Taylor Reid casually hands me a stick of blue, corn-syrupy slush and a can of Budweiser. Next to her, there’s a dartboard made of unwrapped condoms. She says someone from Planned Parenthood will be back later with darts.
This is the entryway to the third—and ostensibly final—annual reception for the (con)Temporary Gallery, an alley between two Virginia Street antique stores that doubles as an open-air art space. Muralist and filmmaker Erik Burke secured painting rights to the spot in 2005. Since then, a revolving list of contributors (some from places like Arkansas, Quebec or Seattle) have painted the alley and hosted carnivalesque, one-night celebrations of artistic freedom. Burke is off to New York City this week to start grad school, so the project’s longevity is uncertain.
“It’s up until somebody gets pissed-off at us and paints over it,” says artist Beau Bevier, one of about 30 participants. “The turf will go. The mural will stay.”
The “turf” is the fresh, green sod that carpets the alley, lending a nice, temporal, madcap-Wonderland quality to a spot that was, as of last week, a sun-scorched patch of weeds and broken glass.
The walls are covered with noir-exuberant, graffiti-esque sea creatures and sci-fi Aztec characters. Bare light bulbs and sphere-shaped piñatas, one filled with hot dogs, dangle from wires. Someone in a gas mask makes cotton candy. A warm, sugary waft cuts the smell of fresh spray paint.
Someone yells, with trachea-straining abandon, “The procession is coming!” A cacophony escalates until about 80 people arrive by two-story bike, shopping cart, electric wheelchair and foot, hooting and banging on snare drums.
Artists Toni Ortega and Nick Larsen pack a few last-minute items into two old Army medical supply trunks they’re using as time capsules.
“We asked people to contribute stuff that details what Reno is now,” explains Ortega. They’ve received, she says, “everything from birds to bottles of pee to photographs, drawings, globs of paint, hair and dead butterflies.”
Members of the Holland Project Double-Dutch in the parking lot. Local band My Flag is On Fire charms a crowd with neo-Renaissance accordion and cello melodies. Pete Menchetti’s septicycle, outfitted with a drum kit, provides seating for a punk band. Moshing ensues in the parking lot.
As the time capsules are lowered into deep, square holes, artist Caedron Burchfield reads into a microphone, “This is an act of peace and creativity. That might be our only salvation.”
If the capsules are unearthed someday, it’ll take a keen sleuth to piece together a vision of Reno’s creative scene as of July 21, 2007. But the event itself encapsulates it pretty well, I realize, crumpling my beer can and stuffing it into my purse. There’s no trash can. Despite a couple traces of officialdom—the state arts council ponied-up funding; Taylor Reid is receiving internship credits from the University of Nevada, Reno for help with logistics such as Otter Pops and Home Depot runs—there’s no security guard to keep me from climbing to the roof for a better look or to tsk-tsk anyone who gets a little reckless on the playground swings Anthony Alston has installed across the alley.
It’s a moment of semi-sanctioned, cross-pollination of talents—a reading of Reno’s cultural pulse at the moment. Creative anarchy that works. Cheers to that, and get some while it lasts.