Landess Witmer is a horsewoman who’s kind enough to show new riders,including clumsy ones like me,the ropes. She has at least as many dogs as equines, however, and spends most of her time on Artpaws, her Artown nonprofit that brings together vendors, artists and musicians for a one-day shindig to benefit animal charities. Around 5,000 attendees are expected at the july 12 event, where proceeds will benefit Palomino Valley Pet Rescue, the United States Wolf Refuge, and a third group to be determined by people’s choice.
You say you're a professional beg-and-fetcher. What does that mean?
That means if I can find a good cause … I try to raise money for animal aid and nonprofits and animal rescue groups. Artpaws is all I dedicate eight months of my life to. I've never taken any money out, never wanted to. All the money goes to the animals, and I've always been very proud of that. [The original Artpaws founder] thought it was a great idea to bring animals and art together, which is unusual and lots of fun. Now we're in our 15th year.
Does all the Artpaws art that's for sale depict animals? Do the sales go toward animals?
The sales go straight to the artists. They can be anyone from a portrait artist to a caricature artist to somebody who makes dog collars out of beautiful leather, to somebody that makes the little dog lockets that hang from their collars and have their name and number, to somebody who does cremationthe people who do the beautiful urnsit's everything you can think of that's animal-related. It's crazy. It's like a canine carnival.
How do you start pulling a 5,000-person event together? I freak out when I have a dinner party.
You're trying to create awareness. You're trying to make sure you have everything you need. You're hitting up your best friends for sponsorships, and you're just trying to be ready and do something different every year as well.
So what do people like to see?
Well, when we added the beer garden and the bands, that attracted a whole new group of people who come with a blanket and a little chair and just relax. They come for my silent auction, too, because I am just relentless, and I never give up [when getting sponsorships]. I've gotten so many job offers from places, and they come up like, “You are such a good salesperson!” But they don't realize that's because I believe in my event, and I'd have to really believe in their cause. … Almost every casino in town has been supportive. It's amazing how pet friendly Nevada, and in particular Reno, is.
How about bands? What's it like to book them and work with them? I've heard that can be tough.
They're so funny, because they're all definitely yes. Almost everybody you ask is saying, “Yes! Our group would love to do that!” And then you spend the next eight months trying to have them do a walk-through. With a band, especially in an outdoor park like McKinley that's curved, the music has to be able to not boom out the front people but then still reach the far people, and kind of go around the building. So there are a lot of logistics, and you're always trying to walk through the event with your band. I highly recommend that, and sometimes that's impossible. Then you're standing in the front with ear plugs, and people in back are going, “I can't hear!”
So I'd say one, book early; two, do the walk-through; and three; confirm, because we have made stars at Artpaws. The Whitney Myer Band was at Artpaws for three years with [Myer's] dog, Guinness, and we consider them amazing, and they went on to be very popular. But the flip side is we've lost bands, too. They've broken up before Artpaws, like a week or two before.
Let's talk about some of the artists, too.
We're collecting art from around the United States. There's a guy, Tom Mosser, who did some art for the 49ers and now he's back East. He's known for his paintings of dogs staring at tennis balls, and he does other paintings of animals staring at what they love most in the world. We also have Beccavision [Becca Fischer], a really cool artist I found on Facebook. A friend bought a dog portrait by her and put it on Facebook, and said, “This is my cute dog.” And I said, “Yes, your dog is great,” and then I found the artist, and she gave us a donation. She gave us a paintingand then one of our volunteers [bought] 18 paintings by her. She immortalized every animal she'd ever owned, including a horse. It's the coolest thing, tooall colors and lines and stars and zigzags and zoo-zoos, and each painting has a heart somewhere in it.
So doing this is good for an artist's businesses, basically.
Yes, and art is just so global now anyway. If you're a Reno artist, you can get on Facebook and be anywhere. That's the difference in art and in fund-raising and all of it now; the sky's the limit. And I don't mind if somebody says no. They rarely do, but if they say no to giving to me, it means they've found some other cause that's more near and dear to them.