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Reno: Building a hotbed of creativity

A few weeks ago, I attended a lecture delivered by Paul Baker Prindle, director of Sheppard Contemporary and University Galleries. It was the title that lured me: Burning Inquiry. Burning Man Art: Turning Reno into an arts destination.”

I must admit I was skeptical. How could someone who’s only lived in Reno for a year and only spent a few hours at Burning Man to go on a special art tour be able to speak with authority on this topic? I’ve lived in Reno eleven years and have been to Burning Man seven consecutive years, spending 12 days out there the last two burns, and I sometimes wonder if I’m qualified to write about Burning Man. But Prindle successfully weaved Burning Man ideology, his academic research on implementing strategies for developing arts economies with his personal experience, having lived in cities that have remade themselves into creative centers. He delivered a thought-provoking talk for seventy-three minutes that many who filled the auditorium are still talking about.

Let’s play!

I’ll never forget the first time I went to Burning Man in 2008 and saw the throngs of people and the city lit at night. I kept thinking that people must have had this unquenchable thirst for a creative outlet that they were unable to fulfill in their daily lives. Prindle identified play and creativity not only as important elements at Burning Man, but as essential for building a more creative, engaged arts economy. He said, “Play is good for us, no play is not good for us.” Using Burning Man census data, he informed us that more than 40 percent of those going to the Black Rock Desert to play have a Bachelor’s degree and more than 23 percent reported having a graduate degree. These are the creative types that Prindle argued are exactly what Reno needs to build economic health. “I would argue that the collaborative nature, novel combinations of forms and aesthetics, and creative temporary domiciles built on the playa indicate that many Burners are metacognates with the ability to think divergently, laterally and synthetically,” he said. “My belief is that we can take these examples of how play, creativity, and critical thinking take place in the Black Rock Desert with broader import beyond the Burn and use them to help us make the connections between the sciences, arts, and business that are so important for the health of our region. We must not divide the arts from other parts of our life, but rather work to understand that expressions of creativity are essential to advancing our goals.”

Reno: Where creativity is alive.

An arts destination isn’t a city with “zoo-like” museums where culture is gazed upon on pedestals. But an art destination is a place, like Burning Man, where culture is alive, “where the new and creative is birthed.” Prindle provided some very interesting data that speaks to the importance of engaging arts to attract new people to our community. Americans make 850 million visits to museums every year while only 483 million visits are made to major league sporting events and theme parks. Nationally, the non-profit arts and culture industry create $135.2 billion in economic activity annually and that for every dollar spent by government agencies on the arts, $7 in taxes are generated.

So an arts destination is a city filled with creative types and has an innovative environment that will lure more creative companies like Tesla. Prindle’s talk was very academic, but it stirred the audience. In addition to the many students that appeared to be at the lecture to fulfill a class requirement, many in the audience where local Burners and from the local arts community. Rex “Killbuck” Norman, a local artist who won the mural competition this summer at Circus Circus Reno casino, attended the talk and made comments about it on his Facebook page. He called Reno a “lab dish” that just might be in its golden era, where artists are left alone and without someone branding “Reno Style.” “I guess what I’d like to see Reno become is a more robust version of what it already is — an artist’s city rather than an art destination,” he said. “I’d rather not see Reno as a gallery city — but as a continually changing workshop of ideas and places and spaces where artists want to come and play and create… and yes, invite people to come, see and appreciate, and yeah, buy art too. It’s how we make a living…Yeah, we got it pretty good right now.”

I think I like Prindle’s vision of Reno as a city filled with lots of creative people — not just artists, but a culture of innovative, playful, critical thinkers. What he didn’t elaborate on are the next steps. I think this discussion definitely needs to continue.

Geralda Miller, Art Spot Reno Curator

Geralda Miller, Art Spot Reno 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