Making the rounds

Art Around Northtowne

You spin me right round, baby, right round, like a record, baby, right round, round, round: the Northtowne Lane roundabout.

You spin me right round, baby, right round, like a record, baby, right round, round, round: the Northtowne Lane roundabout.

Photo By dana NÖllsch

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Roundabouts can be daunting the first time you happen upon them while driving. However, they are deceptively simple: Traffic flows in a counter-clockwise direction; cars entering into the roundabout yield to cars coming from the left. Supposedly roundabouts are more efficient than four-way stops and handle congestions better in high-traffic areas. They are also becoming more common on U.S. roads.

Although practical, aesthetically roundabouts, at least in the United States, can be described as plain, boring, and even a waste of space. The inner part of the circle is generally filled with sand or gravel, though sometimes an attempt is made to landscape it with rocks and native plants.

When Estephanie Tittle was approached by Dave Block, owner of High Sierra Lighting, to help design a sculpture for a public art piece, Tittle came up with the idea of using the roundabout as a site for their creation. A roundabout was recently installed on Northtowne Lane near North McCarran. Tittle thought it would be a perfect place to create a community-based piece of art that will help to revive the area.

“The idea is that it will create a different attitude and feeling about the neighborhoods in this area,” says Tittle. “The project has blossomed since.”

Block came up with the project and asked his designers to work on it because he didn’t want to lay off more of his workers. High Sierra Lighting designs and builds slot machine lighting, and sales are slow right now. To keep his workers busy, he decided to keep his staff employed and fund the project himself. The design team from Distinction In Design got to work and came up with an illuminated sculpture called “Art Around Northtowne” made of different colored cubes. Tittle says the blocks are based on the building blocks of community and success. The center four squares will glow at night with varying colors that can be programmed into the energy-efficient LED lighting.

The group has partnered with the cities of Reno and Sparks and two elementary schools in the direct vicinity of the roundabout: Rita Cannan in Reno and Agnes Risley in Sparks. The sculpture represents the meeting place of the two cities.

“We are hoping that the students will come to feel a sense of ownership for the sculpture and their community,” Tittle says. “We want to develop community pride.”

After Jan. 1, phase two of the project will begin. Inside the curb of the roundabout will be a ring of glass blocks that glow amber. Interested parties can donate by “buying” a glass block. The blocks will have names etched into them, and there will also be a large plaque that lists the supporters of the project.

A brand new non-profit organization, Art Around Town, has stemmed from the Northtowne Lane roundabout sculpture. Future plans for Art Around Town include getting art into other roundabouts and involving local artists.

“We want to help coordinate and get local artists—be it painters, singers, musicians, sculptors—out and more visible in the community,” says Tittle.

This first project has been in the works for just over a year and, after coordinating with structural engineers and studying up on the best materials to use for the sculpture, it is soon to be a reality.

“This isn’t the last you’ll hear—in fact, this is just the beginning of what you’ll hear—from Art Around Town,” promises Tittle.