Out on the midtown
Take a walk in one of Reno’s most booming neighborhoods
You know there’s a need for an event when people show up for it on a cold, snowy Thursday evening. That’s what happened on April 29 of this year when, during a late-spring snowstorm, the Midtown Nights Arts Project launched its first ever Midtown Nights Artwalk.
A handful of black and white flyers and posts on Facebook were enough to attract more than 30 artists and 18 businesses to participate in the artwalk, which drew more than 300 people, and which many locals hoped would be the first of many for the fledgling district. Now, as midtown revs up for the second Midtown Nights Artwalk on July 29, it looks as if those hopes might become reality.Man about midtown
The idea came to Aaron Pedersen, a University of Phoenix business student and commercial driver, during a casual conversation at a mid-Reno eatery with his buddy, Mike Cutler, a University of Nevada, Reno student, owner of Pine Creek Outdoors and a volunteer with the university’s International Student Ministry.
Pedersen insists neither had any connection to midtown, the area enclosed by Liberty Street, Forest Street, Plumb Lane and Wells Avenue. But as a business student and business owner, respectively, they “just had some good ideas.”
“We were just trying to think of some ideas for what we could do as students that could generate some interest in this hip little area that’s kind of hidden, and involve some of the international students at UNR,” he says.
Pedersen drew on his experience of living in Phoenix, Ariz., home of a successful First Friday art walk, and he wanted to try the idea here. Although he acknowledges that Reno has something similar—wine walks abound along the Riverwalk downtown and at various shopping centers around town—there still wasn’t anything quite like this. “I really wanted to create an arts district in midtown because I started to realize that a lot of artists lived and worked there. We didn’t really know how what it takes to start an art walk. We just figured it out as we went.”
They came up with a four-phased plan: 1) Research what it takes to create an art walk and arts district by looking at cases of successful arts districts around the country, and work together with the Midtown Merchants Association and local government. 2) Develop an art walk event on April 29. 3) Work with public artists, local government, and the city’s chosen urban planning firm, Wood Rodgers, Inc., to gradually implement the district’s physical features, which might include decorative street lamps, district flags, public sculptures, or other such additions; and 4) Develop the district through the addition of galleries, businesses, mixed-use urban living centers, etc.
Phase one began immediately when Pedersen and Cutler pitched the idea to the Midtown Merchants Association, which went wild over it. The two began attending all MMA meetings and proposing the idea to area businesses, who offered their support. Next came a funding appeal to the city of Reno’s Redevelopment Agency, whose members also loved the idea, but any hopes of funding were dashed immediately—at least until the event found legs, and the city’s budget crisis turned around.
The two men were unfazed and opted to use $2,000 of their own money to get the event off the ground. “It wasn’t too bad—we didn’t think that was a lot of cost,” says Pedersen. “We just figured out how to do it and be successful without spending a lot of money.”
They took advantage of volunteers and the enthusiastic merchants association, who all pitched in to help bring phase two to life.
Several UNR International Students generated buzz for the event through blogs and articles in The Nevada Sagebrush. That, combined with the minimal publicity Pedersen and Cutler could afford and some coverage on local news stations managed to draw hundreds on that fateful snowy evening and sealed the deal for a repeat performance.
“We just wanted to work as a team to create foot traffic, cultural awareness and some tax revenue,” says Pedersen, explaining that the plan was always to turn the nonprofit event completely over to the midtown merchants once they got the ball rolling. “People know it’s an older area, and there are a lot of empty commercial buildings and vacant lots there. And just since we started this project, we’ve seen businesses come in.”
He’s referring to Out of Bounds Board Shop, which relocated to midtown from Plumb Lane on April 1 and immediately became a participant in the Artwalk, as well as St. James Infirmary owner Art Farley’s purchase of the old Crystal Geyser building, soon to open as Brasserie St. James. “[Farley] showed up and signed the papers just before the Artwalk, and he really supported it,” says Pedersen, adding that the building will serve as a great venue for bands, artists and food for the July Artwalk.
With phases one and two off the ground, phase three began in earnest on May 3, when, together with midtown property owners, they met with Wood Rodgers, Inc. regarding district design features.
“They already had plans to redesign and extend the sidewalks to make the streets smaller and create better walking areas for events,” says Pedersen. “We talked to them about some designs we’d like to see in Reno, some very modern, green, efficient pieces. One of the things they’re looking to do is have spiral sculptural pieces that create electricity as they spin and that you could put ‘Midtown Arts District’ signs on.”
Artwalk the line
The July 29 Midtown Nights Artwalk may very well be bigger than its predecessor. Participating businesses include Amendment 21, Maytan Music Center, The Hub Coffee Shop, Junkee Clothing Exchange, Pickled Tink Studio & Boutique, Nevada Fine Arts, Cyber Infusion, Zephyr Books, Art Dogs & Grace, Dragonflies Café, Out of Bounds Board Shop, Sushi Pier 2 and more.
Local artists scheduled to showcase their talents include Beth Scott, Calvin Sprague, Marcio Decker, Bea Whitney, Mike Lucido, Sheri Havelka, Ann O’Lear, Tim Yardic, Deborah Butler, artists featured by Sierra Arts Foundation, and others. Talents range from visual art to live music, including a Turkish musician, live readings by writers, and mimes and jugglers. Pedersen says fire dancing troupe Controlled Burn may also make an appearance. The event is free, and maps of participating locations are available online and from local businesses.
Pedersen says the event has now been fully funded independently of him and Cutler, thanks to a $15 fee charged to participating businesses and artists. No commissions are being taken by organizers, and some artists’ work will be for sale.
As for what’s next, Pedersen says he and Cutler will continue to work diligently to pursue city funding, get the midtown area labeled officially as a district, and see the Artwalk and the midtown area keep flourishing.
What about earning some business school credit for his hard work?
“Not yet, but I haven’t pushed for it, either,” says Pedersen. “It’s more about the experience. I have the satisfaction that I created something successful, that helped to build the community. I learned a lot of great things I can take with me into the future, and maybe even start my own business.”