Virtual murals

Reno Street Art Project

Laura Rocke wears the VR headset used to view the virtual murals inside the @Reality Virtual Reality Lab at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Laura Rocke wears the VR headset used to view the virtual murals inside the @Reality Virtual Reality Lab at the University of Nevada, Reno.


The Reno Street Art Project hosts a free event on July 17 at the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center at UNR. Visitors can view VR footage of Reno murals through a VR headset, either from 6-7 p.m. or 7-8 p.m. Admission is free, but registration is required. To register, visit

What makes street art so inviting, according to Jeannette Martinez, the art historian on the Reno Street Art Project, is that anyone can view it for free—it’s for the whole community. She said that Reno’s experienced such an influx of street art lately because the city is trying to incorporate this culture into its identity.

Because murals are ephemeral, the Digital Initiatives Department at the University of Nevada, Reno sought to create a digital archive of Reno’s mural scene as of 2017. The department wanted to capture this moment in Reno’s history by preserving the murals before they were painted over or torn down, especially because the city is growing and changing so quickly.

Laura Rocke, the project manager for the Reno Street Art Project, said that since the last time she went out to photograph murals, 30 new ones have appeared, and 15 of those replaced old murals. Rocke created the online digital archive, which she said will be updated every six months.

She believes that muralists create work based on the culture and society that surrounds them, and that the historical contexts or political undertones in murals will make the archive a good primary source of information for future researchers.

Multimedia Production and Virtual Reality Specialist Michelle Rebaleati said that her boss, Mark Gandolfo, came up with the idea of creating a virtual map of Reno that would incorporate the murals from the digital archive.

“This map itself is a virtual gallery of all the street art we found, so when you put on the headset and you’re in the experience, you start off seeing a map of Reno,” she said. “Then, you can teleport around, and then there are these little cubes that show you a picture of the mural, and you reach out with your controller, select the cube, and it transports you to a 360 video of the mural.”

Rebaleati said she’s been working on this project for about a year with her colleague, Luka Starmer (who’s also an RN&R contributor) and a behind-the-scenes team at the university. Her favorite aspect of creating the 360-degree videos is how creativity and technology come together.She said the images were produced using a rig with six GoPro cameras.

When the team went out filming, they left each scene as the found it. If they saw was trash on the street, angry drivers, people walking around in the shot, or a demonstration by City Hall, they kept all of those. They didn’t reshoot or edit to make the mural look perfect.

On July 17, people will be able to try on the VR headsets at a free event at UNR and check out the virtual map, which also spotlights five Reno muralists. Rebaleati also said that several artists will create murals live using the Kingspray Graffiti app.

Rocke said that that there will be booths where participants can go on a treasure hunt through the archive to find certain murals based on clues.

In the near future, Rebaleati said, her team is working toward putting the Reno mural map on the Steam Virtual Reality store, so that anyone, anywhere, with a VR headset can view Reno’s murals.