Liberace Museum: time to call it quits 

Exhibit dedicated to Mr. Vegas decides to close its doors

Lucy Glover | The Rebel Yell

He’s been called “Mr. Vegas” and “The Original Lady GaGa,” but now the museum dedicated to one of the world’s most famous pianists is in its last few weeks of existence.

The Liberace Museum, located on the corner of Tropicana and Spencer, pays homage to the pianist Walter Valentino Liberace, who was once the highest paid performer in the world.

The Rebel Yell sat down with Jeff Koep, dean of the UNLV College of Fine Arts and president of the board for the Liberace Foundation, to ask him a few questions about the legendary exhibit’s closing on Oct. 17.

The Rebel Yell: Why exactly is the museum closing?

Jeff Koep: It’s just a matter of visitors. We haven’t had the same numbers as we used to, and now that the museum is closing, we’re actually getting more press than we’ve gotten in 10 years. Nothing else in the plaza is closing.

It was just the board’s decision to close. Hopefully, it’ll be temporary.

We’ve just signed a contract to have some of the pieces in our vast collection go on tour, much like the “Bodies” exhibit or the Titanic artifacts exhibit here in town.

Hopefully that, along with the large amount of attention that we’ve recently attracted, will drum up some national attention, and we’ll be able to reopen sometime in the future.

RY: Will the closing of the museum have any kind of impact on the Liberace Foundation as a whole?

JK: It actually won’t. As a board member, I am just a representation of the Liberace Foundation.

The foundation itself owns the museum and the plaza in which it is located, and it was the board’s decision to close the museum down.

It’s simply because we don’t have as many visitors as we have had in years past. If you take our visitor count now and compare it to those of five or 10 years ago, the amount of people coming to the museum has dwindled significantly.

RY: What exactly does the Liberace Foundation do?

JK: Well, the Liberace Foundation was founded by Liberace in order to help young artists. Most of the money we give away is through our scholarship program. While a student cannot directly apply for a scholarship, his or her university applies for the scholarship.

For example, say Columbia [University] has a really good piano player that they want in their school. They would contact the foundation … and we look over the applications and make a decision. UNLV has been the recipient of these scholarships before, but I play no part in actually picking who receives it. I just look it over and send it on to the board.

RY: Why is it so important that this museum is closing, and what kind of effect will it have on Las Vegas?

JK: It’s such a big deal because it’s a symbol of what Vegas used to be. Liberace was a big part of the creation of Las Vegas as the entertainment capital of the world. Take Michael Jackson or Lady GaGa, for instance. These are talented people who are also great showmen.

Liberace was really the first of their kind. The flashy gowns, the mirrored pianos, the cars. He was really wild for his time. He himself is a symbol of Vegas at its best. I fear that, with the museum closing, we are losing a part of Las Vegas because now Liberace will be even harder to remember.