Red carpet redux

Open Studio Tuesdays at St. Mary’s Art Center

Artist Leigh Anne Boi of Carson City paints in one of the quiet rooms available during St. Mary’s Open Studio Tuesdays.

Artist Leigh Anne Boi of Carson City paints in one of the quiet rooms available during St. Mary’s Open Studio Tuesdays.

Photo By David Robert

I settle into a scratchy, old stuffed chair, take my spiral notebook and roller-tip pen from my backpack and start to sketch out some ideas for an essay. Usually, I write in a crowded office in my house. This 19th-century hospital-room-turned-dorm-room at St. Mary’s Art Center in Virginia City, with old lace curtains filtering afternoon sun, is a nice change of pace. If someone’s knocking on my door at home or trying to call my cell, I’m now happily ignorant of the intrusion. Over a productive half hour, no one interrupts my writing, and the new surroundings, with creaky floors and converted gas lamps, seem to make the ideas flow in a different direction than usual. Just what I’d been hoping for.

Every Tuesday, St. Mary’s Art Center offers free access to its antiquated bedrooms and sunny studio spaces for anyone who wants to make art. Or music. Or lunch. The darkroom, printmaking area and kitchen are all open for use. The upright piano in the second-floor hallway is available. And, for writers who no longer use spiral notebooks, there’s a wifi connection.

St. Mary’s, or SMAC, as the staff likes to call it, used to focus mostly on offering services for professional artists, such as weekend workshops. Earlier this year, SMAC expanded its mission and its target demographic to include art students, beginners and the general public—in essence, everyone.

Director Linda Nazemian reasons, “It’s our tax dollars, so the building really belongs to all Nevadans.”

So far, Nevadans who’ve accepted the weekly invitation include printmakers who’ve taken classes at SMAC, archaeologists practicing their darkroom techniques, high-school photographers and an artist who makes etched woodblocks.

While some people come to Open Studio Tuesdays for access to equipment, others come simply to escape the distractions of working in their everyday environments. Watercolor artist Vivienne Buckert has enough space to paint at her home in Dayton, but she commutes to St. Mary’s almost every Tuesday. She says she gets more done here, away from the ubiquitous to-do lists at home.

Buckert, a member of the Sierra Watercolor Society, says she likes that her creative process works a little differently when she’s in SMAC’s spacious painting studio.

“I’m practicing shading techniques,” she says, as she mixes water into dark blue paint and listens to news on a tiny short-wave radio. “This is the sort of thing I never do at home.”

It’s not uncommon for arts centers to offer artists facilities and relief from everyday distractions, but SMAC’s open-door policy is unusual. Typically, professional artists apply for studio space based on the merits of their work. Some art centers have open-studio hours open to anyone, but they usually charge by the hour.

SMAC’s incentive for offering free resources is twofold.

“Part of our mission is to support artists,” says Nazemian, adding, “We don’t have marketing money.” Inviting artists over on a regular basis struck her as a simple way to offer a useful benefit and spread the word about the art center at the same time.

While the posted studio hours will likely appeal to people without 9-5 jobs, Nazemian says she’d like to make SMAC’s studios as accessible as possible. If you call in advance to notify her, she’ll tell the caretaker you’re there and let you stay a couple hours past closing time.