As appetite for art grows, work opportunities for Reno-area artists increase
RENO, Nev. — Teal Francis is a printmaker currently getting her Masters in Fine Arts at the University of Nevada, Reno. This summer, she’s headed to the Black Rock Desert for a two-week artist-in-residence program where she will create pieces inspired by the landscape and wildlife of the playa.
“I make personified animals that point out societal norms and how we alter ourselves to feel like we will fit in more in society,” said Francis, an Oregon native who moved to Reno for UNR’s three-year MFA program. Most universities only offer two years.
AiR programs are just one of the ways that artists make a living in Northern Nevada. If an applicant is accepted to the program, the artist receives a stipend, material costs and sometimes lodging in exchange for creating art or teaching workshops and classes.
It’s a model the city of Reno is considering implementing.
“The Reno Arts and Culture Commission is working on an artist-in-residence program within the city, pairing artists with different government departments,” said Megan Berner, Reno public art program coordinator.
The idea is modeled after one in Boston where 10 artists were placed in Centers for Youth and Families around the city. The city paid each artist $27,500, plus $12,000 for materials, for the 11-month residency.
Over the years, Reno has gained a reputation as a city that supports the arts.
Every year, the city’s Arts and Culture Commission awards around $200,000 in grants and between $40,000 to $50,000 in sponsorship to other projects and programs.
The City Council gives $125,000 to the nonprofit Artown (which kicks off its 2018 month-long events series in the city on June 30) and roughly $60,000 to the Pioneer Center for Performing Arts.
Citywide, around $89 million was spent in Reno on arts and culture in 2016, according to a study from Americans for the Arts. That’s more than double the national average of $35.7 million.
The city has nearly 140 pieces in its public art collection valued around $3.5 million.
“It is easier now than ever to find work in Reno as an artist,” said Erik Burke, a Reno-based muralist who now travels all over the world painting street art. “For artists just coming up there are lots of smaller opportunities with the city painting signal boxes as well as other smaller grants.”
Over the last 15 years, Burke has painted more than 75 murals in Reno.
“Besides being the trend du jour, Muralism is also widely accepted and expected as a cultural backdrop to new businesses in the more popular neighborhoods,” explained Burke. “A surge in developers in tandem with the current popularity of street art and murals has created an opportunity like never before for artists.
“This is especially valuable because now artists can escape the tropes of the gallery world, which is essentially gambling in hopes of a payoff, and instead be contracted to create work in the public space.”
Reno is home to more than 150 murals, a number that jumped up significantly after last October’s inaugural Reno Mural Expo put on by nonprofit Art Spot Reno. In three days, 30 artists were invited to paint 30 walls in the city.
“There’s much more of a buzz about the arts now. I’m seeing even more artists attempt to be full-time artists, which is positive,” said Geralda Miller, co-founder of Art Spot Reno. “Murals are probably where we are seeing the most growth and interest and excitement. More and more businesses are wanting to have murals painted on their walls, but also are hanging local art inside their coffee shops and stores.”
CHANGE IN PERCEPTION
Though organizations like Art Spot and Artown — which is in its 23rd year promoting the arts in Reno — are certainly critical factors in Reno’s growing art scene, Burning Man has undoubtedly had a huge impact on the number of artists making a go of it in The Biggest Little City.
“I am a 10-year veteran of Burning Man. I have seen here in Reno especially that artists are coming here and living here because of Burning Man. The Burning Man temple is being built here. The Man base is being built here,” said Miller. “And it’s more economically feasible to live here than the Bay Area.”
Artown alone puts on around 500 events every year, ranging from immersive theater and indie bands to folk dance and art fairs.
“The mission has always stayed very focused on providing economic impact to the downtown to change the way people from around the world view Reno and using arts as that mechanism,” said Artown Executive Director Beth MacMillan. “People come from around the country to experience art and culture in Reno.
“It’s not all driven by the casinos now.”
In 2016, 76 percent of surveyed non-local attendees at arts and culture events said Artown was the primary purpose of their trip to Reno, according to Americans for the Arts.
Tourism experts in Reno agree, so much so that they’ve rebranded the city to focus less on gaming and more on arts and culture as well as the outdoors.
“I’ve seen it change quite a bit from being completely gaming-centric to really a diverse destination that has become very rich in arts and culture,” said Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority Executive Vice President Jennifer Cunningham.
Drawing people from outside Northern Nevada
Last May, the visitors authority launched Reno-Tahoe’s new campaign across the country.
The advertisements show millennials out kayaking in the Truckee River or mountain biking in the hills. One large Reno-Tahoe billboard in Los Angeles features a skateboarder in paint-splattered jeans in front of mural in Midtown. It reads, “Create Art. Destroy Monotony.”
“Our first measurement was a 600 percent increase in website visitation with the new branding in the destinations we had targeted our new campaign to,” said Cunningham. “That’s huge.”
“I think our city has really suddenly become cool from a national perspective, and of course Burning Man has done a lot for that, but also so many of the events that we do — Artown, the murals, the street art,” she added. “I think that as destinations are becoming a little more homogenized, arts and culture its really helping to position the Reno-Tahoe destination with a bit more authenticity.”
But there still remain challenges for artists looking to make a full-time living in the field.
“The biggest hurdle is the economical challenge for artists,” said Art Spot’s Miller. “I still think that businesses are reluctant to pay artists a living wage. They don’t see the economical value for art and that’s one of the things we are pushing, for artists to get paid their fair share for their work.”
Though the appetite for local art may be growing, finding, securing and agreeing upon the work and the wage can still be difficult.
“I’ve come to accept that painting is the easiest part of the whole process,” said muralist Burke.
The agreements are designed to split the costs of improvements such as traffic signals between Carson City and developers whose projects generate the traffic increases that trigger the need for improvements.