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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!

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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.

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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

 

 

It’s Time To Build Reno as an Arts Destination

During my years working as a consultant in Ghana, West Africa, I learned about the Adinkra symbols used by the Akan tribe. One of my favorites is Sankofa, the image of a mythical bird whose body is facing forward while its head is looking backward. It means: we must look back to move forward. Like a bird, I must keep moving ahead but, every now and then, take a look back to make sure I’m on course and ensure a strong future.

Like the Akan tribe, Sankofa also is a positive message for community. It’s especially important for Reno, now that we’ve have a new mayor and two (and soon to be a third) new City Council members. For most people I’ve talked to, voting for Hillary Schieve was a vote against the status quo and the good ol’ boy system. It was a vote for a fresh mindset to keep moving the city ahead. The Reno public is the necessary institutional knowledge that will help make sure they stay on course and ensure a strong future.

I’m sure members of various civic groups already have been busy lobbying their causes. The arts community must do the same. Art Spot Reno’s message is: “Reno is poised to be a culturally vibrant city and a true arts destination. Artists bring income into our city and can improve the performance of local businesses. As an arts destination, our city will be filled with creative types and have an innovative environment that will lure more creative companies like Tesla.” I encourage everyone who loves Reno’s arts scene to deliver a similar message to city officials and letters to the editor. Make that your 30-second pitch!

In a previous blog, I wrote about a lecture delivered by Paul Baker Prindle, who is director of Sheppard Contemporary and University Galleries. He said we need to do more to create the conditions for creativity and the Department of Art and University Galleries is poised to play an integral part in helping Reno do that. Well Paul, it’s time! Let’s get busy! Let’s build a team comprised of the area’s creative minds and help develop Reno’s creative ecosystem. (P.S…Leave a message if you want to be part of this team.)

Let’s look back to move forward, Reno, and become a creative center where there will more possibilities for growth than we can imagine!

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

Geralda Miller, Curator

Art Walk Reno Launch

What a great inaugural Art Walk Reno we had!

The idea of a downtown art walk is not a new one. There have been walks, highlighting local art and the city’s public art, architecture, culture, and history.  The time seemed ripe to re-launch an art walk in the downtown Arts District, and the turnout proved that it is.

It didn’t hurt that, after another shot of chilly temperatures and sprinkles, the clouds passed and summer-like weather returned. It also didn’t hurt that Singer Social Club had its soft opening and was the after-the-walk hot spot.

It truly was “A Beautiful Night for A Walk!”

We hope you’ll come out to our next art walk on June 5th.

Erik Holland will be our guest artist, featuring limited edition, signed and numbered prints as well as hand-painted glasses. The prints and glasses will be sold at Liberty Fine Art Gallery.

And if you missed it, here’s a video that was made by one of our lovely Art Walk Reno participants:

Art Walk Reno – April