Nurturing talent

UNR's School of the Arts reaches thousands of local kids

Chip De Stefano conducts a concert at the Lake Tahoe Music Camp.

Chip De Stefano conducts a concert at the Lake Tahoe Music Camp.


People often don’t think of us as part of the community, but as a land-grant university, that’s our mission,” says Chris Money, assistant director of programming at the University of Nevada, Reno’s School of the Arts. “My job is to go out and show people that we’re doing this for them, contributing to the community.”

This extends beyond health clinics and job fairs. The university’s School of the Arts, through employment of faculty and staff, and its arts events, makes a $13 million annual impact on Northern Nevada. And in a world where arts programs usually are the first to go in tough budget environments, it is perhaps even more meaningful that the school engages more than 25,000 children each year in fine arts activities, both on campus and throughout the community in schools, library, hotels and other public spaces. Kids ranging from preschool-aged to college-aged have hundreds of opportunities each year to take part in performances, workshops or clinics in music, dance, theater and visual arts.

“Our outreach efforts are many, particularly in the area of music,” says director Larry Engstrom. “Not only are we training teachers to go out and teach music in our public schools, but our music-education teacher leads programs in preschools and elementary schools that enable kids to use instruments. All our graduates are exposed to that program and have worked with kids as well.”

Engstrom adds that the school offers up its facilities on Friday afternoons for a kids’ Suzuki strings program, which teaches string instruments to students from preschool to high school.

Additionally, the music department works closely with the Washoe County School District to conduct jazz workshops in the schools, and host day-long events focusing on certain instruments, such as Flute Day, Day of Percussion, and TubaFest. (Visit for information.)

In the art department, schoolkids come from around the area to tour facilities where UNR students are working, and guest artists often give talks to those kids. “Last summer,” Engstrom says, “faculty led an interactive drawing activity with preschoolers. They used a 30-by-10-foot board where kids could create their own artwork.”

Engstrom also points out the many performances on campus and community activities that involve university faculty. “Our theater faculty may work with kids in local performances,” Engstrom says. “For instance, I play in a brass quintet and have gone to elementary schools, doing performances and explaining the instruments. Most of us faculty are doing things like that all the time.”

Performing Arts Series

As Money points out, a primary vehicle for providing arts access to the community is the Performing Arts Series, established in 1962 in response to the community's request for local performances by national and international touring artists. With the mission of “enriching the cultural life of our community,” the series presents shows for adults and children, with at least five family-friendly events per year at libraries or schools.

“When I work with agents to book guests for the Performing Arts Series, I specifically am looking to line up residencies, clinics and workshops with them, so that they will not only perform here on campus but also in schools or in the community,” Money says, explaining that the Thursday night performances are public, and then performers stick around for additional school or community shows, workshops or talks.

Coming up in March is The Intergalactic Nemesis ~ Book One: Target Earth, a show with a comic-book feel in which sound effects, projected illustrations and wacky actors’ voices present a 1930s-style radio play. Following the public performance on March 12, kids from various schools around the area will come to campus for their own special performance.

For the full Performing Arts Series calendar, visit

Reno Jazz Festival

“I'm told that the Starbucks on campus is the busiest one in the world during the weekend of the Reno Jazz Festival,” says Engstrom, who also directs the event. “I don't know if that's true, but we definitely break records.”

During the three-day festival, roughly 9,000 participants, more than 300 school groups and around 75 clinicians, performers and adjudicators converge on the UNR campus for what is one of the world’s largest and most respected festivals of its kind in the world. According to Money, up to 7,000 participants are younger than college age.

This year’s festival is slated for April 23-25, and as Engstrom points out, there are four different ways to enjoy it. First, there are all-day, every day performances from school groups from around the west and other parts of the world, taking place every half hour. Second, on the hour, all day, every day, workshops presented by guest artists or clinicians from around the country are taking place. Third, each night features concerts from some of the best performers in the world. And fourth, for each school group that attends, that group is given a clinic immediately following every performance.

School of the Arts outreach efforts to solicit participation start with invites to each campus in the area, from elementary through high school. But anyone is welcome. Tickets are $15-$60. For information, visit

Lake Tahoe Music Camp

Registration for this week-long event just began on Feb. 2, and more than 40 staff members, local band directors and music teachers are lined up to work with the roughly 200 students who can be accommodated at the 4-H camp at South Lake Tahoe. From July 5-11, student musicians in grades 7-12 (some 6th graders may be accepted based on experience) will have the opportunity to fine-tune their skills while enjoying a full camp experience. Campers can participate in concert bands, jazz bands and a variety of wind and percussion chamber ensembles during a full week of rehearsals, clinics and concerts. For information or to register, visit

As Engstrom and Money both point out, this is just a sampling of the activities offered by the School of the Arts to engage kids and their families in the arts.

“It’s our mission to challenge audiences, to provide them with something different,” says Money. For more information about the School of the Arts, as well as a full events calendar, visit