Art on the down low

Discrete displays to catch during Artown

Artown always brings some national, household names to town—this year they include Pink Martini and the Squirrel Nut Zippers—but the July-long roster of arts events is also a good time to get to know some locals. The lineup includes visual arts events in venues large and small, official and impromptu, and the list is so long it can be full-on intimidating to wade through.

Some of the most satisfying visual arts events are the intimate gatherings in unusual or lesser-known venues, far from the showcase venues like Wingfield Park. You’ll need to study the event calendar to find them all, but here are a few to note if you’re looking to get to know some of the people who keep this town’s creative gears turning.

Alley art, inside edition

When Jen Charbonneau talks about the artists from history she admires, she talks more about their ways of life than their brush strokes or subject matter. It’s not necessarily Monet’s pastel water lilies that rock her world. It’s more the way he explored his own backyard for all it was worth.

“I loved how stubborn he was,” she said, citing how the French impressionist would paint the same scene over and over again.

Charbonneau earned an art degree in Minneapolis in 2008, then for several years she traveled the U.S. and the world, drawing and painting outdoors in places where the public could watch. She connected with other artists to host events, always looking for ways to offer non-artists some hands-on experience.

“I’d get a few musicians—I’d turn it into this tiny festival,” she said. “We were able to do small art shows or small busking in all these different communities.” She organized these events in Denver, Australia and anywhere she went.

Eventually, Charbonneau landed in Reno, where she’s adopted Monet’s approach of repeatedly painting his own surroundings—cityscapes, landscapes and the people around her, wherever she is with her sketchbook, casino bars included. Her gatherings, now called “Alley Art” events, are still her calling card. She often invites the public to paint on canvasses or plywood in an alley or other outdoor spot.

“Everybody gets to do a brushstroke,” Charbonneau said. “I add some details, and it will be a finished piece. Everybody gets to collaborate. You do your part to make this whole, and it showcases the community and gives everyone a creative outlet.”

On her website, Charbonneau calls herself a “live event painter.” In addition to hosting her own gatherings, she appears at events like Sculpturefest, sometimes painting as an audience watches. She often finds different ways to include others in her projects by getting a brush in their hands, whether they’re casual onlookers or business owners who’ve hired her to facilitate a group painting as a teambuilding activity.

This year during Artown, Charbonneau will bring Alley Art indoors, with a participatory painting session at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. Over the course of a few hours on July 1, she’ll create a piece that will hang in the airport for the rest of the month. And yes, if you’re picking up an out-of-town visitor, passing by en route to your gate, or just dropping by to check out the event, she’ll have a paintbrush ready for you so you can add your mark.

Alley Art Community Painting: Connections

July 1, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Reno-Tahoe International Airport

2001 E. Plumb Lane

Walls to watch

In Reno, there’s a disconnect between the number of galleries for well-established artists and the number of artists making exhibition-quality work. The latter outpaces the former by miles. But there are a handful of other venues—like coffeehouses, libraries and the like—that do their part to fill in the gaps, including some with particularly strong taste and good community connections.

One off-the-beaten-path exhibition venue to keep an eye on is BVW Jewelers in the South Creek Retail Center. So far this year, the shop has hosted good-looking, nicely lit shows by artists who’d be major players in mid-level galleries—if we had any—like Bryce Chisholm and Emily Reid. During Artown, BVW will feature Susan Handau, a painter whose impressionistic, thickly textured landscape paintings and abstracts are sumptuous and satisfying.

Jen Charboneau will bring her Alley Art event to the Reno-Tahoe International Airport for Artown this year.

Susan Handau at BVW Jewelers

35 Foothill Road

Reception July 11, 4-7pm

Reno in pictures

In his 10 years as editor for online news outlet This is Reno, Bob Conrad (also an RN&R contributor) has seen a lot of sides of local culture.

“One day we’ll be covering a major, angry protest, and the next day we’ll be covering some mural painting,” he said. “It’s a lot of dichotomous stuff going on in the city.”

Conrad and photojournalist Ty O’Neil have recently sorted through the decade’s worth of images that the news site has published and are putting the finishing touches on a book of photographs, The BLC: Contrasts and Transformation.

The authors deliberately put images next to each other that show radically different sides of Reno, for example a SWAT team in full body armor, and, on the facing page, a child enjoying the annual Nevada Humane Society Duck Race on the Truckee River.

Photographs from Conrad and O’Neil’s book will also appear in an exhibition at the Wilbur D. May Museum, and the two will host an evening discussion about local journalism, including the role of photography.

The BLC: Contrasts and Transformation

Exhibition, July 3-14

Reception & discussion, July 5, 6-8 p.m.

Wilbur D. May Museum

1595 N. Sierra St.

Art and activism, powerful partners

When Sen. Dean Heller proposed removing congressional protection from Nevada wilderness study areas in 2016, Fawn Douglas was there to speak up. When the Senate Natural Resources Committee met in March to discuss a resolution urging Congress to oppose reallocating Desert National Wildlife Refuge land to the Air Force, Fawn Douglas was there to speak up. And when it’s time to address issues of Native American representation with the perfect type of deadpan humor for the zeitgeist, Fawn Douglas’s line of “IndigenousAF” T-shirts are there to speak up. (Check them out at

Douglas is an artist, pow wow dancer, teacher, activist, a member of the Las Vegas Paiute tribe—and if we listed the rest of her credentials it might take up the entire paper. For Artown, she’ll be teaming up with Friends of Nevada Wilderness for a talk about how art and social justice can work hand in hand.

Artivism With Fawn Douglas

July 20, 6-7 p.m.

Friends of Nevada Wilderness

1360 Greg St., Sparks