Changing of the guard

City of Reno Arts and Culture

City of Reno arts administrators Christine Fey and Alexis Hill.

City of Reno arts administrators Christine Fey and Alexis Hill.

Photo/Eric Marks

The reassignment of former city arts administrator Christine Fey raised some concerns within the arts community. City officials responded this week, and the two groups do not see eye to eye on what qualifications make for an ideal public arts administrator.

Fey began working with the city as a planner in 1989 and had been Resource Development and Cultural Affairs Manager since 2000. In late 2015, conversations started about her retirement plans, which have not yet been solidified. On Feb. 25, her title was shortened to Resource Development Manager. She now works with volunteers for parks and community service programs.

Fey’s former duties—among them shepherding Reno’s public art collection, overseeing grant programs and managing three facilities—were assigned to Alexis Hill, Special Events Program Manager.

Nettie Oliverio, Arts and Culture Commission member and board chair of Reno Little Theater, was among those concerned about the decision-making process.

“With the last two arts and culture managers, [Fey] and Mike Hillerby, there were searches,” she said. “They were selected through a batch of regional and national candidates.”

Assistant City Manager Kate Thomas, who made the decision about the reassignment, said, “There is no national search at this time because there is no open position.” Fey’s position was eliminated in the restructuring.

Another concern Oliverio expressed is that Hill has taken on arts-management duties in addition to an already full-time job.

“If you really do the arts and culture manager’s job the way it should be done, it’s a full-time job and more,” Oliverio said.

“Christine’s job was two-fold,” said Thomas. “And it’s not just Alexis. She’s got an office assistant, also three art technicians. She’s completely comfortable with taking arts and culture, and elevating it.”

Another question that’s arisen is what exactly should be the qualifications for a city arts and culture manager?

Thomas feels that Hill is an ideal candidate. “Alexis has a proven reputation for taking event planning to the next level,” she said.

“I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel,” said Geralda Miller, co-owner of Art Spot Reno. “I think we need to have someone in there who has a strong understanding of the arts, and how to integrate them into the city.”

Oliverio described Fey’s particular skill set as an ideal one for the position: “She is a good dot connector and has a phenomenal memory. She knows how to fit puzzle pieces together to make something flower and surge. The only way you know that kind of thing, really, is by going to art shows, going to the organizations, seeing what they produce, going to theater groups, art openings, just knowing the fabric of what’s being created around you. That’s a hard thing to do if you’re already committed full-time. No flam on Alexis. She’s a very capable lady. There’s just not enough time in the day.”

While Hill’s resume reads differently than Fey’s, she’s confident about fulfilling her new duties.

“I am a trained government administrator,” said Hill, who has a master’s degree in public administration, a bachelor’s in political science and experience with cultural organizations. “As boring as that sounds it’s really important to have someone in a role like that.”

She added, “I really believe that government makes people’s lives better. I’m thrilled to do the job and excited for the opportunity to do more. I take direction from the Arts and Culture Commission. I’m excited to see what they want done in this community.”

One step Thomas said the City will take in the near future is to consider “whether we need to strategically look at adding more [arts and culture] staff.”