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

Reno is an ART town!

My idea of a summer arts festival is like the Ann Arbor Art Fair, which really is four juried art fairs in one, held over four days in July. Like Artown, the Ann Arbor Art Fair was started to be an economic boost to the city’s downtown, which nearly died when the University of Michigan students left for summer break. The first fair, held 55 years ago, covered two blocks with the works of 132 artists. This year, it’s expected more than 1,000 artists will participate, booths will span more than 30 blocks and at least 500,000 people will attend.

Having lived in several big cities back east, I understand the concept of summer arts festivals and have attended a fair share. So when I moved to Reno in December 2002, I asked co-workers about the arts scene. They told me about Artown.

After my first Northern Nevada winter and watching the snow melt on Peavine, I was eager to check out Artown. I remember the first time I rifled through the infamous “little book,” wondering where the art was. Yes, there was top-notch dance and music (Mikhail Baryshnikov and Bradford Marsalis were performing), but how can a so-called arts festival lack visual arts?

Over the years, I continued to eagerly await the arrival of the “little book,” expecting at some point to see a juried art show scheduled for one of the weekends.

It took me a while, but I finally realized what Christine Fey, Reno’s resource development and cultural affairs manager, explained so well in the current Reno News & Review. She said: “Sometimes people don’t realize how Artown actually works. Artown is much more of a marketing arm for the arts, for what happens during the festival.”

Yes, Artown receives a chunk of money from the city and hosts fundraisers to put on concerts in July, but it’s arts organizations and local businesses that organize and hold most events advertised in that “little book. “

It also has year-round art

Many people still think that July is the only month for enjoying the arts in Reno. But most of those organizations and businesses listed in the book have arts events year round.

I’ve had folks in the arts community tell me for the longest time that one of the biggest problems was Reno didn’t have one good calendar for the arts. You could find some listings at the Reno Gazette-Journal and some at the RN&R, but it was spotty at best.

When we were planning to re-launch this Art Spot website, I knew we had to have the mother-of-all-art-calendars. It had to encompass all art genres, be easy to maneuver through and provide enough information to motivate you to get off of the couch and participate. With more than 530 Reno events listed in What’s Happening, I’d say we’re off to an excellent start.

My little Artown book for this year is on my desk. Like Christine, I will go through it and highlight what events I want to check out. Yes, everything in that book is on the Art Spot Reno website, too, but call me old school. By the end of the month, that “little book” will have dog-eared pages.

And on the “33rd day,” when Artown is all packed up for 2014, I know any Reno resident, any out-of-town visitor who wants to know what’s going on in this city – from visual art, dance, music, film, performance art, theater, literary arts, and even Art Blast, the city’s upcoming juried art show – will have a SPOT at which to find out.


Geralda Miller, Curator

Geralda Miller, Curator

We Look Pretty One Day

Although I’m an avid reader, I’ve not read any of David Sedaris’ books. I wasn’t really interested in reading the personal stories of a white man growing up. That just seemed so far removed from my personal experiences.

I remember last year when many of my friends were so excited to go see him speak at the Pioneer Center. Most of them seemed surprised when I told them I didn’t want to go and had never read any of his books. I think they thought my words sacrilegious.

I felt vindicated when I read Christian Lander’s blog “Stuff White People Like.” There it was, #25 – David Sedaris.

“White people universally love David Sedaris. So if they ever ask you “who are you favorite authors?” you should always reply “David Sedaris.” They will instantly launch into a story about how much they love his work, and the conversation will go from there, and you don’t have to talk about books any more.”

So I just loved it when I heard that Sedaris went on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and commented about a woman in Reno who approached him during the book signing.

“She was wearing a Count Chocula T-shirt and she was in her 60s and I said, ‘is that your good Count Chocula t-shirt? And she said, I didn’t think anyone was going to notice.’ ”

I’m now thinking, ‘damn, I wished I would have gone just to see this!’

And then I read Karen Wikander’s blog: “The Count Chocula Incident.” She confirmed the varied attire of the audience with “women wearing cute spring dresses and men wearing suits — and there were people in shorts and t-shirts, and, honestly, a lot of sweatpants.”

Now this is starting to sound like the Reno I know — where I can go to a black tie affair and someone at the table will be wearing khakis, without a tie.

Then Wikander, managing editor of Nevada Humanities’ Online Nevada Encyclopedia, nailed it in her critical analysis:

“Sedaris observed something about our city and talked about it. He didn’t exaggerate — he observed and reported. Honestly? I think we should just own it. For better or worse this is a state filled with stubborn, free-thinkers, and that informs our sense of place. In fact, if I had to anthropomorphize Nevada I would say it was a lot like John Locke from LOST — “Don’t tell me what I can or can’t do!”

But it was what she wrote next that had me admiring this so-called funny author whom I never cared to read or listen to. She wrote about how considerate he is and one of the riders in his contract is that he be allowed to spend as much time as he needs with each person he meets. This meant he was at the Pioneer Center until 1:30 in the morning signing books!

I’m impressed!

Sedaris is speaking this week at Sundance Books and Music. He’ll be speaking from the veranda of that beautiful, old white building on California Avenue.

I’m a bit disappointed I have another commitment that evening because I would have worn my “Keep Reno Awkward” T-shirt and listened to his lecture, bought one of his books, waited to get it signed and said ‘thank you, Mr. Sedaris for seeing us for who we really are.’


Geralda Miller, Curator

Geralda Miller, Curator

Reno: Glitter and Grit

A couple of weeks ago, a Facebook friend sent me a private message and told me she didn’t like the Art Spot Reno logo. She said the graphics lacked “art sophistication.”

My comment to her was: “…We’re about art, but not limited to art sophistication because that’s not what Reno is about. Reno’s art scene is both sophistication and the gritty, grassroots.”

We wanted a logo that was fun and welcoming. It started with the “A,” which is three strokes with a paintbrush.

Some say it resembles the anarchist “A,” others say it’s the Star Trek symbol.

I say ‘cool, whatever resonates with you is fine with me.’

Author Nina Gurianova created the term ‘aesthetics of anarchy,” or making art without rules, to define an early twentieth century period of the Russian avant-garde that she argues was a big influencer for early twentieth century modernists.

While there are many artists in Reno who are imitative, predictable and safe, some are listening to that voice within and going their own way. (And there are a few who just seem to be on another planet — that place where no one has traveled before.)

Although I might sometimes mumble an occasional ‘oy vey,’ it still gets the “A” stamp as art.

 Make art without rules.

It is my honor to bestow the Art Spot “A” to photographer Kelci McIntosh, whose unsanitized photographs of downtown Reno recently landed on the VICE magazine website.

I went to the website, read the few paragraphs she wrote, describing Reno as “a Glitter Gulch” and “the original Sin City,” and then examined the 25 photos.

She captured a realistic slice of Reno life inside the casinos, along the Truckee River, and at what could be any of the many weekly motels – the downtown neighborhood.

Two days after the photos went live, she wrote on her Facebook page “I have already started to receive hate mail!” and posted one from someone who’s lived here for 20 years and said “You didn’t tell the whole story. Yes. You could visit any town in America and focus on the their (cq) poorest citizenry.” The person then listed a litany of places and events that Kelci missed, such as the Nevada Museum of Art, Arte Italia, Reno Balloon Races, and the Rib Cook-Off.

I don’t think the complainer looked carefully at the photos or they would have noticed that Kelci did shoot Hot August Nights. Remember the backside of the obese woman directing traffic? (I think that’s my favorite.)

Kelci also captured a typical, summer day along the Reno Riverwalk. The one of young people sunbathing on the rocks, with that blonde beauty — bruised legs crossed, twirling a lock and seemingly fine with the fact she’s neglected to do those sit ups.

Bravo Kelci! You accomplished with your photographs what I’ve attempted for years through my articles and thesis in History, and that is to provide a voice to unnoticed and underserved populations.

In the Reno Gazette-Journal article, Abbi Whitaker, owner and president of The Abbi Agency, complained that Kelci took a “dig at vulnerable people.”

That’s not how I see it at all. I think she shined the light on Reno’s invisible. There’s a big difference.

One of the speeches I love to deliver when invited to speak to groups on race and ethnicity in Nevada is titled “The Not-So-Sweet Home of Nevada.” Kelci’s photos show the not-so-sweet side of Reno. It’s a side that cannot be ignored or swept under the sage brush. It’s a part of Reno and its gritty history.

So Kelci, I hope you’re not swayed by the grouches out there and become predictable and safe. I hope you continue to make art without rules. I’m looking forward to seeing other views of paradise through your lens.


Geralda Miller, Curator

Geralda Miller, Curator


Make an Impression and Know about Reno’s Arts

A friend recently hosted a dinner party while her mother was visiting Reno from Cleveland. It was a lovely evening with delicious dishes and great conversation. I always enjoy chatting with out-of state visitors. It’s a way to stay connected with what’s going on in the arts in the rest of the country. I also get to find out what they think of my city.

Diana lives in Cleveland, Ohio. Although she didn’t know about Corky & Lenny’s, which, in my opinion, is one of the best Jewish delis around, she knew what was going on in her arts community.

She told me about the 20-foot-tall outdoor chandelier that recently was positioned in Cleveland’s theater district and hangs 24 feet over a the area’s main intersection. We then talked about the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra and its music director, Franz Welser-Möst. But she was most excited to tell me about the Cleveland Museum of Art’s recent expansion and renovation, which added more than 35,000 square feet of gallery space, including Gallery One, a high-tech space that features interactions with top pieces of art. Plus, the museum is free.

Diana most definitely wasn’t a philistine and was proud to tell me all that was happening culturally in her city that sits on the southern shore of Lake Erie. But she also enjoyed coming to Reno and said she even has encouraged her friends to visit the Biggest Little City.

Really, I asked. What impresses you most about Reno? The public art, she said.

Explore and learn

I’ve been thinking about my conversation with Diana and wondering what Renoites would say about their city’s arts and culture scene.

When I asked one of the women running for mayor that question, I knew she wasn’t getting my vote when the only thing she talked about was what happens in July. One month doesn’t make a year and it definitely doesn’t make an arts city.

That’s the main reason for Art Spot Reno. We want to celebrate Reno as the spot for year-round art. And if you don’t know what’s going on, we’ve made it very easy to find out with a comprehensive calendar. Please use it and explore your city.

When you go on those summer vacations and someone asks about Reno, I want you to be as impressive as Diana was about her city.


Here are a few things that impress me about Reno’s arts and culture scene:

  • The city has more than 170 pieces of public art and its collection is commensurate to a city the size of Sacramento. The city’s sculpture collection includes many national names, including Michael Heizer’s “Perforated Object” in front of the Bruce R. Thompson Federal Courthouse on South Virginia. Heizer is known for the 340-ton boulder that sits on the grounds at the L.A. County Museum of Art.
  • The Nevada Museum of Art is the only accredited art museum in the state.
  • Because Reno is the gateway to Burning Man, the city has become a key location for pre-building and staging playa art. Artists and builders around the world are watching how Reno is doing this.


Geralda Miller, Curator

Geralda Miller, Curator

It’s Time To Break That Jazzy Glass Ceiling

Saturday night  was a wonderful evening, jamming in my seat while listening to a quartet, three of whom were women.  I was at the Women of Jazz concert at the Sands casino.

Mimi Fox, a guitarist from the Bay Area, led these fine musicians – Cindy Browne on bass, Susan Pascal on vibes, and Jason Lewis on drums – to tight, cohesive breaks, while also delivering her virtuosic technique. With her eyes squinting and head bobbing, Fox entertained, playing some originals and her straight-ahead renditions.

As I sat in the half-filled ballroom, I began to wonder why I don’t see more female jazz musicians gracing stages. We’re very lucky to have such fine musicians living here in Reno. It goes back to the years when casinos had house bands that performed with all the big acts that made sure to play in The Biggest Little City. Many of those old-time musicians are part of the Reno Jazz Orchestra, while the big band also has been able to get professors and students from the University of Nevada, Reno’s fine music department. With all that talent, I’ve yet to see one female musician sitting amongst them.

So, where are the women?

I’m not the only one who’s wondering what’s going on. Vern Scarbrough, director of Reno Youth Jazz Orchestra, said he’s “quite surprised” with the sparseness of professional female jazz musicians. Luckily, about 10 of his 40 band members are females, a ratio he proudly says has remained pretty consistent. And several of his alumnae are pursuing college degrees in music. But Scarbrough says that’s not the norm. All you have to do is go to UNR’s Reno Jazz Festival and you’ll see the dearth of female musicians performing with high school bands.

I’m very happy to know that our local youth jazz orchestra has so many young ladies mastering their instruments and continuing to do so in college, but I think we missed an opportunity Saturday night to inspire more young women. Remember, I said the ballroom only was half filled. So why weren’t those empty seats filled with young musicians who would have had the chance to be stirred by watching women perform on stage? I’ll never forget when Christine Kelly, owner of Sundance Books and Music, bought tickets last year for 106 music students to hear Itzhak Perlman perform. That’s the kind of opportunity we need to be giving young people, especially females, with jazz.

I want to see more women shattering that jazzy glass ceiling!


Geralda Miller, Curator

Geralda Miller, Curator

Changing the Cultural Mindset

A woman who called last week told me her landlord had a wall next to his building that he’d like to have someone paint a mural on. He could supply the paint but not pay them.

I contacted a few muralists I know whose work is prominent around Reno about the inquiry. An enriching dialogue ensued that’s had me thinking about the value we place on our local artists, actors, dancers, writers and musicians.

One of the muralists said: “… it is like asking a dentist to pull a tooth for free because you’re famous or something.”

“I would love to do an awesome mural, but I have a hard time doing them for free anymore,” said another. “This is my job, and I have to pay the bills.”

A few years ago, one of these artists probably would’ve jumped at the opportunity to have a wall on which to display their craft. But they’ve been there and done that. And who knows, they still might feel a bit of a rebellion against the man at some point, go out in the wee hours and find a wall to be expressive. For the most part, they’ve evolved and joined the league of legitimacy. Their work always has had value, even contributing to the beautification and revival of a neighborhood, but now it has worth.

I feel as if I must apologize to them for even presenting them with this proposal.

They’re right. Other professionals trained in a specific field get paid for their services. So why is it that Reno is comfortable not paying those instrumental in its cultural development? And, more importantly, what is it going to take to change this mindset?

Change or status quo?

These are questions Chad Sweet, producing artistic director for Good Luck Macbeth, ponders. He said he even wonders what would happen if every theater company in Reno decided to shutter.

“I don’t know,” he said. He assumes people probably would pay a little bit more and see the traveling theater that comes to Reno, whose actors, by the way, get paid.

There’s one thing Sweet knows.

“If you don’t have home-grown arts and culture, you have a shell of a community,” he said. “If that happens, Reno just turns into what it used to be.”

Good Luck Macbeth recently began asking for community support to help pay its actors.

“We believe all artists have a right to make a living for their work,” according to GLM’s website.

To begin to answer those difficult questions, I think it goes back to those notions of value and worth. Reno must develop a sense of pride and value those contributing to the local cultural arts. No, you don’t have to drive over the hill to see, or hear, talent.

And more artists, writers, actors, dancers and musicians must, like those muralists, recognize their self worth and say “no” to working for free, or for less than they’re worth.

I always like to go to the lowest common denominator and ask, “what’s the worst that could happen.” In this case, my Ouija board says the worst thing that could happen is things staying the same for Reno. The city has the most to lose from not valuing its community.

Geralda Miller, Curator

Geralda Miller, Curator


The New “Misfits”

A couple of years ago, I viewed an impressive exhibit at the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center about a group of artists who lived in Virginia City after World War II and experimented with abstract art.

“Post-War Bohemians in Northern Nevada” showcased 60 pieces, including works from Zoray Andrus, Betty Bliss, Nancy Bowers, Gus Bundy, Robert Cole Caples, Ben Cunningham, Joanne de Longchamps, Robert Hartman, Ruth Hilts, Louis Siegriest, Craig Sheppard, Yolande Sheppard, Adine Stix, Marge Tanner, Richard Guy Walton and Ed Yates.

I was amazed that these artists had found their way, between 1945 and 1965, to this gritty town located in the mountains about 30 miles southeast of Reno. When I think of a respite for artists during those years in the West, Mabel Dodge Luhan and her artist colony in Taos, New Mexico immediately comes to mind. This was where one of my favorite artists, Georgia O’Keeffe, escaped to in 1929 and continued to visit until she finally relocated in 1949 to property outside of Santa Fe.

She might not have been a wealthy heiress as Luhan, but Andrus was the Virginia City hostess. She and her husband converted a brewery into a studio and living quarters around 1935, which became the popular gathering place for artists.

Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift might have coined the phrase with their 1961 film, but these Virginia City artists were Northern Nevada’s true misfits.

A little quirky

Reno now has its misfits.

They’re in warehouses on Dickerson Road, at the Generator in Sparks, on both ends of Fourth Street, in Midtown, and spreading like cheatgrass.

Reno Art Works, which is an organization located in one of those Dickerson Road warehouses that provides gallery and studio space for artists, sells a great T-shirt that should be the misfit’s credo: “Keep Reno Awkward.”

I’m not sure where “West of Center” is, but I immediately understand awkward, or my favorite adjective for Reno – quirky.

It’s a city where Hawaiian florals and hipster plaids mingle in the halls while watercolor landscapes and abstracts hang on walls. It’s a city where a theater company decides to showcase new, local works instead of the familiar.

They’re the new misfits – the rebels, the individualists, the mavericks.

These misfits sure do sound like they fit Nevada’s libertarian ethos to me.


Geralda Miller, Curator

Geralda Miller, Curator

Art Spot Flags are a Symbol of Cultural Vibrancy

Oh, say, can you see in the day’s abundant light all those vibrant Art Spot Reno flags flying in the Truckee Meadows?

Maybe you never noticed the flags, splashed with a vivid “Art Spot,” hanging in front of cafés, art galleries, boutiques and other Reno businesses. Or maybe you’ve seen the banners and wondered what they meant.

The flags started popping up in the autumn months of 2012 at places that show art. But they’re more than just a marker. They symbolize the ideal of community engagement, help build our city’s arts and culture identity and, along with that, a sense of pride.

I first noticed one hanging outside Homage Bakery and immediately asked the owner about it. She flew the flag because art created by local artists hung on most walls in her quaint house-converted-into-a-cafe. But I realized another reason Homage deserved to be an Art Spot. Her baked delicacies also are works of art — briefly admired before savored.

An Arts “Renossance”

Last month, I attended Burning Man’s Global Leadership Conference in San Francisco. More than 300 people from around the world converged to share ideas on how to grow the Burning Man ethos.

One of the first presentations during the plenary session was delivered by three people who are working on projects in Reno. They titled their presentation, “Renossance.” Collectively, they shared how Reno has become a hotbed of creative expression. I sat in my chair and had my Michelle Obama moment. For the first time in my 11 years living in Reno, I felt proud to be from The Biggest Little City in the World. For the rest of the conference, when people from all those big cities heard I was from Reno, they praised what we’re doing here. I proudly was waving my internal flag.

A few years ago, I wrote an article saying there was a flicker in Reno’s arts community and time would tell if that would grow. Well, it has. I’m going to agree with those three presenters that we are in the “Renossance.”

So now, what?

Now is the time to wave our flag and boast our arts scene – our visual artists, our musicians, our actors, our writers, our dancers and those who appreciate/enjoy it.

Now is the time to rebuild our city’s cultural identity.


Geralda Miller, Curator