Crossing the pond

Joseph DeLappe

UNR School of the Arts Director Larry Engstrom, left, converses with art professor Joseph DeLappe at a farewell reception for DeLappe on campus.

UNR School of the Arts Director Larry Engstrom, left, converses with art professor Joseph DeLappe at a farewell reception for DeLappe on campus.


Joseph DeLappe ran an unusual errand last week—he was at the Reno Police Department, dropping off firearms. He’s not a gun collector or a crime suspect. He’s an artist whose work takes a hard look at things like military force, terrorism and torture. An artwork by him might take the form of a cardboard sculpture, an arrangement of computer mice or a first-person shooter game. The firearms had been part of an art piece, and he needed to shed them before he moves abroad.

After 23 years as an art professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, DeLappe will relocate in January to the Dundee, Scotland, a city of about 150,000 that’s known as a hub for game design. Games such as Grand Theft Auto and Minecraft have lineages there. He’ll be a creative researcher at the city’s Abertay University, which has one of the top game design programs in Europe.

DeLappe received an offer from Abertay after he’d spent a month in 2015 working with a team in Dundee on a game called Killbox, which addresses drone warfare. It happened to be a good time in his life for a major transition. He is recently divorced, and his twin daughters, who are 26, have reached independence. “Eva is right now interviewing for the top medical schools in the country,” he said. And, as announced by this mic drop—I mean headline—from the Economist—“Sarah DeLappe is the hottest new writer on Broadway.”

DeLappe in 1993 founded UNR’s Digital Media Studio, where students work in video, sound, programming and other digital forms.

Former graduate student Benjamin Poynter said, “He took my ambitions as a game artist and developer and pushed them to the conceptual limit.” Poynter credited DeLappe’s guidance with having led to award nominations, speaking gigs and a professorship at New York Institute of Technology, where he now works.

During DeLappe’s tenure at UNR, he’s also had dozens of shows in countries including Mexico, Germany, Turkey, Australia, and the United Kingdom. He’s been covered by the likes of Wired, Vice, NPR and CNN and has lectured at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

He’s looking forward to working in a bigger pond. Though Dundee itself is a bit smaller than Reno, his new city, country and university are all notably more enthusiastic about funding artistic production than his current ones are.

And Reno, while DeLappe referred to it as “a good incubator,” is missing some parts of a fully functioning arts ecosystem for artists who establish themselves internationally.

“Pretty much everything I do with my work is elsewhere, which I think is not a good thing,” DeLappe said. “I’m a little frustrated by that. … There’s a gap in terms of truly developing a very robust, supportive, contemporary arts community here.”

He also anticipates that spending some time abroad after a presidential election that he called “a wallop to the head” will make for a broader perspective on American politics, which he intends to continue to critique. He plans to front-burner an idea that’s been brewing for a couple years, which will address the U.S. military presence in over 150 countries.

DeLappe typically has artwork in two or three European exhibits per year. He’s looking forward to being stationed close enough to actually attend them.

“This will allow me to really take it all to the next level,” he said.