Interview: A Look At Reno's Art History

Sep 18, 2016

Burning Man is over for another year and a statewide collaborative art exhibit is on display at the Nevada Museum of Art. To make sense of all these art events, Reno Public Radio’s Noah Glick recently sat down with the founder of Reno’s Arts and Culture Commission, Christine Fey.

NG: There’s an exhibition going on at the Nevada Museum of Art that combines work from both Northern and Southern Nevada artists. What would you say is the state of art right now in Nevada and more specifically in Reno?

CF: I can tell you my colleagues across the country are constantly surprised and comment to me how impressed they are with what Reno has done. Which is interesting when you consider the fact that we’re really a small population when you get right down to it.

I would say the state of the arts in Reno is pretty impressive. Can we go further? Absolutely. There’s so much more to do, but at the same time, we should be pretty proud of what’s happened. And that’s through the efforts of those arts organizations, our museums, the Arts and Culture Commission. We’ve got to remember that this is a melting pot. Everybody is working together collaboratively.

What was the appetite like for public art when you were first getting started with the commission and how have you seen that change or evolve over time?

There really was no appetite at the beginning, except for some artists obviously and some art advocates. But it was a hard haul, a steep climb to get the community in general—our elected officials, business owners, companies—to realize the importance of getting public art out into the public realm.

Before 1992, there really was no public art unless it was put in by a private individual or a private property owner. The Arts Commission allowed a cohesiveness and a certain amount of cross-pollination to occur. Then in 1995, they decided we ought to have a performing arts festival and they created Artown.

What has been the impact of Burning Man on the arts scene here locally?

I think Burning Man has popularized art in some pretty valuable ways. What Burning Man has done is it has broadened the scope so that it’s not just what we would think of as professional artists, but what we also call outsider artists, which are those artists that have come to it really with just pure passion.

Now one of the wonderful things we can do through Burning Man as well, is we can put in temporary installations. That’s typically how we do Burning Man art. And then when people love it so much that they can’t let it go, we then buy it. Like Believe, which is right on our city plaza and has become quite an identifier for the city of Reno now.

What is the importance of public art to the community, especially Reno?

Americans for the Arts has a saying or a motto which is ‘Great cities have great art.’ And I think that is absolutely true. When you think about it, all the way through history, what we remember is art.

Public art allows a person to have a private moment in a public space. When they approach a piece of art and their brain is racing saying, ‘What is it? Do I like it?’ they aren’t thinking about what they’re eating for dinner or getting back to work. They are having a conversation with this piece of art that this artist created. I think that’s about the greatest gift you can give.

With that being said, there are many people who would argue that public art is more of a luxury and that public funds should be spent elsewhere. What do you say to that?

Public art is one of those things that identifies you as a community that is above a certain level, I guess. You have come to a certain place that you value something that is a little bit more thought-provoking and esoteric.

I also believe, because we know that parks elevate property values, public art does the same thing.