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Shirley Leung

Could Steve Wynn be Boston’s next big patron of the arts?

Steve Wynn’s plans for a casino in Everett could be a plus for the arts as well as the economy. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Steve Wynn has been known to break into show tunes, and I was hoping for a performance Tuesday.

The Vegas billionaire didn’t sing, but he didn’t disappoint either as he unveiled a new model for what is now a $2 billion resort casino he wants to build next door in Everett.

The mercurial mogul has been known to pack his bags when the going gets tough — just ask Philadelphia. Wynn twice flirted with building a casino there. He has faced headwinds here, the latest coming from Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone, whose environmental appeal has put the brakes on the Everett project pending a hearing in June.


To see Wynn in person, preternatural tan and all, is the surest sign he’s committed to Massachusetts. He spent a full hour in Medford, where his local office is based, regaling reporters with details about his pet project, the planning of which he described as being “narcotically exciting.”

But it’s not just Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish, or thousands of union workers counting on the economic boom of a casino, but also key Boston arts leaders.

A devastating report from the Boston Foundation earlier this year painted a portrait of a city as a starving artist. We love museums and music, but companies, institutions, and government have been loath to open up their wallets, making Boston one of the worst-funded cities for the arts.

It’s a loser bet to think General Electric Co., which is moving its headquarters to Boston, will support the arts in a big way. The industrial giant prefers to funnel its philanthropy dollars to education and health care initiatives.

That leaves Wynn as perhaps Boston’s best shot at getting a bold new patron of the arts.

So what say you, Mr. Wynn?


“One of the great things about being in Boston is that it is such an artsy place compared to Las Vegas,” he said. “This is a dream place for anybody who loves the arts.”

The 74-year-old impresario, who spent part of his childhood in Revere, then proceeded to reminesce about our arts scene.

“Go see Isabella’s museum. Go see the paintings. Oh, wow,” Wynn said, pausing as if he were reeling off the images in his head. “The idea that I could participate in some way or another in the texture and the fabric of Boston would be a proud thing for my mother and father if they were alive. They wouldn’t believe it.”

Let’s hope these aren’t just words being uttered by a casino owner who wants to be loved. Wynn has amassed an enviable personal collection of paintings and likes to bring art to the masses, adorning his casinos with works by Picasso and Chihuly. The lobby of the Everett casino — now rebranded as Wynn Boston Harbor — will get a playful $28 million Jeff Koons sculpture of Popeye.

Wynn has also built theaters in his gambling palaces, bringing in Broadway shows and more recently producing his own musical, “Showstoppers.” In a review, entertainment journalist Robin Leach wrote: “This is showbiz wow and razzmatazz at its finest!”

Joe Spaulding, CEO of the Citi Performing Arts Center, is hoping that Wynn will help stabilize a Boston theater scene in turmoil.


The center, which operates the Wang and Shubert theaters, will be without a corporate sponsor this fall when CitiBank ends its relationship. Meanwhile, Emerson’s Colonial Theatre has closed indefinitely, and the Huntington Theatre Co. may need to hunt for new space.

Unlike in Vegas, Wynn does not have a plan to build a big theater in Everett but has agreed to send guests off property to enjoy live entertainment such as at TD Garden or a local theater.

Spaulding told me he has begun putting out feelers with Wynn officials about picking up the naming rights for the performing arts center. Wynn was a major sponsor of the Wang Theatre’s 90th anniversary gala last fall.

“I am kind of disappointed they are not staying on track,” said Spaulding of the Wynn project delay. “At resort casinos, the entertainment is an important part. The Wang Theatre is the perfect place for his clientele.”

Wynn has also given generously to the Boston Pops for the last three years through its annual corporate Christmas concert at Symphony Hall.

Wynn has not been asked for bigger commitments. (Here’s a hint: The Pops needs a new sponsor for its July Fourth fireworks on the Esplanade.)

“Of course we would be thrilled if he were able to support the Boston Pops or Boston Symphony Orchestra as a major benefactor,” Kim Noltemy, the BSO’s chief operating and communications officer said in a statement.

Craig Coogan, executive director of the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, has seen shows in all of Wynn’s theaters in Vegas. If you ask Coogan, Wynn may be the solution to Boston’s funding problem for the performing arts.


“What it tells me is that he has an appreciation for live performance. Ultimately that’s what we need in Boston, a patron who supports live arts, whether it’s the theater, choral music, all the different kinds,” said Coogan. “It is a very challenging environment in Boston to work with our corporate leaders.”

Coogan hopes that Wynn can become “the lead domino” when it comes to getting more of the business community invested.

That’s something Wynn should be willing to roll the dice on.

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @leung.