Don’t use art as troll bait

Often, local television news stations report on the visual arts with a tone that’s halfway between dismissive and derisive—something along the lines of, “Well, isn’t this kooky?” At RN&R, we think artists and their work deserve more carefully considered responses. Whether you like it, hate it, or aren’t sure what to make of it, there are always interesting questions and stories behind a festival, an exhibit, a movement or a single work of art—not to mention the cultural, social or political forces behind each of these.

Recently, a local TV reporter stepped past casual dismissal and used a new outdoor sculpture as bait to incite knee-jerk, talk-before-you-think responses.

On Nov. 21, KTVN’s Ky Sisson posted a photo on Facebook of the piece on USA Parkway, “Transition Portal,” by Kate Raudenbush. His caption read, “Oh boy … what do you think of THIS? Remember how controversial the ’Reno Star’ was on S. McCarran and Virginia? This 30-foot sculpture is out on USA Parkway now. Thoughts?”

The station also shared the post, and a flurry of supporters and detractors shared and commented. Some found the sculpture “brilliant,” “lovely” or “beautiful.” Others criticized the use of Nevada Department of Transportation funding or decried the Californian influence that the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center—where the sculpture is located—represents. One called the piece “useless flimflam.”

All of the above points merit thoughtful discussion. But Sisson’s post included no facts or observations, just easy instigation at the expense of good reporting and productive discussion.

We find Raudenbush’s sculpture to be a thought-provoking symbol of both the tension and the promise of a new tech industry, but we’re open to other interpretations. We wish there were more viewpoints reported on the artwork in our region. We wouldn’t have minded if Sisson had decided he hates the sculpture with every molecule of his being and had illuminated his reasons. We wouldn’t have been fazed if he had invited KTVN’s social media followers to discuss the ever-present discord between those who find art crucial to a civil society and those who find it a waste of public funds. And we would have been all ears if Sisson or KTVN had challenged NDOT to explain why state funding goes to a project like this—or even consulted NDOT’s website to learn about the goals of that organization’s Landscape & Aesthetics program. (Those goals are, “to improve the relationship between our highways and our communities, improve the state’s public image, welcome visitors, increase tourism and development opportunities, and enhance the attractiveness of transportation corridors while celebrating the state’s diversity.”)

But Sisson did nothing other than use a piece of art to invite catty one-liners. That’s the precise opposite of what a news organization should be doing—even on social media, where an entity’s current worth is measured in clicks, likes and shares. (See “In transit,” p. 18, this week’s art story, for more about the “Transition Portal” sculpture.)