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Faults in the visual landscape
When the subject arises of whether Artown “does its job,” there’s no question that the visual-arts community feels more neglected than local artists of other media—but that may be the nature of the visual-arts beast.
The major issue for local galleries has been with regard to marketing. Carolyn Barnes at Gene Speck’s Silver State Gallery is one local art provider who’s elected not to participate in Artown this year.
"[Last year] all the galleries remained open for five Thursdays in July, and it wasn’t promoted,” Barnes says. “It was like one hand clapping. It doesn’t seem like it’s worth our effort to attend all their meetings and meet their early deadlines when they don’t seem to think we have a good visual arts community here.”
Artown Executive Director Beth Macmillan is the first to admit that last year’s “Thursday night is gallery night” idea didn’t work as well as intended. Thursday nights were thought to be the best time to feature galleries because Wingfield Park is dark on Thursdays so the lawns can be watered.
“Some people loved [the Thursday night receptions], and some people clearly did not enjoy it or find that it worked for them,” Macmillan says. “Artown has never said we are everything to everyone. … We were really trying to put a focus on visual arts, and if it didn’t work, hey, … let’s [try something else].”
Visual artists have also had the concern that, for the past several years, the Artown poster has been created by an artist who is not from Reno. Some artists see that as a disregard for the talent that exists around town.
“Instead of commissioning artwork from a local artist to illustrate the Artown posters, they’ve continually paid artists from another state, and the Reno artists, my friends, have felt a little shafted,” says Chad Sorg, co-owner of Bleulion Gallery. “I have a feeling things will be changing in the coming years due to the pressure their organization is under from our little art world.”
Artown did give locals the chance to create the poster art this year, as it has not in several years past. It asked local galleries to let their artists know about the contest and put out ads in Encore and the Reno Gazette-Journal. Even so, only nine locals applied; Sorg was one of them. This year’s poster artist, Brad Yeo, is from Canada. Macmillan says an unbiased jury made the decision on what art to use (the jury was not given artists’ names) and at least one local artist made it to the final five.
Other galleries are not participating in Artown either because they could not get their information into the Artown committee early in 2004, or they just believed Artown doesn’t meld with what they stand for.
“Our gallery’s overall view is kind of sticking to ourselves; we are kind of the underground gallery," says Ahren Hertel, co-owner of the successful nonprofit gallery The Chapterhouse. "We’ll keep The Chapterhouse its own identity rather than part of a larger entity. … We’re totally used to doing our own things, so the idea of someone [like Artown] helping us is kind of weird." —M.J.