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A conversation with Artown’s Beth Macmillan

Artown Executive Director Beth Macmillan says she never expected her community to become as personal to her as it has through working for Artown.

Artown Executive Director Beth Macmillan says she never expected her community to become as personal to her as it has through working for Artown.

Photo By David Robert

Has one of the goals of Artown been to improve the way Reno appears to the world at large as an artistically rich cultural center?

Absolutely. But I think [the founders'] first intention was to bring people back downtown. They put together a poster and went to all the different arts organizations and asked if they could all come downtown in a two- or three-week time frame … 30,000 people showed up, so people did come downtown for the arts. Now, clearly we’re able to attract internationally known artists who want to come to Reno because it’s taken seriously.

Is it Artown’s goal to cover more of the local arts organizations’ expenses, since up until this year Artown has covered none?

There is a goal to do that, but we can only do that if we get the funding for it. … We’d be delighted to. Gosh, we’d become a real partner with the local arts organizations.

How did you initially get involved with Artown?

I had a dance education business teaching little children dance because I originally was a dancer. I came to the United States [from Johannesburg, South Africa] to dance, and I started a dance education business for kids called Teddy Bear Dancers, and from there I became involved with Nevada Festival Ballet. I was then the executive director of Nevada Festival Ballet, and upon leaving that organization, I was offered a job by Artown, so I’ve been very fortunate to have this journey.

How do you address the concerns of individual artists who feel overlooked by Artown?

If an individual artists calls me and says, “I want to be with Artown,” well, I don’t have a venue or location. I don’t have what an individual artist needs. If we can either pair them up with someone who has got a gallery space, or if they can work with a local art agency, then that’s what needs to happen. But Artown, we work with arts organizations. … What I would like to do down the road is somehow help individual artists understand how to function as their own business and maybe give them the tools they need to market what they have, sell what they have.

What has the most potential for improvement?

The venues. I love Wingfield Park. I think it’s beautiful, but it comes with all kinds of complications because it’s on the island by the river. The bathroom facilities are never suitable. I don’t think you could ever make it a perfect seating area. There’s always somebody that can’t see. We are addressing the sound issues. … The other is a theater. An 800- to 1,000-seat theater—we just don’t have that in this community.

How have you changed personally as a result of being part of Artown?

I’ve really had to look at every genre of the arts as equally important and really be very nurturing and caring of our local artists while looking out for the best interest of the community. Really, I think that when you’re in a position like this, you develop a passion for your community that you could never do otherwise. Your community becomes very personal.