Nevada artists deserve commissions

We’ve said this before, and we’ll probably say it again, but many members of the staff of this newspaper think that when public money is used for public art in Nevada, those commissions should go to Nevada artists.

We all love public art here at the RN&R. In fact, this newspaper has just embarked on the largest, most widely distributed public art project in Northern Nevada history with our “Art Box” campaign, in which we donate our newsracks and materials to local artists to create one-of-a-kind, utilitarian works of art. In return, we’ll promote the artists. We had an opening on Friday, during which the first seven artists and their pieces had their coming out party. All the artists live here: Alexandria Nicol, Candace Nicol, Carole Ricketts, Cindy Gunn, Dianna Sion, Nicole Ashton Martin, and Rachel Kaiser. They’re all involved with Sierra Arts.

We’re committed in both concept and finance to local art and artists. We always have been. And we’re going to help spread the word and reputation of 100 local artists in the next few months.

So that’s why we get a little irritated when we see a new, large-scale installation, and we hear that, once again, the commission has gone to an out-of-state artist. And please, please, don’t misconstrue this as an attack on artist Donald Lipski of Philadelphia or on the committee of local arts professionals and advocates from the Northern Nevada art community that selected the artist. There is no law or rule that limits selection of artists to locals.

At $224,000, the cost of the 28-feet-high, 40-feet-long, 6.5 ton bus sculpture is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the $13 million spent on the adjacent RTC 4th St. Station. But when was the last time a Nevada artist was paid a quarter of a million dollars to build a public art piece in any other state?

Granted, there are perfectly legitimate arguments for not limiting commissions to local artists. For example, Nevada artists compete for commissions in other states. If we limit our artists to in-state locals, what’s to stop, say, Pennsylvania from limiting their commissions to Pennsylvanians? And wouldn’t limiting the number of artists that provide art cause a certain amount of homogenization of local art?

Most of the money for the bus piece did come from federal sources, therefore that money belongs to the federal government and not the community in which the art is to be installed. (Like we won’t get an earful about that comment.) So there’s an argument to be made that federal money should require a national call for artists. But locals will live with the effects of the bus on the local visual landscape, and we’ll also live with the increased poverty caused by sending money to a state across the country.

As the homeless people on Record Street slump west past “Jackson,” (a name on the bus) and as yet another Northern Nevada artist gives up his or her advanced schooling or home because of the “bad” local economy, the symbolism of the giant bus sculpture becomes clear.