Midtown Needs More Cultural Entrepreneurs

I enjoy hanging out in the Midtown District. I’ve seen tremendous revitalization in this neighborhood that I wouldn’t think of walking around in 10 years ago because it was too seedy. (And I moved to Reno from Detroit!) Now, I feel as if I could be sitting in any hip-city neighborhood when I dine in one of the cafés or restaurants.

First, there was Süp. I remember its original location with the cramped seating. When I wanted a bowl of their yummy tortilla soup (with that perfect bite-size cookie), I knew I had to arrive early before the crowd snaked to the door. Luckily, it was one of the few places that encouraged sharing your table, a normal occurrence in Europe but not really the American way. They finally outgrew that space and moved north one block. It’s got the same great menu and same friendly staff. But it has something else I especially appreciate – more wall space for local art.

When I decided to cut off my locks, someone suggested a hairdresser who owned a salon in Midtown. I love Jessy’s bubbly personality, professionalism and skill, but I also enjoy glancing around at all the local art in Crimson Hair Art Studio.

These businesses and a handful of others in Midtown that display and sell local art are the true investors in their community’s art and culture. They’re not only neighborhood revitalizers, they’re cultural entrepreneurs.

Where’s the art?

When I walk around the Midtown District, I can’t help but wonder why no one has opened an art gallery.

I recently read a policy brief published by Ann Markusen, professor at the University of Minnesota and director of the Institute’s Project on Regional and Industrial Economics in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Her research examines occupational approaches to regional development and on artists, arts organizations, cultural industries, and cultural activity as regional economic and quality-of-life stimulants. In her brief, titled “How Cities Can Nurture Cultural Entrepreneurship,” she encouraged city leaders not to copy other city’s strategies but to focus on what is distinctive about your city.

“The twenty-first century will belong to the distinctive city, and entrepreneurial artists and designers are key to that future,” Markusen wrote.

So I wonder — why aren’t more businesses in Midtown collaborating with local artists. Yes, there are lovely murals on some business walls and the Midtown District corrals artists for the Sixth Annual Midtown Art Walk, which is on Thursday. But that’s one evening in July.

And now Good Luck Macbeth Theatre Company, which is located in the heart of Midtown, announced Chad Sweet, its Producing Artistic Director, is leaving and the theater company is questioning in which direction they should go.

Markusen said “artists bring income into the city, improve the performance of area businesses and creative industries, and directly create new businesses and jobs.”  The Midtown District should be Reno’s true example of how to nurture cultural entrepreneurship. Let’s think about how to make that happen year round when we’re out roaming the streets Thursday night on the annual art walk.

 

Geralda Miller, Art Spot Reno Curator

Geralda Miller, Art Spot Reno Curator

Words Have Power — BELIEVE

One of the reasons why I love going to Burning Man every year is to see the magnificent art that’s on display. I’m always astonished at the creativity, scale and workmanship of the hundreds of pieces that dot the Black Rock Desert. And every year I have my favorites.

Last year, one of them was the huge steel letters that spelled out the word BELIEVE. It wasn’t the first piece by Jeff Schomberg and fellow artist Laura Kimpton that had resonated with me. In 2009, they brought their first of five words, so far, to the playa. It was MOM. This was the first burn after my mother’s death and bicycling by that word, with its cutout birds, every day became part of my grieving process. And last year, after losing a job I had been in for 10 years, once again I was grieving. I know the word was created to fit perfectly with the Cargo Cult theme, but it also spoke perfectly to me. At a time when it was easy to be filled with pity and doubt, that sculpture told me to BELIEVE in myself and my capabilities. Those birds that set my mother free now were setting me free to move on to the next adventure.

 Does Reno BELIEVE?

Needless to say, I was thrilled when I saw the BELIEVE sculpture installed last month at City Plaza. I learned from Christine Fey, Reno’s resource development and cultural affairs manager, that Kate Thomas, the city’s budget director, had made it her mission to bring it to Reno, after seeing it last year on the playa. I don’t know what it was, but I think Ms. Thomas had her own visceral reaction to the sculpture.

People congregate around it, are photographing it, and talking about it.

“It has made a huge hit,” Fey said. “It’s very approachable.”

The sculpture will be dismantled Thursday, but the City of Reno has started a fundraising effort, asking for the community’s help to keep  BELIEVE in Reno. The piece cost $70,000, $10,000 a letter.

Fey thinks it’s doable and would only take a few private donors who would be willing to purchase a letter, or two.

For anyone who’s thinking about making a donation, know that Jeff is a Reno resident with a studio off Dickerson Road. Yes, Laura lives in California, but part of the dynamic design and manufacturing team lives here and builds here.

Let’s allow this word to inspire others to have an R. Kelly moment and say, “I believe I can fly.”

 

Geralda Miller, Art Spot Reno Curator

Geralda Miller, Art Spot Reno Curator

Let the Mural Competition Begin

I was apprehensively pleased when I heard Circus Circus Reno was hosting a 24-hour Wall Mural Marathon July 13 and July 14. The casino sent a call to artists to enter the contest to paint one of seven panels located on the exterior of the main building facing Virginia Street. Anticipating an annual July event, the casino said the murals will be displayed for the year. I truly hope they’re engaging, gallery-quality works that I will be disappointed to see painted over in a year.

The selection committee  consisted of Debbi Engebritson from Circus Circus, Mike Kasum from Circus Circus, Jeff Frame a local architect, Kelsey Sweet, a local artist, and Steve Polikalas of the Regional Alliance for Downtown  (RAD). Three spots were open for local muralists and muralists from anywhere could fill the remaining spots. Unfortunately, only one out-of-towner applied, so all of this year’s candidates are local.  They are: Blanco de San Roman, Pan Pantoja, Alex Fleiner, Heather Jones, Joe C. Rock, Rex Norman and Mike Lucido. Two alternates, Nate Clark and Dave Cherry, were selected in case someone drops out.

I love driving around Reno and seeing murals painted in unexpected places. I congratulate muralists for taking art into communities. Those walls are Reno’s outdoor museum. And I do believe a painted wall reduces graffiti and vandalism. I moved to Philadelphia in 1985, a year after the city began its Mural Arts Program, which started as an effort to get rid of the city’s graffiti cataclysm. Since then, the city has produced more than 3,600 murals and is a national, and international, example of what can happen when you take art to the streets.

We need more talent, more time

Although I know most of the candidates and am impressed with the skill level of several, I was hoping a little out-of-town talent would strengthen the competition and show us some new forms of street art. I frequently peruse websites and am awed by some of the street art I see on display in cities around the world. Just imagine what it would be like to walk through exhibits at the Nevada Museum of Art if all the art was from Nevada artists.

If the walls of buildings truly are the city’s outdoor museum, then it befits us to follow the NMA’s example and be “a cultural and educational resource for everyone.”

Most “true” street artists understand what it takes to paint a mural under tight time constraints. I’m concerned for those artists who aren’t used to painting outside especially on a very tight deadline. I’m reminded of that episode of Ink Master when tattoo artists were challenged to show their lettering skills by spray painting graffiti art on a wall. It was difficult and one guy’s work was barely legible. I’m hoping (and praying) that all the murals are finished and presentable for our community museum.

Yes this is the inaugural mural competition.  Hopefully, the word will get out and more muralists will apply next year. That has to happen, if the Mural Marathon is going to become a reputable competition. In the meantime, I applaud Circus Circus Reno for coming outside those casino doors, hosting this competition and contributing to Reno’s public art. Now just imagine what downtown Reno would look like if the other casinos joined Circus Circus Reno, put money in the prize-winning kitty and found walls for muralists. I don’t think we’d still compete with Philly’s praise as the “City of Murals,” any time soon. But give it 30 years.

 

Geralda Miller, Art Spot Reno Curator

Geralda Miller, Art Spot Reno Curator