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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