Transforming a Gallery into a Sanctuary

here Justin Favela and Geralda

Justin Favela is always thinking about space. And as a queer, Latino, he’s looking for a safe space.

“I think about it a lot in my work,” he said during a recent interview over coffee and croissant at Homage Bakery, which is one of my favorites.

Favela is an emerging artist from Las Vegas who draws his influences from pop culture and his Guatemalan/Mexican heritage.

When Eric Brooks, curator at Sierra Arts Gallery, told Justin he could do whatever he wanted, Justin decided to construct a space — a sanctuary for those in the LGBTQ community and for people of color. Using a popular queer icon, he built one of the most perceived safe places he could — a convent.

Using reams of tissue and toilet paper, aluminum foil, and cellophane, he built a colorful installation that’s based on scenes from the films “Sister Act,”The Sound of Music,” and “Dark Habits.” He said these movies are part of the queer canon and feature the convent as a sanctuary. What about “Two Mules for Sister Sara?”

Covering every inch of the gallery with tissue flowers and piñata-like decoration, Justin was successful in making a space that provides a sense of security, even if it’s false. (Yes, I’m a former Roman Catholic who was taught by nuns — and spent a lot of time in detention.)

“After seeing Justin’s installation and meeting him during Tilting the Basin exhibition at the NMA in 2016, I knew he would be a perfect fit for the Sierra Arts Gallery,” Brooks said. “We are delighted to host such an unconventional and far-reaching installation from May 5 to 27.”

The gallery is fun and reminded me of one of my birthday parties where I had tissue paper decoration and smashed a piñata. I’ve seen “Sister Act” and “The Sound of Music,” but would not have connected the installation to the movies or as a sanctuary for the LGBTQ community and people of color.   

Brooks suggested I find out what a gay person thought of the exhibit, which I did.

“As a black queer, I believe the exhibition definitely exudes a sense of liberation, maybe not especially to the LGBTQ or POC communities, but most certainly to women of color, which I feel is extremely underrepresented, if not more than other communities,” said artist DePaul Vera. “An overall appreciation of femininity was present (besides literal images of women of color on display) the show used a lot of floral components and festive materials that created an accepting environment.”

A graduate of the University of Reno, Las Vegas with a bachelor of fine arts degree, Justin said some in the academic arena question whether his work should be labeled craft or folk art, based on materials, aesthetics or the artist’s education.

“I just love fucking with the system like that,” he said. “I like to blur the lines and mess with those notions. It’s about representation. It’s about visibility.”

Justin spent two weeks in Reno, installing the exhibit. It wasn’t his first time in Reno, but he said it was his first time to really pay attention to the city and its racial makeup.

“It’s very white here,” he said. “I’m experiencing Reno with a different lens this time. As artists, we can’t ignore it anymore.”

I definitely want to go back and experience this exhibit without it being as packed as it was last week during the opening night reception. I’ll be bi-curious to see if this quiet visit will bring me the sense of security that was Justin’s intent for minorities.

 

Geralda Miller, Curator

A Gay, Black UNR Student Finds His Voice Through His Art

I remember when I first met DePaul Vera.

I can’t tell you anything about the art exhibit on display at the Sheppard Gallery that evening in the fall semester of 2015, but I can tell you that DePaul was sharply dressed, even sporting a bow tie. A black man wearing a bow tie in Reno. I must have flashed back to my years living in Boston and Philadelphia where that was a common occurrence. But not in casual Reno. He was someone I wanted to meet.

I was excited to hear he was an MFA student at the University of Nevada, Reno. I also was fearful how a black, gay man from western Kentucky would be treated, both on campus and out of the university bubble. With a big smile and even bigger personality, he was energetic and eager to delve into his art. He said his goal was to find his voice and discover, through his art, his mission.

“I just want to assert my existence in a white society,” DePaul said during our interview.

But his first show didn’t do that. His first exhibit was drawings of white men in the pop, comic-book style of Roy Lichtenstein. Nowhere in any of those drawings did I see an image like DePaul. He got backlash from his professors, some saying it wasn’t art and others calling it pornography.

DePaul said his committee chair, Paul Baker Prindle, began to challenge him to find his blackness.

“Paul asked me why is a black, gay man from the South only drawing white bodies,” he said. “I don’t know, Paul. Let me figure that out.”

Prindle challenged DePaul to learn African American history to have a better understanding of who he was. So, DePaul began to read an assortment of books, including James Baldwin, W.E.B. DuBois, Stuart Hall, and Tracy Morgan.

“It wasn’t until I accepted my race and identity that I could finally find my voice,” he said.

In his next show, I began to see his voice, especially his Southern Baptist roots. “Hereafter” was a collection of collages of male nudes that included black silhouettes. I was critical of the sloppy cut out work and the grammatical error in his artist statement, but this exhibit was a good move in the right direction toward finding his identity.

It was evident to me that Prindle was a strong, positive influence.

One of the things that has been meaningful to me as the Chairperson of DePaul’s MFA committee is that he has come in to an awareness–a deep awareness–of what it means to be Black and Gay in our world,” Prindle said. “To see a student–any student, but especially students of color–become self-aware and to connect that awareness to the formation of their research practice and their life practice, is so satisfying and meaningful. Seeing DePaul come into his own is worth more than gold.”

After this body of work, DePaul began the conflation of the blackness, homosexuality, and the civil rights movement. And then last summer there was the deadly protest by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, which included a widely-publicized UNR student. DePaul said he had to make something. The result was the hauntingly beautiful archived image of the Ku Klux Klan, with their arms extended, standing in front of a burning cross. But DePaul manipulated it, adding a naked black man facing them while holding a beach ball. It’s a self-portrait.

“How would I embrace the Klan?” he said. “It’s about to be on!”

And it was about to be on with his art. Using images from his collection, he fused black and white men with social and political issues.

Another moving image is of an interracial male couple embracing on a bed, with the words “Let Freedom Ring” tattooed and the back of the white man. Now, I can hear DePaul’s voice!

Now, it’s time for DePaul’s thesis exhibition – “My Soul to Keep.” It will run from April 16 to April 26 at Student Galleries South, which is in the Jot Travis Building.

He said we’re going to see his black identity and history surrounded by the societal perimeter he has had to navigate. Looking back over the past two and a half years, DePaul said he had no idea what he was getting into and if it had not been for Prindle, he would have left.

“I can’t imagine anyone else on my committee being able to handle this content,” he said.

Prindle said he applauds DePaul for the “audacity of the installation and his bravery in tackling overlapping social/cultural topics and values that can be very messy and hard to sort through.”

“His work today is tackling incredibly challenging content that I think is so useful to our society’s continued development,” Prindle said. “He is sharing his observations and struggles with a community who are engaging with him and his work in part because the work is so good and in part because he is so generous with his viewers. We need more humans in this world who are willing to be vulnerable and open to dialogue.”

DePaul will be leaving Reno after he graduates, and I’m not surprised. He said he has found Reno to be as conservative as Kentucky and not much in the gay community.

Perhaps that made it easier for him to focus on his art and find solace in his studio.

It has been a pleasure and a privilege to watch DePaul find his voice and let it ring through his art. I must agree with his final words about this exhibit and make them my final words on this:

“Reno needs to see this. Reno needs this.”

 

Geralda Miller, Curator

 

Photo taken by David Hill.

Let’s Help Send “Maya’s Mind” to D.C.

“Maya’s Mind” is going to the Smithsonian.
This is a very big deal! How many Reno artists have had their work featured in a major exhibit at the world’s largest museum? And so, I must congratulate Mischell “Phoenix” Riley for tirelessly pouring her heart and soul into sculpting this 24-feet-tall monument of Maya Angelou.
It debuted at the Black Rock Desert for Burning Man 2017, and now the 6,000-pound, acid-stained concrete bust will be on exhibit outside of the Renwick Gallery building from March 30 to Jan. 21, 2019 for “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man.”
As I write this blog on the final day of Black History Month, I can’t help but recollect the significance of having this bust at the weeklong festival and the impact I felt seeing it every day. Also, one of my most memorable, and tearful, Burning moments last year was with Phoenix. More on that in a moment.
Several articles have been written about the scarcity of black people that attend the event. According to 2016 census figures, only 1 percent of the approximate 70,000 people who enjoyed all the fun and art were black. (That’s a measly 700 people. Let’s add Maya and make that 701!) And there are even fewer black artists who take their artwork to this spectacular art event, let alone get paid to have it out there. Although she isn’t African American, I was thrilled that Phoenix decided to sculpt this great African American author and poet.
Phoenix said she chose Angelou because of the author’s story of triumph over pain and struggle. Angelou was sexually assaulted as a child by a family member and as a result, spent years as a mute. It is a pain and reaction to it that Phoenix said she related to.
“I used my art to grow out of that and escape,” she said.
Which brings me to my memorable Burning Man moment of 2017.
I’ve had the pleasure of being part of a three-person team that gives the Meet the Artist Tour, which is aired live on Burning Man’s radio station at Black Rock City. I enjoy bragging about all the Reno art and artists that show their work at Burning Man, so I asked Phoenix to talk on-air about her sculpture and read her favorite poem by Ms. Angelou.
I didn’t realize it but Phoenix has a severe reading disability. But in true Angelou fashion, she mustered up the courage and agreed to read “Still I Rise” if I would help her. So, we alternated reading stanzas and I assisted with challenging words. And together we read the last three lines – I rise. I rise. I rise. Listen here to our on-the-playa interview.
For Phoenix, Maya Angelou is an inspiration because of how she rose to become a powerful and successful woman.
“She is a pillar of strength,” Phoenix said in her Hatchfund video. “She is my life. It is an honor to work on her. I want that strength to show through in this monument.”
Not only is it a powerful sculpture but Phoenix also has shown us just how strong she is.
Maya’s Mind will be on the grounds of this magnificent museum in Washington, D.C. for all to see. But Phoenix still needs to raise some money to transport and install it. The Smithsonian gave her $18000 but the total budget is $26,000. To date, she’s raised a little more than half. Let’s show Phoenix, and the Smithsonian, just how proud we are of her ability to rise above her personal struggles and become such a successful Reno artist by donating to her Hatchfund.

 

Geralda Miller, Art Spot Reno Curator

Another boring night in Reno…not any more!

As another year comes to an end with the winter’s coat approaching, it’s a time to sit by the fire and decide which of the holiday festivities to end 2016. An abundance of holiday arts and craft pop-ups  are around town, as well as musical, theatrical and dance performances to delight all ages.

Two of my favorites over the years have been the A.V.A. Ballet Theatre’s popular “Nutcracker,” and Bruka Theater’s hilarious “Buttcracker.” I’ve enjoyed the Nevada Gay Men’s Chorus’ spirited concert. And I’ve purchased locally-made gifts at the annual Holland Project’s Rogue Art+Craft holiday market and Wedge Ceramics Studio’s annual Chilly Cash & Carry.

Although I’ve confessed in one of my blogs that I’m not a David Sedaris fan, this year I’m definitely going to go see “The Santaland Diaries” at Reno Little Theater and the Holiday Bizarre Bazaar, which is held prior to weekend performances. I wonder what unusual finds will be there from some of Reno’s most interesting artisans.

These opportunities allow time to engage with the artists and find unique gifts for everyone on the list. No better afternoon than skipping the lines at the mall and enjoying a cultural experience, while reflecting on those closest to the heart.

One way I keep everything in order is to make a calendar. Have you recently visited the most extensive arts and culture calendar in northern Nevada? We relaunched Art Spot Reno nearly three years ago because of the need for a one-stop shop for all the arts activities happening around our city.

Reno loves the arts. With five theaters, the only accredited museum in Nevada, the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra, two ballet troupes, four major galleries and more than 40 local businesses showcasing regional artists on a rotating basis. You would be hard pressed to walk into a restaurant, bar or salon without seeing original art. But there was a void in the community for an easy and fast way to acquire the details on Reno’s arts events, and artspotreno.com became the solution.

Art Spot Reno is the primary resource on music, visual art, dance and theater, we included literary, film, culinary, fashion, performance art, and healing arts. You can specifically search for artists receptions, Burner events, calls to artists, and all the Artown events found in the Little Book.

This calendar was designed and is updated daily for you to get the most enjoyment out of the tremendously talented mass or artists, dancers, musicians, performers and more. While it’s true that we get a a lot of questions and messages from visitors coming here from all over the world, this calendar is for you.

The holiday season is here and there’s plenty to do around town. So, please peruse and use the calendar. Go see a show, concert, art reception and fall in love with what this community is offering.

For the rest of December, when you are at an event, take a photo and post it on our Facebook page with #morearteverywhere to be entered into a very special contest. 

Wishing you a safe and happy holiday full of egg nog and mistletoe hanging in all the right spots.

Geralda Miller, Art Spot Reno Curator

Geralda Miller, Art Spot Reno Curator

Be authentic and buy local art

I’m sitting at my desk, thinking about this blog I’ve wanted to write all week. Sometimes the words easily flow and other times I just have to wait. So, I sit.

And then…I looked up above my monitor and began to stare at the beautiful encaustic wax monotype print on Japanese paper by Amelia Currier. This was not my first piece by my good friend, but my third. The first was a brightly colored encaustic painting I fell in love with as soon as I saw it. In addition to the colors, I was drawn to the abstract collage of found objects she incorporated into the piece. It was much more than I could afford on my reporter’s salary 13 years ago, but we worked out a payment plan. That was the first piece of art I bought from a Reno artist. I remember how excited I was to find the perfect spot on my wall to showcase it. Unfortunately, the piece didn’t wear well over the years and cracked. The monotype above my computer was its replacement. The second piece I own by Currier I spotted at a silent auction and won by placing the highest bid.  

I now can walk the few rooms in my small home and enjoy the works of several Reno artists. Jill Glenn’s paintings never fail to take me on a far-away journey. I laugh and ponder when looking at Eunkang Koh’s characters that are part human and part animal. And now my black-girl series has grown to four paintings – a beautiful woman Ahren Hertel had in a show at Record Street Café, the silhouette of a sassy woman by Josie Luciano, a woman seated on a chair in only her white panties by Traci Turner, and Lisa Kurt’s painting of a brave little girl in the forest with the animals. And there are others.

I’m not trying to boast because I’ve walked into homes here in Reno and my mouth has dropped, admiring their local art collections. I remember sitting in Dave Aiazzi’s living room while interviewing him only to be distracted by all the magnificent art on the walls. (Thank goodness I taped the interview!) Carla Knight invited me to the home she shares with Remi Jourdan one night last year to play bunco. It was so much fun to move from room to room, enjoying the art that I didn’t mind losing my money at this game of luck.   

I’d like to think I have much in common with these friends. But there is one thing I know we definitely share and that’s our interest in buying local art. I’ve not talked to them about why they support our local artists, I only applaud them for doing so. And I applaud everyone else in Reno who is doing this. You’re keeping your money in our local economy, supporting and investing in a small business (the artist), and you own something very unique. Dorm room posters don’t need to be the start of your art collection. You are more authentic than that!

There are plenty of opportunities to buy local art and become an local arts patron. Art Spot Reno has a calendar highlighting the many art exhibits happening around town. Silent auctions at fundraisers are a great way to purchase art and support a great cause. My favorite is the Sheppard Gallery’s Valentine Auction, which is held every two years. Another great event is happening this weekend and that’s Art Blast. The 5th Annual Visual Art Blast Exhibition and Fair, held Sept. 16th and 17th at McKinley Arts & Culture Center, is an outdoor art fair put on by the City of Reno’s Arts and Culture Commission that features 19 regional artists. Roam the tents and meet the artists, whose work covers a wide variety of mediums. This is a great way to see a variety of styles and find the ones you like most.

My walls are filling up and pretty soon I’m going to have to go salon style or start rotating my art. This definitely is a first world problem that I am proud to have. I hope to see lots of people at Art Blast, either adding to their collections or purchasing their very first piece of local art. Let’s make this an important part in Reno’s art movement.

 

Geralda Miller, Art Spot Reno Curator

Geralda Miller, Art Spot Reno Curator

Reno is the SPOT for year-round art

It’s time to bid farewell to another July. I don’t have much time to sit back and relax because I’ve got more arts-related fun things to do. But I want to take a few minutes to reflect on the past 31 days that were called Artown.

I’m old school. Early in July, my good friend Toni Harris and I sat at her dining room table and marked in our Little Books all the events we wanted to check out. I was very happy to see, thanks to the Sierra Arts Foundation, a celebration of local artists of all genres on opening night. That has been one of the big voids in this month-long festival. Artown’s main goal is “to encourage local artist participation and highlight the best performers in northern Nevada” and they finally did that.

I made the mistake of forgetting to use insect repellent that first week and had the mosquito bites to show for it. But it was a great week to get a cultural infusion with the African Children’s Choir and the South African All Stars, featuring Bakithi Kumalo. Both were delightful concerts. My only disappointment was the dearth of diversity in the audience. It has me pondering: what is it going to take to get more people from racial and ethnic groups in Reno to participate in the arts? Arts and culture should be an important avenue for bridging racial strife. I’m getting tired of sitting in an audience for a culturally rich evening of music or dance with a preponderance of white faces over the age of 60. (It’s time to come up with a hashtag similar to #oscarssowhite. But I digress.)  

I love Pops on the River – the fundraiser at Wingfield Park for the Reno Philharmonic where the orchestra performs a Broadway-inspired concert and people decorate tables and wear costumes. I’ve been attending for quite a few years now, humming along to my favorite show tunes while wearing a fun outfit. But I’m going to call it like it is a confined crawl for elitist. So, if any of you reading this are against the themed downtown crawls, think about how much you love spending $450 or more for a table to decorate and planning your group’s costumes to parade around in and dance in a conga line.

We (Art Spot Reno) helped the businesses on Dickerson Road put on another successful open house called Discover Dickerson. Although it was a scorcher, people roamed the industrial arts district, familiarizing themselves with all that’s offered – ceramics, blacksmithing, jewelry making, bookselling, beer brewing, movie watching, auto repairing, global and urban dancing, gardening, and dining.

Of course I also had to attend the theatrical productions at the Reno Little Theater, Good Luck Macbeth and Brüka Theatre – all enjoyable performances.

While Artown is strong in performing arts, especially music, it’s still lacking in showcasing fine visual art. Thanks goodness for the annual Coeur d’Alene Art Auction, which was held at the Peppermill. I was especially drawn to James Bama’s realistic cowboy paintings and Fritz Scholder’s sincere, contemporary paintings of Native Americans. Costing approximately $30,000 each, none of these magnificent works came home with me. But I have the catalog.  What a tribute it is to Reno to have this auction that’s considered the largest in the field of classic Western and American art. With around 750 bidders and 95 percent of the 313 pieces selling, sales exceeded $18 million.

Well, those were the highlights of my July. Yes, it was busy, but I can be just as busy enjoying the arts in Reno any other month of the year, and so can you. For good reason, our motto is “Reno is the SPOT for year-round art.”  Make it yours, too.

Geralda Miller, Art Spot Reno Curator

Geralda Miller, Art Spot Reno Curator

See It or Not: Art is Transforming Reno

I spent most of today getting a maker space ready for the big Gateway party tomorrow night. It’s been a non-stop week with meetings, art receptions and attending to a sick dog at home; and I wasn’t very excited about trying to transform a warehouse into a presentable party venue. But with the help of some super volunteers all pitching in, I gradually altered my mindset. By this afternoon, I looked around and was quite pleased with the day’s makeover. My personal shift has me pondering the concept of transformation – from attitudes, to structures, to place.

The Gateway Project is a group of nonprofits, community businesses and volunteers who are raising funds to bring Burning Man sculptures to Reno. This rag-tag group (I can say that since I’m one of them.) is part of Reno’s transformation. Last October, we held our inaugural event and raised money to bring Gary Gunderson’s “Pentamonium” to the Lear Theater grounds. Drive by that corner on any given day and you’ll likely see someone inspecting this interesting apparatus. And if you’re lucky, you’ll hear people playing the carillon with its harmonious bells. This year, the group is helping raise money to bring a Playa Park, containing three or four sculptures, to the Lear property. The park is the brainchild of Maria Partridge, an artist and the Artist Advocate for Burning Man. Partridge was awarded a $4,000 Global Arts Grant for her idea and this year’s reception and party is to help raise the rest of the funds needed to bring the sculptures to Reno. And while the beautiful, historical building remains shuttered, the grounds have come alive – transformed into a creative space.

And speaking of creative spaces, this year’s event is being held at Artech, a 61,000 square-foot warehouse in west Reno where artists are learning to be creative entrepreneurs. “We believe in the transformative power of creativity,” the website explains. It makes perfect sense to have this party at a facility that is practicing Burning Man’s ethos and contributing to Reno’s transformation.

If you were to stand at the Ralston Avenue/Riverside Drive junction for the next year with your eyes wide open, you would see the area’s creative metamorphosis. Not only will there be a Playa Park, but across the street will be a sculpture garden comprised of temporary artwork that was funded by the Rotary Club of Reno.  And because all the art is temporary, the area will be dynamic.

I believe this neighborhood is going to be the catalyst for positive change in downtown Reno. This art is going to shape the physical and social character of this area. Situated right on the Truckee River, more visitors and local residents – families, couples on date nights, even exercisers – will stroll this district, explore, and in some way be positively impacted.

Not that I’m comparing Reno to Washington, D.C, but I’ll never forget more than 20 years ago when I was in that magnificent city on business. It was the hot, sticky summer, so very early in the morning I would go out on my runs. One morning while running along the National Mall, I stopped suddenly and was taken aback when I came upon a garden filled with Henry Moore sculptures. I’m sure my heart rate remained elevated because of my excitement. I tell this story because I still remember that experience and that, undoubtedly, was an integral part of my personal creative transformation. And who knows, perhaps a playful piece that has touched the playa or some interesting work across the street in Bicentennial Park will place some very lucky people on a path of personal self transformation. The city already is on that path, whether it realizes it or not.

Geralda Miller, Art Spot Reno Curator

Geralda Miller, Art Spot Reno Curator

We’re leaving positive traces and trails

Tadalafil Oral Strips I’m still basking in the afterglow of Burning Man’s 10th annual Global Leadership Conference, held the first weekend in April. Five hundred of Burning Man’s global representatives and community leaders – ambassadors of the Burning Man culture from around the world – converged in San Francisco for this invitation-only affair. This year’s theme was “Workshopping the Future: Leaving a Positive Trace.” I’m convinced that everyone who participated was inspired and motivated to leave a lasting impact in their cities and the world. We learned from Burners who are already doing it.

I was especially impressed with two presentations during the plenary sessions – the founders of CHIditarod and Ramez Naam, a computer scientist, philosopher and science-fiction writer. I sat in awe, wondering how many others surrounding me were doing exceptional things like this.

Devin Breen went to Burning Man for the first time in 2005 and returned to his hometown of Chicago inspired to create participatory change. The next year, he began an urban version of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race that’s held in Alaska that’s called CHIditarod. Instead of dogs and sleds, teams of five people in costume push decorated shopping carts, called art carts, through a neighborhood. Each team must start with their cart filled with food for donation. This year, 535 people raced, raising 15,000 pounds of food and more than $32,000 for local nonprofits working to alleviate hunger in the Chicago area. This event – with the motto: Dress Up. Cause Chaos. DO GOOD. – has all of the elements for it to be a success in Reno. We love to dress up in costume any chance we get. Renoites love to crawl. And people love to give to a great cause.

I returned, wondering if Art Spot Reno is beginning to leave a positive trace on the city. I believe we are, but there’s always more to do. We’ve got, in my opinion, the best calendar to find out what’s happening in the arts. We’re also trying to provide multiple ways to see all the great art we have in our city. There’s the first Thursday art walk and the monthly Midtown mural tours. And, loosely tying in with the conference I attended, we recently added the Playa Art Trail on the website. This page highlights seven sculptures that have been permanently placed, and one piece that has a temporary home in Reno. You can use the Google map and take your own driving tour, admiring the works that have been part of the Burning Man festival over the years. That’s a pretty positive trail.

I have a tendency to beat myself up and think I’m not doing enough. Well, this time I’m going to give myself a break. I’m going to refer to the CHIditarod, which just held its eleventh race and remember that, in May, we’ll be celebrating our two-year anniversary. I’d love to have 535 people coming out for our events monthly and maybe we can make that happen by 2025. In the meantime, I’m going to make it a goal to make sure Art Spot Reno continues to help leave a positive trace about the arts in our city.

 

Geralda Miller, Art Spot Reno Curator

Geralda Miller, Art Spot Reno Curator

Sabbatical Brings Renewed Commitment

I’m baaack!

I’ve been on a three-month sabbatical for research. My research project was participating in a play with the Nevada Repertory Company – Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.” It’s an American classic that, in 1959, was the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway and directed by an African American.

Here we are still making history 57 years later. When the play opened and ran for two weekends in March at the University of Nevada, Reno, it made history as the first play with a black cast to perform on campus. When asked why I agreed to be in the play, my response is: “how could I say ‘no’ to making history.”

The play is a response to Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem,” which begins with the question “What happens to a dream deferred?” The person who I applaud for actualizing her dream is Director Sandra Brunell Neace. Three years ago, Neace directed “Doubt: A Parable.” When I interviewed her for an article in the Reno Gazette-Journal, I asked her about the lack of diversity in the acting pool in Reno. At that time she said: “We don’t have a lot of African-American or Hispanic actors coming to our auditions. There are so many great plays that we could do if we had some African-American actors in our ensemble that we could pull from. How boring is it to have white people up there all the time? It’s boring. We need more diversity.”

Neace, who teaches at UNR, saw the caliber of black students in the theater department and knew this was the time to bring one of the hallmarks of American theater to Reno. All she needed was a “mature” black woman to play Mama and a 10-year-old black boy. She asked me to audition and I just happened to know a little boy interested in acting.

Now I’m not an actor by any means. Yes, about six years ago I was the Angry Vagina in the Vagina Monologues, but that was nothing compared to the daunting task I committed to. I knew that agreeing to do this meant I had to give it everything I had. My cast, the university and my community deserved that.

Yes, I neglected Art Spot for a few months, and I hope you forgive me.

Several people have asked me if I had fun. After much contemplation, I think not. Yes, it was rewarding, demanding, fulfilling, and magical, but it was not fun. In so many ways, that play and the role I played is my history – my family, my ancestors, me. I cried in rehearsals and every night on stage.

One of my roles as a blogger and co-owner of Art Spot Reno is to be an advocate for the arts. This experience has cemented that charge. I sincerely believe more than ever that we must pay artists for their time and expertise. I know the many hours I devoted to this and think about all of the artists in our community who dedicate their lives to bringing us joy, identity, awareness, and so much more. They deserve to be compensated for our enjoyment.

Now about that other issue of more diversity…

Geralda Miller, Art Spot Reno Curator

Geralda Miller, Art Spot Reno Curator