Paul Baker Prindle aims to transform UNR's art scene on campus and beyond
Paul Baker Prindle is a big picture thinker in every sense of the word. He’s an artist and photographer, looking at social issues through a camera lens. He’s a curator, scouting the world for the best new artists. And he’s the new director of Sheppard Contemporary and University Galleries at the University of Nevada, Reno, enacting an ambitious vision for the future of Nevada’s art.
Baker Prindle began his new position in August, taking over for former director Marjorie Vecchio, who left to pursue curatorial positions in San Francisco and a fellowship in Wyoming. His position oversees the six campus galleries.
As an artist, he investigates trauma through different mediums.
“I photograph hate crime sites,” he says. “I look at how mythology of the West is tied up to the gender of the landscape. … The construction of the American West.”
He’s been as successful an artist as he’s been a curator, and travels globally on a regular basis scouting for new artists. Most recently, he went to Germany, and also works as a visiting professor of art at Minzu University in China.
“The job lends itself to travel,” says Baker Prindle.
Born in Wisconsin, much of Baker Prindle’s experience and work is based there. He holds two master’s degrees—a master of arts and a master of fine arts, both in graphics—from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Before starting his new position full-time, he commuted regularly between Wisconsin and Reno. After a brief stint in California, he gravitated toward Nevada, where he plans to put down roots for a while.
“My mom’s family lived out here in the high desert of Reno,” says Prindle. “The West is a big part of my family’s history.”
But Baker Prindle speaks highly of Wisconsin and hopes to bring the state’s strengths to Nevada.
“Wisconsin has an insanely amazing quality of life,” he says, citing Madison and Milwaukee as flourishing cities. “Much of that is due to how they’ve embraced the arts.”
Seeing Wisconsin’s success firsthand has made Baker Prindle passionate about fostering the arts as a solution for the struggling economy.
“Visual arts play a strong role in economic recovery,” he says. “The arts are great for the city. It’s about the rise of the creative class. In Milwaukee, I saw the arts driving economic recovery.”
The “creative class” are the people thinking of new, adaptable career paths, and starting businesses and projects based on the needs of the community.
“Developing an arts infrastructure is important,” he says, noting the gentrification of Fourth Street and Midtown. “It calls for innovation across economies.”
For him, it goes further than that—a thriving art community transforms a city. “Visual arts are one of few disciplines meant for growing ideas outside of the brain.”
He refers to Reno’s “post-gambling” economy, addressing the decline in tourism and the popularity of local business and arts. Creative thinking helps tackle a community’s problems—poverty, discrimination and inequality.
“How do we grow citizens to develop solutions to these issues?” says Baker Prindle. “Art has great solutions for that, whether through theory and concept or actual demonstration.”
Helping artists make a living from their art is the first step.
“Nevada has really good arts funding and government funding,” says Baker Prindle. “I was pleased by the amount of arts funding here and how friendly it is.”
However, many artists don’t know how to apply for funding or what to do once they receive it. According to Baker Prindle, making the university galleries an open space for local artists is important.
“I want to put a stronger emphasis on Nevada artists and West Coast contemporary artists,” he says. “I see my position as that of a cheerleader—like an organizer, like a PTA mom. I’m in a collaborative effort to put art out in the community.”Shared space
But before Baker Prindle could bring the outside art world to UNR’s campus, the gallery space had to change. Sheppard Contemporary, UNR’s main gallery in which a new exhibition opens every six weeks, was recently renovated as part of the university’s $2 million plan to update the Church Fine Arts buildings. The gallery—the first of the six to be updated—was repainted and retrofitted with environmentally sustainable materials and supplies for exhibitions.
So it’s no surprise that this fall’s exhibitions focus largely on public spaces. Many of the upcoming campus shows opening this semester are collaborative efforts, group shows with artists united by theme—looking critically at social trends.
“We had to put together the exhibition season rather quickly,” he says. “I had to put together 13 shows in two weeks.”
The current exhibition, Refigured by Los Angeles artist Ken Gonzales-Day, expands beyond campus. Gonzales-Day, known for his research on the history of lynching in the West, put up three billboards in Reno showcasing photographs of lynching locations. Accompanying photographs are on display at Sheppard Contemporary. The billboards can be seen on the corners of Center and Moran Streets, Mt. Rose and Virginia Streets, and West Moana Lane and Smith Drive, and the exhibition is open until Sept. 30.
Heeseop Yoon’s Lost in Found exhibition, which opens on Oct. 10, was created specifically for the new Sheppard gallery. Yoon attaches colored tape to walls to create designs that resemble sketches on paper or graffiti on buildings. The designs conform to the architecture of the room, circling door frames and windows, embracing the vertical and negative space.
As part of Baker Prindle’s mission for community outreach, the university will begin hosting a new program that he calls the “Curators Conversation,” focused on “making art relevant and meaningful, engaging in conversations about how art in public spaces works, who it serves, and why it’s important.” The first will be held on Oct. 11, 1-3 p.m.
He’s also bringing together Reno and Wisconsin through Xeno:Reno, held in the Artspace gallery at West Street Market. Xeno:Reno is a website facilitated by Wisconsin-based artist Thomas Hellstrom, who archived and curated a collection of images, stories and other media submitted by Renoites through the site. The result is an outsider’s perspective of how Reno inhabitants view their own city. The show opened on Sept. 5 and will run through Oct. 7.
And Baker Prindle’s next project requires his favorite pastime—traveling.
“I want to take Sheppard Contemporary on the road,” he says. “We started a program to travel one weekend a month to towns within a 40-mile radius of Nevada and Sacramento.”
This opportunity will bring him face-to-face with Nevada’s landscape, and the artists who are born within it.
“It’s my chance to find out what artists need and who these artists are, whether that’s a 40 year old making art who doesn’t know how to sell her work, or an artist out in Ely looking for a gallery space,” he says. “It’s a huge state with plenty of people who are really isolated. I want to see what’s being made here.”