las Vegas strip. It’s like whiplash. If I want to impress someone in the art world I take them to the James Turrell light installation at Louis Vuitton called AKHOB. It’s free by appointment and they take you on a secret elevator that opens up to a bizarre situation where you find yourself questioning your own perception of color, light, and distance. They may try to sell you a handbag. The Neon Museum is a great place to learn about Las Vegas’ history. I think the best time to visit is at dusk when you can see the decay of the giant signs, but also see them light up at night when the sun goes down. If people are visiting in the summer, we comment on how it can still be over 100 degrees at midnight. “But it’s a dry heat” is my favorite expression.  I love welcoming visitors from the strip at the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art. I know that if they have found us, that they are interested in seeing the more local side of Las Vegas. Once, a couple from the Pacific Northwest visited and sent me pictures of them posing at all the locations I recommended. They weren’t “into gambling”  and we still keep in touch!
To learn more about what the local artists are up to, I suggest folks follow Justin Favela’s The Art People Podcast. If you love Las Vegas but can’t place your finger on it, I suggest you read Amanda Fortini’s People of Las Vegas for The Believer Magazine.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I like to highlight the work of others and typically don’t aim to be the center of attention. This is the most enjoyable part of the Q & A but to narrow it down to just one person is excruciating. A few people rise to the top of my mind.  To Heidi Rider, Las Vegas artist, performer, and clown for her permission to be weird.  To Justin Favela, Las Vegas superstar artist, for his support of the art scene in this city. I love his use of materials and his podcast, The Art People Podcast. Lance L. Smith for their art. For their support and mentorship. For their inspiration and ability to tackle hard subjects through art. To Mikayla Whitmore for her photography, friendship, and queer lens on the desert. To Branden Koch for over a decade of conversation about art even when I was lost. Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, a generous, multi-hyphenated scientist/artist woman who has made it by being fierce and kind. There are many others. I love connecting people.

Website: www.unlv.edu/barrickmuseum

Instagram: @unlvmuseum or @alishakerlin

Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/alisha-kerlin

Twitter: @unlvmuseum

Facebook: UNLV Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art

Image Credits

1) Alisha Kerlin, photo by Mikayla Whitmore
2) Chase R. McCurdy, Threads in Time, Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art, photo by Lonnie Timmons III
3) Krystal Ramirez, This is the Place, This Must Be the Place, Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art, UNLV, photo by Lonnie Timmons III
4) Brent Holmes, Behold a Pale Horse, Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art, UNLV, photo by Lonnie Timmons III
5) Lance L. Smith, In the Interest of Action, Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art, UNLV, photo by Lonnie Timmons III
6) Tiffany Lin, PROOF, Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art, UNLV, photo by Lonnie Timmons III
7) Alisha Kerlin, Content May Settle, Installation detail, ASAP Las Vegas, photo by Mikayla Whitmore
8) Alisha Kerlin, photo by Mikayla Whitmore
9) Bus to the Barrick tour of Connective Tissue by Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, Photo by Mikayla Whitmore
10) Kayla Hansen, This is the Place, This Must Be the Place, Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art, UNLV, photo by Lonnie Timmons III
11) Ashley Hairston Doughty, Kept to Myself, Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art, UNLV, photo by Lonnie Timmons III
12) Gig Depio, Rebuilders curated by DK Sole, Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art, UNLV, photo by Lonnie Timmons III
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