Grow up

How I came of age in Northern Nevada's art scene

The Nevada Museum of Art brings world-class exhibitions to an accessible local venue.

The Nevada Museum of Art brings world-class exhibitions to an accessible local venue.

photo: Georgia fisher

After living in Reno for almost 10 years, I’ve become quite passionate about the city’s art scene. To give you some context for my upbringing, I was born in Berkeley, California—quite possibly the art mecca of the West Coast. Or at least that’s how its inhabitants see it. Regardless of its reputation, I was immersed in cultural weirdness from an early age. I spent the first 13 years of my life living in the Bay Area, and my parents signed me up for an unbelievable number of art classes and camps. I must have taken almost every type of art class available—ballet, tap, dance, theater, voiceover lessons, singing lessons, guitar lessons, cooking classes, and even a Harry Potter-themed week-long summer camp (which was pretty much the coolest thing ever). I loved them all.

When I started high school, my parents uprooted my little brother and me and plopped us down in Gardnerville, Nevada. I was all in favor of moving to a new, different community, and I learned that even small towns have a unique perspective on art and culture. I think this was an important lesson to learn early on—creative people can be found anywhere. Sure, places like New York City or San Francisco are cool and full of great museums and cultural centers, but great artists aren’t confined by geography. They’ll live anywhere that inspires them, and as a young writer, Gardnerville certainly inspired me. Many of the most creative people I’ve ever met happened to be in Gardnerville at the same time I was. I spent all of high school as a drama nerd, and my family and I saw dozens of plays throughout the Carson Valley region. By the time I was getting ready to go to the University of Nevada, Reno for college, I couldn’t wait to see what Reno had to offer.

I say all this to give you some context for how I view and value Reno’s art and artists. To me, Reno has the best of both worlds—many of the same cultural elements of a big city with the perks of a small, close-knit community.

Urban legends

UNR alumnae Kelly Gesick (nee Bridegum), Sarah Hall (nee King) and Ashley Hennefer found their niche at Brushfire.


When I moved to Reno, I started UNR as a theater major with the intent of being a playwright or dramaturg, so I spent a lot of time exploring Reno's theater scene. Although I changed my major, I still think Reno theater is fascinating. I vividly remember my first visit to the Brüka Theatre in particular—after spending a few years in Gardnerville, being in downtown Reno to see a play with my college friends felt positively urban. I was stoked, and I remember thinking, “This theater has couches!” As my mom would say, “That's totally Berkeley.” My mom and I tend to use “Berkeley” as a way to describe things that are quirky, weird, unique and cool, and 18-year-old me thought Brüka was the place to be.

And down the street from Brüka is the Nevada Museum of Art. After visiting museums in places like London, Istanbul, Vancouver and even the Louvre in Paris, I still think NMA is a damned good museum. The building is beautifully designed and the exhibits are well-curated and thought provoking. As a college freshman, it became my go-to place for when I was missing the Bay Area and needed a quick shot of stimulating culture.

Despite being born and raised in a densely populated area, my family and I never felt like Reno was lesser because it wasn’t Berkeley or San Francisco. In fact, it made discovering gems like Brüka that much more exciting. My friends and family back home in the Bay frequently assume that Nevada is the rural Wild West, and in many ways, it is, and that comes through in much of its art. But Reno is a city, and its residents crave those unique cultural experiences that tend to be found in more populous places.

Starting fires

While in college, I worked for the Brushfire literary arts journal, UNR's student art publication. Brushfire gave me direct access to writers, visual artists and photographers in Northern Nevada. And editing Brushfire allowed me to survey the region as a curator would—what are the themes emerging among all of these artists? What do artists want and need to be fulfilled creatively here? Connections to nature and the desire for a strong community came up again and again. I saw this firsthand when I went to the opening of the first Holland Project location, or watching my friends perform at Walden's open mic night, or camping at Pyramid Lake for a secret music festival, or when I read poetry in a spontaneous poetry reading on the UNR quad at night.

These experiences, among countless others like them, confirmed what I’ve always suspected about Reno—this is a cool place with plenty of experiences to have if you’re open-minded and willing to see the city for what it is. It’s been a few years since I was part of Brushfire, but I’m still involved in Reno’s art scene by writing about it, and I’ve been fortunate to be a part of Northern Nevada’s growing maker movement. This is where I see the future of Reno art: the collaboration between creatives, scientists and technologists. And much of this is already evident through events like Reno Mini Maker Faire and Burning Man. This is also where I think Reno can solidify its reputation: a city where artists work and live together and make good art together. And maybe the next generation of locals will have a memorable moment and think, “That’s totally Reno.”