Public Art: Time-Place-Meaning

It’s no secret that I enjoy going to Burning Man. If the Black Rock Desert dries in time, this will be my tenth consecutive year attending the event. It was the large-scale art installations that were so alluring that I looked forward to returning each year, and still do. I’m awestruck by the massive sculptures – some shooting fire, others are intricately lit and dance with LED light patterns. It’s a playground of spectacular art installations that allow the 70,000 people who attend the weeklong event to become physically or emotionally engaged. While taking a group last week on a tour of Reno’s downtown public art, I commented that I believed Burning Man was a good example of how public art should be. Her response was – is it public art if you must buy a ticket to see it.

I love it when I’m challenged to think critically about something. Right now, I’m trying to understand public art and its meaning. My personal examination began last month after attending a Passover dinner where this was the topic of conversation while enjoying dessert. Our dinner was right after Reno City Council decided to temporarily place the Space Whale sculpture, which is a life-size, stain glass humpback whale and calf that was first seen last year at Burning Man, at City Plaza. The decision caused lots of chatter. I’ve heard and read pros and cons. Many asked why is the city using their money for this instead of using that money for something like repairing potholes. Reno Gazette-Journal newsman Mark Robison wrote a great article that explains that a small portion of room tax must go to public art. Whoever the person was that came up with the idea of using part of the tax money from tourists for the city’s public art, I applaud you! Others complained that Reno has too much Burning Man art. And to those people I suggest you come on one of our downtown public art tours we give and see the variety of public art that’s here. For a city our size, the collection is quite impressive. But back to Passover dessert.

I sat at the table across from Paul Baker Prindle, Director of Galleries at the University of Nevada, Reno. While enjoying my first blackberries of the season, Paul said he’d like to see more public art in Reno instead of outside art. Wait…what? I’d never heard this distinction before and now needed to understand the difference. It’s one with which I’m still trying to grasp. Public art engages the viewer whereas outside art is there simply to look at. Does this mean there has to be physical engagement or a visceral reaction for it truly to be considered public art? I’m reminded of a talk Paul hosted four years ago on public art. Women from Daily Tous Les Jours, a French Canadian design group, spoke about their installation in Montreal called 21 Swings. Twenty-one swings hung in Montreal’s entertainment district. When people would swing, instrumental sounds filled the air. As more people would swing, melodies and harmonies formed. It is described on their website as “an exercise in musical cooperation…thus stimulating a sense of community and ownership of space.” OK, now I’m having a lightbulb moment! Perhaps that’s the true meaning of public art — that which stimulates a sense of community and ownership of space.

I was awakened at that Passover dinner. I think my exploration and understanding of what is public art has only just begun. Paul is sharing books and articles with me on the topic and I now have plenty of reading material. It is with this acute lens that I will walk the Reno streets, examining our art collection. Does Reno’s public art stimulate a sense of community and ownership? Does it express our community values, heighten our awareness or challenge our assumptions? As you can tell, at this point I’ve still got more questions than answers on the topic. (I welcome your thoughtful comments.) What I do know for sure is that the quality of any artwork we have on display in our city must always be of the highest quality. And that doesn’t mean it has to be high art.

The Association for Public Art says:  Public art is a reflection of how we see the world – the artist’s response to our time and place combined with our own sense of who we are.” Who are we, Reno? It’s obvious we’re becoming an arts hub and we’re the gateway to Burning Man and temporarily displaying some of its art. Now, let’s bring art like the 21 Swings here and develop a strong sense of play and community.

 

Geralda Miller, Curator

Censorship: What the Fuck!

I love coffeehouses. I’m sitting at Homage Bakery, with my laptop, a pot of soothing green tea and a posset. This old house has been a regular hangout of mine since it opened five years ago. It has the perfect vibe — a fusion of great coffee and tea, delicious treats, people chatting in the three cozy rooms, and compelling art on the walls.

I was especially excited when Vernon Alumbaugh, father of the establishment’s owner, began curating the walls with absorbing, artistic photographs. Whether color or black and white, landscapes, portraits or photojournalism, the images always draw me in, take me on a journey to some exotic location, or stir an emotional reaction. I must admit that on several occasions I’ve been so absorbed by a photograph that I’ve not been engaged as much in a conversation as I should have been.

Being a former journalist who has covered protests, I was especially captivated with Alumbaugh’s protest photographs. It really didn’t matter which protest it was, I felt the emotion in the messages, texture, light and composition.

Photography is in Alumbaugh’s blood. He grew up scrolling the pages of Time, Life, National Geographic and Look magazines, wondering how those photojournalists captured those incredible images. When he picked up the Nikon, he said his goal was to capture all that you wouldn’t have seen even if you had been there.

“We miss so much without that camera,” he said in a recent conversation. “You’re not going to take it all in.”

It’s so true. I even find it difficult sometimes to take in all the details in a strong photograph. Alumbaugh’s series on the 2011 Occupy Oakland protests is a good example. The faces, the signs, the reflections, the grit and grime — so much to see and feel. Although the images were taken six years ago, they could have easily been shot at the recent marches in Reno. I attended the Reno March on Washington and, with more than 10,000 people participating, I’m pleased that photographers, both amateur and professional, were capturing it. We must see it all — that which makes us laugh, cry and squirm.

So, I was surprised when I heard that a woman who visited Homage voiced her concern about one of Alumbaugh’s photographs that has the word “fuck” scrawled on the sidewalk with chalk. Not only did she demand that they remove the photograph, she then went on a social networking site, complaining when they asked her to leave the coffeehouse.

“We’re not going to take anything down,” Alumbaugh said. “I don’t feel that any of the work here is over the line. We’ve had full nudes and no one has complained.”

I applaud his stance. What’s at stake here is more censorship of art. The protests are bound to continue and photographers must be able to document that.

“We’re coming to a point in time we haven’t had in a long time,” he said. “We’re going to see some incredible work. Protests are going to turn into conflict and I think it’s extremely crucial to capture that.”

Howard Goldbaum, who teaches photography in the Reynolds School of Journalism, said that while a publication might have its own editorial policy that could cause the omission of a certain photograph, the photographer should always go after the shot.

“As a photojournalist, I am responsible for taking the photographs, obscenities and all,” he said. “While we must remain sensitive to the feelings of those who are experiencing trauma and tragedy, we should never censor our shooting. As W.E. Smith said, ‘let truth be the prejudice.’”

My concerns about censorship go beyond photographing protests and its messages. It’s visual art, performance art, theater and literary. In the past two years, I’ve seen it happen at two major local arts institutions — the Nevada Museum of Art and Artown.

In May 2015, the museum cordoned Erika Harrsch’s exhibit that included a room with around 60,000 printed Monarch butterflies blanketing the floor because someone complained that the body of the butterfly was the image of female genitalia. Now, I have one of the butterflies in my bathroom and know that whoever complained really had to examine it up close. But, instead of using it as an opportunity to have meaningful conversation about procreation and genitalia, museum administrators decided to limit the impact of the exhibit by restricting access.

In that same year, one of Franz Szony’s images was selected to be the Artown poster. Szony was alarmed when he was asked to modify the image, removing the nude nymphs. Luckily, the original image was on display during July at Sierra Arts Foundation and limited-edition, signed copies of the original poster were sold. Local institutions and business should not be fearful offending someone. Thank you, Vernon Alumbaugh!

If I walked through the rooms in any of the major museums in the world, I would see works that were once considered scandalous and immoral. I treasured glancing at Gustave Courbet’s painting “The Origin of the World” in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, painted a century and a half before Brazilians became popular.

Artists must continue to practice freedom of expression, and I hope they are not limiting themselves and their artwork for fear of being offensive. Author Henry Louis Gates said, “Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice.”

Recently, a University of Nevada, Reno art student told me he censored his art project, which included homosexual content, so he wouldn’t have to deal with the criticism. My soul wept. We must not unnerve our artists. We cannot have them playing it safe.

Art is a vital component of a healthy urban ecosystem. And that’s what our city wants. We must continue to look at, hear, and read works of art that make us uncomfortable. Let’s truly be a creative community and use the arts as an opportunity to confront the uncomfortable issues, not censor them.

 

Geralda Miller, 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

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

 

 

 

2015 Reflection – Reno arts scene emanates joy and awe

Peruse the Internet and you’ll find one “best of 2015’ list after another — best movies, best books, best albums. It’s an easy way to reflect on the past year. Reviewing my 2015 calendar one last time, I can say there was a copious amount of exceptional arts events in Reno. Our motto is: “Reno is the SPOT for year round art” and this year truly confirmed that.

Between my business partner, Eric Brooks, theater critic Galen Watson and myself, we attended many openings, exhibits, plays and festivals. We didn’t have a strategy, just attended what interested us. There were some disappointments (and always will be), but Reno’s 2015 arts scene, for the most part, was enjoyable. I applaud those who brought newness — Off Beat Festival, Sculpture Fest and the Gateway Project. It’s events like these that allow us to confirm that Reno is filled with creative people and becoming an arts destination. I also commend Paul Baker Prindle, director of Sheppard Contemporary and University Galleries, for two notable exhibits that engaged wide and diverse audiences – “I Am My Brother’s Keeper,” and Tehching Hsieh: One Year Performance 1980 – 1981.

I’m also proud of the Midtown Mural Tour we started this year. The walk is a great way to view many artistic gems. I’m going to go all out here and say it’s the BEST mural tour in Reno.

That’s enough reflecting for me. I’ve got to start filling in my 2016 calendar. But please continue reading what Eric and Galen praised in 2015.

My New Year’s prediction (no crystal ball needed): It’s going to be a very busy 2016 in the arts!

***

Eric Brooks:

This last weekend marks my third year anniversary as a Renoite. Thank you for having me. It has been an incredible journey, with the path just beginning. As I reflect upon the last 12 months, I am in wonder of what was shown to us. 2015 was a whirlwind of receptions, pop-up’s, new events and the community coming out to engage with the art, artists, creating unique and lasting experiences. Here are my highlights out of a stunning schedule:

Tehching Hsieh

“Tehching Hsieh: One Year Performance 1980 – 1981” — Sheppard Contemporary showcased one of the most engaging exhibits of the year. Only the second time to be displayed in the U.S., we had a chance to experience this incredible piece April 16 – June 21. Mr. Hsieh was on hand for an artist talk and was happy to mingle with the crowds during the reception that followed. I sat near the back of the packed auditorium, there were times when the language and his soft tone made it hard to understand, but what came through loud and clear was his dedication to his craft. To see him discussing his life’s work, his passion and attention to detail, was moving – motivating. Two weeks later I returned to the exhibit on a lonely Wed. afternoon. I was alone in the room, surrounded by his face staring at me thousands of times, from every angle. The room was alive in silence. I sat down and tried to imagine the solitude he must have felt, the power he contained to endure. Those four walls were a lesson of struggle, the ability to conquer and move forward to the next. He made me want to be an artist.

Blueprint of a Mother

OverUnder: “Blueprint of a Mother” — The inaugural Sculpture Fest took place over Mother’s Day weekend. Along with BELIEVE sitting under the Reno Arch, more than 15 sculptures, many interactive, were placed on the ReTRAC pads downtown. The festival also featured projections from Android Jones and introduced two new murals, one from Christina Angelina and my favorite in the city, “Blueprint of a Mother.” Erik Burke is one of the most prolific muralists in town and has been responsible for national and international muralists coming to Reno. This piece, in particular, is massive — 70 feet of pure love. Love for family and for Nevada. A portrait of his wife who had just given birth to their first child. It still brings shivers when I drive south on Virginia, pause at Plaza and look up.

Exhibit showing at the Nevada Museum of Art through Jan. 18.

Exhibit showing at the Nevada Museum of Art through Jan. 18.

“Late Harvest” – Nevada Museum of Art — “The exhibition seeks to simultaneously confirm—through historically-significant wildlife paintings—and subvert—through contemporary art and photography—viewers’ preconceptions of the place of animals in culture.” That quote is from the Nevada Museum of Art website. We had 18 days in January before this spectacle closed. This exhibit was right up my alley — taxidermy of the most unique. This is one of those shows that you needed to see. When I told someone about a lion cut in half and the insides were filled with quartz, the 3-D shooting wallpaper or the large stained glass windows, which on closer inspection were butterfly wings, it just didn’t translate. That just scratches the surface. I walked those rooms a dozen times and still left with new perspectives each time. My favorite was watching students, of all ages experience the installation with a sense of awe and wonder.

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“Tiny Gems: A Series of Fleeting Experiences” — How about a show that takes place all over town and lasts only one night and it is highly interactive? Yes! Yes, as many times as you can ask me. Last July, Holland Project coordinated an evening of fleeting experiences, combining music, painting, writing, performance art, music, movement and a sense of magic. The experience started at the Planetarium then moved on to Chapel of the Bells, Old Post Office, Midtown Yoga and finished at Spectre. I joined the procession at the Old Post Office and was WOWED!! Yes, two exclamation points. There were piñatas to be smashed, tiny poems in a quiet, otherwise empty room for the taking, an intricate sign painted down a 20-foot hallway declaring, “I’m Going To Fall In Love With You One Day.” There was experimental music, bodies swaying in a perfect jilted texture to match the sounds bouncing around the dark concrete capsule we were sitting in. The evening continued to Midtown Yoga where glowing gowns lit one room and a bubble wrapped impromptu concert hall where everyone was offered a bottle of bubbles to fill the air. The best part of the evening was the look on every face I encountered – sheer joy. Not a sense of happiness or fun, it was joy, and I felt it for days after the event.

***

Galen Watson:  

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It has been a marvelous year for Reno Community Theater but ‘All good things must come to an end,’ wrote the father of English literature Geoffrey Chaucer in his poem “Troilus and Criseyde.” As this year marches inevitably to the conclusion of its own dramatic run, it seems appropriate for those of us who critique theater to pay homage to the dramatic arts. So, too, should we honor theaters, playwrights, casts, crews and those who work so hard to produce performances that inspire, provoke, amuse and entertain us.

This year, Reno Little Theater offered up Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize winning “Clybourne Park” that provoked audiences with issues of race and gentrification, and questioned the meaning of community.  And Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” tickled audiences as a thought-provoking comedy about cults of celebrity and the people we turn into rock stars: scientists, artists and even con men.

Over at Good Luck Macbeth Theatre Company, Chris Daniel’s “Last Call at the Old Southwest” explored LGBT history and the struggle for mainstream acceptance. Christian Durso’s “Shiner” was an ode to teen angst, hopelessness and the influence of Seattle Grunge rocker Kurt Cobain on a generation. George Brant’s off-Broadway play “Grounded” tackled the drone war, its moral dilemmas and the devastating effect on pilots who mete out death and destruction via a joystick.

Meanwhile at Brüka Theatre of the Sierra, the Broadway musical version of the British movie “The Full Monty” showed just how far a father would go for his son — even down to his birthday suit. David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People” spun a tale about choices in poverty-stricken South Philly: those who have them and those who give up theirs for the one they love. Finally, “Buttcracker 6: Underland” is a Brüka original holiday season ballet of the absurd – a parody of “The Nutcracker” and “Alice in Wonderland.” The “Buttcracker” series is sure to be Reno’s favorite alternative holiday show.

One of the reasons I love live theater is that it’s interactive. Actors communicate to the audience and the audience reacts in real time with joy, amazement, shock, sadness, introspection, glee or perhaps an epiphany or two. Every single one of the productions I critiqued spoke to me on some level. But now it’s time to choose my two favorites — not an easy task because there were many terrific productions and superb performances.

Grounded

Good Luck Macbeth Theatre’s “Grounded” was truly a one-woman tour de force. Ashley James swaggered around the stage in a trim flight suit, exulting, pronouncing, sermonizing, reflecting, lamenting, and despairing as her character evolved during the one-hour-plus performance. She mesmerized the audience, circling and pacing like a predator on the hunt ,while a screen at the rear of the stage projected her deteriorating sanity. The solo show was timely, compelling, and powerful.

Photo taken by Dana Nollsch

Photo taken by Dana Nollsch

Brüka Theatre’s American version of “The Full Monty” was simply a superbly realized production. A splendid, nine-piece band rocked David Yazbek’s musical score from the loft, led by Music Director Tony Degeiso. The audience was treated to jazz, blues, rock and more from these professional cool cats while the actors sang, strutted their stuff and danced their pants off, literally. The performers were talented, poignant and honest. They left me uplifted and tapping my toes. I gave the production a resounding 5 G-strings.

There you have it, the theater year in review. This wasn’t all of the fine performances that played this year; rather, they’re the ones we had the privilege to critique. So ring the curtain down on 2015 and we hope to see all of you in 2016 at one of Reno’s theaters.

 

Your Art Spot Team