No vacancy

Reno Playa Art Park

Joe C. Rock works on a mural at the new art park.

Joe C. Rock works on a mural at the new art park.


The Reno Playa Art Park, located on Virginia Street north of Fifth Street, opens Nov. 10 with a reception, 5-8 p.m., that includes a flaming ribbon cutting, food trucks, entertainment and a temporary beer garden.

A vacant lot on North Virginia Street just became the Reno Playa Art Park, featuring sculptures that have appeared at the Burning Man festival.

Maria Partridge, the park’s coordinator and artist advocate for Burning Man, said, “It’s bringing the culture of Burning Man to Reno. … We’re creating here, hopefully, like, a community gathering spot.”

Partridge, along with Burning Man co-founder Crimson Rose, curated a small exhibit of playa art in 2007 and an installation of tree sculptures near the Riverside Hotel called “The Mangrove” in 2008. For the new park, she collaborated with members of the Reno Gateway Project and Artech to pick five sculptures.

“Something like ’Imago’ here … on the desert it was beautiful, but it was immediately covered in dust,” said Partridge, gesturing to a gazebo constructed of faux butterfly wings. “But here you really get the iridescent quality of what it is, so it’s completely different in an urban setting than it is out on the playa.”

Kirsten Berg, the artist who created the sculpture in homage to both the metamorphic properties of the butterfly and the temples of Southeast Asia where she lives for most of the year, sees the park as a credit to Reno’s shifting cultural dynamic.

“We pass through Reno every year because our launching spot is the Bay Area,” said Berg. “We always remark on the change, especially in the last five years, and we think it’s the art and the artistic energy that a lot of young people are bringing to the area.”

Muralist Joe C. Rock is painting the massive, Burning Man-themed mural for the park. He said he’s noticed a renewed acceptance of his craft in recent years.

“There’s all these businesses that are really accepting it, and they’re realizing that it’s such a benefit to the community,” said Rock, who has been painting murals in Reno for over a decade. “It’s not just a blank, drab wall for someone to look at, and if you hired a painter to paint your wall that [single] color, it’s probably the same amount that you’re going to pay me.”

The art park’s placement in the main corridor between the downtown and university districts also serves as an incentive for foot traffic—one of the hallmarks of the redevelopment of areas such as midtown.

“There’s always people taking photographs in front of the murals—prom pictures and this and that—where, 10 years ago, there’s definitely not somebody taking a prom picture on Center Street,” said Rock.

The lot that houses the new art installation is being leased, and Partridge said the park will probably be moved in six months to a year, after the lot is slated for redevelopment. Meanwhile, she foresees the park benefiting downtown.

“When the city knocked down those motels … this would have been a blight area, and it would have had a chain link fence across the front,” she said. “I mean, how good is that for Circus Circus and the Eldo[rado] and downtown Reno? It’s not, right?”

The idea of a temporary “pop-up art park,” is one that she thinks could be employed annually.

“I would probably curate and choose X amount of projects that I think could actually work in Reno for a year … and then work with the city to say, ’Is there an empty lot, or is there someplace that we could actually do a Reno Playa Art Park?’” said Partridge. “It’s all an experiment.”