Changing of the guard

Two local arts organizations have new directors

Photo/Kris Vagner

Sierra Arts is at 17 S. Virginia St. Its next event is the annual fundraiser Brew Haha, a beer tasting and concert with Whitney Meyer, 8 p.m., Jan. 29 at the Nugget, 100 Nugget Ave., Sparks. Tickets are $50-65. For more information, visit
St. Mary’s Art Center is at 55 R St., Virginia City. Anyone is welcome to make artwork there during Open Studio Tuesdays, 9 a.m.–3 p.m. each Tuesday. BYO materials. The next group of gallery exhibits is slated to open in March. For more information, visit

Meet Annie Zucker and A. Perry, the new directors at Sierra Arts Foundation and St. Marys Art Center respectively. RN&R checked in with them about their visions for the future—and why a hospital background and an architectural background are turning out to be perfectly good springboards to arts-leadership posts.

Zucker wasn’t an art major back at Oregon State University. She was a competitive swimmer contemplating a medical career. Before she finished college, an illness led to a six-week hospital stay. Her family brought her all her CDs, and she binged on Fleetwood Mac. It started to make her feel better.

“You could see my recovery happen faster,” she said.

She ended up graduating with a liberal studies degree instead of a medical degree, but having depended on those CDs during her recovery convinced her that music and other art forms might have serious healing power.

“It changed my way of thinking about how I could help people,” Zucker said.

In November, she became executive director of Sierra Arts, and helping people, whether they’re artists looking for business advice or families looking for art classes, is still on her priority list.

Previously, Zucker had worked for nearly a decade as a development specialist at Renown Health Foundation, the fundraising arm of the Renown hospital network. The foundation supports obvious necessities such as equipment, facilities and research. It also raises funds for in-hospital arts programs, including journaling workshops, bedside drawing lessons and concerts by visiting musicians.

Coordinating with artists and musicians, Zucker got to know a lot of people in the arts community over the years, including former Sierra Arts directors Jill Berryman and Stacey Spain. In 2014 she was appointed to the board of Nevada Arts Council.

“I think I was hired because I don’t represent a certain art or genre of art,” she said. “I have deep appreciation for all arts and artists.”

Under Zucker’s direction, Sierra Arts’ current programs will remain in place, including gallery exhibits, the Artists in Schools program, elder-care concert series and grants to artists. And its staff will remain intact.

“I think we have an amazing staff here,” she said. “It’s a small staff, but they’re extremely passionate.”

The major change she’d like to effect is an increase in Sierra Arts’ public profile. The organization is working with the Reno Arts and Culture Commission on a new brand identity, and Zucker said the website, whose design and utility is stuck somewhere between web 1.0 and web 2.0, will be overhauled this year.

“We’ll be putting on a few more workshops with artists off Nevada Arts Council roster,” she added. And the Galleries at Work program is contracting with some higher-profile venues. It’s now curated by fashion photographer and former St. Mary’s Art Center Director Frances Melhop.

“That’s where we go out to businesses and curate local arts,” Zucker said of the program. Recent new venues include Aces Ballpark, where plans are underway for murals and curated exhibits in the luxury suites.

Zucker would also like to expand Sierra Arts’ member bases and donor bases. She explained her approach: “I learned from [Certified Fund Raising Executive] Joel Muller, my boss at Renown. He’s an incredible fundraiser. It’s connecting people to their interests. When we talk to donors, I want to find out what they’re passionate about and be really good stewards of that money. They’re putting money in your hands that you’re going to do the best thing with that money. I want to focus on friend-raising, not fundraising.”

“In non-profit work you’re trying to get ahead of the game,” she said. “What I really want is to put an emphasis on the artists, help them become the best, most productive.”

As well connected as she is, another of Zucker’s immediate goals is to get to know Reno’s community even better.

“I want families down here. I want kids learning to look at art,” she said.

And she’s open to ideas and new partnerships. As she put it, “Come down to the gallery and see what we’re doing, and let’s chat. Artists, I want to meet all of you.”

Full of grace

A few blocks down the hill from Virginia City’s wooden, silver rush-era sidewalks, St. Mary’s Art Center, a four-story brick building that was built as a hospital in 1875, is a mélange of 19th-century charm, 1970s kitsch, and smooth, white walls for hanging contemporary artwork. Much of the window glass is wavy with antiquity. One stairway landing is floored with ancient, hand-painted linoleum protected by a sheet of Plexiglass. The bedrooms, former hospital rooms where retreat attendees now bunk, are famously incongruous, decorated with a mishmash of antique ceiling fixtures, disco-era carpeting, your grandma’s curtains, and artworks from the center’s permanent collection. The building has such a strong reputation for being haunted that its Halloween ghost tours draw more visitors than its writers’ workshops or art receptions.

In November, Perry took over the gallery director post. She’s formerly a manager of large, international construction projects with a degree in interior architecture from Kansas State University. She moved to the Virginia Highlands development a few years ago. Perry is also an artist who works on the team that paints murals outside the Bucket of Blood Saloon, and she made a multimedia piece for the Doors to Recovery art auction held at the Nevada Museum of Art in September.

Though she’s an artist, Perry is not much of a limelight chaser. She goes by her first initial, doesn’t like being photographed, and doesn’t plan to show off her own acrylic paintings in the art center’s galleries any time soon.

Instead, she takes the idea of working behind the scenes to a whole new level. In particular, she wants to spruce up the venue and implement a consistent style so that that historic building and the artwork function together in harmony.

“One thing I’m focusing on is a holistic approach to the art center,” she said from behind a plain, wooden desk under a high, Victorian ceiling. Traditionally the center has shown two-dimensional artwork in its sunny gallery rooms, wide hallways and attic-level studios, changing in flavor and scope with each administration over the years. Perry wants to broaden the purview a bit.

“I want to have a curated area that focuses on artisanal items too,” she said. Quilts, pottery, jewelry, glass and metal work are a few examples.

One of her most pressing goals is to “re-curate” the bedrooms. She dreams of polishing the worn wooden floors, patching the peeling plaster walls, and restoring the look of the rooms to something more like their original 1875 selves. Her vision includes a mini art exhibit in each bedroom that’s consistent with the décor. Funding is always a challenge for non-profit art centers, but Perry has an idea that she’s optimistic about. She’s seeking sponsors for each room. They might be businesses, organizations or individual donors.

Under Perry’s guidance, the art center will remain home to its longstanding roster of printmaking workshops, after-school art classes for kids and teens, and retreat weekends for creative types such as writing groups and plein-air painters. The center will remain open during the day for visitors to drop by and tour the exhibits.

Perry would like to see more people visiting and using the building, and she hopes for it to become something of a community center. To that effect, Open Studio Tuesdays have been reinstated, and she’s considering additional offerings such as ballroom dance classes.

“I want to have our community feel good that we are a presence and we want to participate and engage,” she said.