Even though Artown does a great job of representing just about everyone making art in Reno, a few renegades prefer to fly without the safety net of a festival in the name of creative freedom—just in case
If you’re looking for something to do during July, you don’t even have to check the calendar. Just leave the house; you’ll probably stumble into an Artown event.
The July-long festival has been spotlighting Reno’s head-spinning diversity of cultural events and artistic efforts for 10 years. The festival harnesses corporate dollars from the likes of U.S. Bank, Eldorado Hotel Casino and others to bring renowned national artists to town. Artown has also brought attention to scores of Reno-area venues and many local artists.
The city is always full of art, but during July the place is busting at the seams with music, dance performances, gallery exhibits, plays, classes, workshops, walking tours, paint-ins, you name it. Artown helps bring home the message that Reno is a place where creative things happen on a huge scale.
Artown, as its marketing execs claim, has something for everyone. Well, almost everyone. A few artists in town prefer to create and perform apart from the mainstream. The open-air (Con)temporary Gallery is gearing up for its second annual painting and video-art event, and a handful of musicians, poets and comedians will put tongues in cheek to pull out the third annual tag-team performance event, Black Sheep Dip.
But, talk to artists, and a surprising pattern emerges. Even though the counterculture is standing at the ready to defend artists’ rights to free expression and the like, they don’t often have to go to battle. In a rare twist of only-in-Nevada, live-and-let-live cultural politics, Reno’s establishment and anti- establishment are pretty good pals. (Case in point: Uptown administrators like Nevada Museum of Art Director Steven High and Reno City Arts and Culture Manager Christine Fey circulate easily among the downtown hipsters at Bleulion Artspace’s Friday-night keg parties.)
So go ahead and double-book or triple-book your evenings for the rest of the month. Whatever your artistic pleasure or poison, Reno in July has got what you need. Check the Artown Web site for official events, or, for the scoop on under-the-wire activity, read on.
The world is our canvas
Erik Burke and a few friends mill around in a narrow alley on South Virginia Street. Early evening sunlight hits the walls as friends come and go, many of them by bicycle. A few climb ladders, with paint rollers and masking tape in hands. They’re painting the alleyway and sprucing roughed-up asphalt for an art exhibit.
Burke happened on the long, high walls over a year ago. They looked to his muralist’s eyes like suitable canvases. He approached the owners of the two antique stores on either side of the alley and negotiated wall-painting rights. He deemed the space the (Con)temporary Gallery.
“They don’t seem like they’re really arty folks,” Burke says of the business owners, “but they’re super-supportive.”
The owners had been asked by the city to keep their exterior walls free of graffiti, so they were amenable to the idea of having artists keep the alley decorated instead of taggers. Burke says there hasn’t been any tagging since he and other artists started leaving their urban imagery on the walls.
Burke and his fellow artists—many of them well-known young painters of the darkly exuberant, animation-inspired Chapter House Gallery/Never Ender Gallery style—have not sought Artown sponsorship.
“We don’t really care too much to have a stamp of approval from the city,” Burke says. “And it just seems like it’s nice to evolve outside of the bureaucracy and just do something to do it.”
The (Con)temporary Gallery will make like an official entity for the night of July 15 and hold a gallery reception. Guest painters are expected from Seattle, Santa Cruz and Arkansas, and the rest of the lineup is a pretty accurate who’s-who of Reno’s most promising young painters. Some of the artists, even those with roots in the local gallery and museum scene, are rumored to be plotting to skip town for greener art-making pastures, so this might be your big chance to catch some of them before they go national.
Black Sheep Dip
“I would say it’s an alternative arts festival,” says Willie Puchert, co-organizer of Black Sheep Dip. The music and performance mini-marathon is slated to present 16 bands on July 16, for 16 minutes each, at the Reno Jazz Club. Comedians and poets will keep the audience engaged between sets.
The event’s name is a send-up of the already self-lampooning annual Sheep Dip, a benefit event for performing-arts organizations. Black Sheep Dip, in its third year, is also a benefit event. The two past recipients have been the renegade Bleulion Artspace and the late Marianne “Mary Anarchy” Psota. This year, proceeds will go to Jesse Zanomora, an artist who makes religious icons out of cigarette boxes.
“We don’t have corporate sponsors, so I think that gives us a little more freedom,” says Puchert. “We try to keep an alternative image to it.”
Puchert says the poets in particular may exercise their rights to offend the more sensitive ears among the crowd.
Singer-songwriter Kate Cotter is on the Black Sheep Dip lineup. She’s also slated to play in Drum, The Art Epic, another multi-artist event, which is Artown-sponsored. She says this presents no real conflict of interest.
“I was honored that [Puchert] asked me to play, and I wanted to be part of it, but I also made a point of saying that … I really didn’t want [my participation] to be viewed as a statement against Artown.”
While she’s glad to see artists organizing outside of the mainstream, she says Artown organizers and Sierra Arts have been nothing but supportive of her creative efforts over the years, and she hasn’t felt stifled or compromised by either entity.
“I hope it will be a harmonious juxtaposition,” Cotter says, of the simultaneous Artown and non-Artown lineups.
Looks like it will be.