Winners’ tale

Sierra Arts foundation recognizes some of Reno best artists in several disciplines

Tim Wood, Megan Berner, Nate Clark and Mark Maynard were among the grant winners.

Tim Wood, Megan Berner, Nate Clark and Mark Maynard were among the grant winners.

Photo/Josie Luciano

Sierra Arts Grant winners will exhibit and perform their work at the opening of the “Grants to Artists” exhibition at Sierra Arts Gallery on September 17, 6-8 p.m. The exhibition is open Sept. 9-30. To learn more about the Sierra Arts Grant recipients, go to

Local nonprofit organization Sierra Arts Foundation has announced its annual grant winners—but they’re technically not grants because Sierra Arts does not require recipients to carry out specific projects or report on funds. The seven $1,000 professional awards and two $500 student awards are going to nine individuals who exhibit artistic excellence, innovation and professionalism in their fields.

And the winners are: Megan Berner, Nate Clark, Nick Larsen, and Catherine Maybach-Schmid in visual arts; Timothy Chatwood in music; Mark Maynard in literature; Chase McKenna in theater; and student recipients Annie Evans in musical theater and Caitlin McCarty in dance. Recipients will also participate in a group exhibit at Sierra Arts Gallery through the end of the month.

With a group this big—30 percent bigger than in years past—it seems reasonable to break down their work by trend, as if these nine individuals could possibly take the temperature and tell the forecast of all art in our city. They can’t, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t noticeable patterns if you are looking for them.

In general, the work is multi-layered, quiet until it is loud, vague until it is specific, and interdisciplinary … except for the times when the artists are incredibly nested in their disciplines. The only all-out universal trend seems to be a willingness to work hard.


Maybach-Schmid’s mixed media “plaques” adapt photo-transfer techniques originally used for lithography to give her ceramic wall hangings another dimension. “I never really knew what to do with a big, flat space,” she said. The result is work that is both created and viewed in layers.

In his exploration of “experimental classicism,” Chatwood pairs traditional instruments with sound and light effects to enhance his music. In one piece called “Echoes for Viola Effects,” the musician adds a digital echo to an instrument that can only have so much resonance on its own.

McKenna’s theatrical body of work is multi-tiered. After starring in film, television and live theater in Los Angeles, McKenna brought her production company, The Merry War Theatre Group, back to Reno. Now the troupe connects with audiences through war dramas, Shakespeare plays and the occasional Star Wars parody.

Although Clark’s paintings can be appreciated for their minimal aesthetic alone, the obsessive, imperfect tick-marks that show up time and again in his work belie a primitive urge for—and subsequent breakdown of—order that is no less meaningful today than it might have been thousands of years ago.

Quiet and loud

All of the visual work this year qualifies as “quiet.” It’s muted and restrained. Berner’s pieces—flags made in collaboration with poet Jared Stanley—interact with their surroundings in silence as the printed text either hangs or waves, ultimately obscuring its message and original purpose.

Maybach-Schmid’s muted imagery and book-size plaques compel the viewer to look closely and for a long time, while the male contingent—Larsen and Clark—seems to be involved in a lengthy visual conversation about who can identify the lowest common frequency in the human condition.

Evans’ work in musical theater is loud because it’s actually louder. It’s also loud because it’s bold. As a former national anthem singer and current cabaret performer, Evans’ goal to remind people that “it’s OK to feel, and it’s OK to see someone go for something 110 percent” is a loud and clear alternative to the “too-cool-to-care” narrative that permeates everything everywhere.

Vague and specific

Being a little vague isn’t such a bad thing.

Larsen’s ambiguity grows from a very specific aesthetic that is recognizable across media—from assembled still lifes and loosely-defined paintings to the quilt-collages that will be displayed in this show—His work feels very exact. But stay with it a minute and the overall effect becomes imprecise, the way a feeling washes over your body instead of hitting you in the heart or flicking at your brain.

Berner’s work also lives in the vague and the precise at once, with her recent photograph-and-fabric depictions of coastal forests suggesting a foggy state of place and mind while her flag-work flies in the opposite direction; appearing specific in every way until you try and read the folded, half-visible text on the fabric.

Maynard’s literary contributions are decidedly specific. His 2012 book of short stories, Grind, is a collection of Reno characters—a jackpot winner, a grieving mother, horse wranglers, and pawn shop dealers, among others—that are so particular it’s hard to believe they are fiction.

Interdisciplinary and nested

Most bodies of work draw from multiple wells for inspiration. McCarty combines words and dance. Currently a writing major at the University of Nevada, Reno, McCarty feels most at home when she is “taking words and sounds that are present in [her] poetry, placing them on the body, and seeing how the two interact.”

Maynard’s newest pursuit stretches him beyond the page as he adapts one of his short stories into a one-act play, an interest that’s turning out to be an interdisciplinary exercise in minimal stage direction and better dialogue.

“[In screenwriting] you don’t get to reach into that interiority and say, ’This character felt this way or this character was hurt by that or amazed by that. So it creates a challenge that way.”

On the flipside of breadth, it’s good to have depth. Chatwood’s sound effects only work because his music is solid; Clark’s paintings are obsessively fixated with the foundations of mark-making; and for all of McKenna’s genre-skipping, live theater is the deep dive that brings her back to her core.


When artists tap into something that resonates on a city-scale, it’s tempting to chalk it up to raw talent. But then we’re only propagating a myth that serves a few egos and no one else. Ability only goes as far as an artist is willing to drag, push and mold it into a daily practice.

Maynard’s writing process involves a lot of slogging through. “I’m not the kind of writer who can do binge writing and get inspiration and just write for hours,” he said. “I find ways to kind of clear out a certain number of hours a day for my schedule to dedicate to writing.”

Chatwood takes a boom-or-bust approach to his craft. “There are days that it is very easy for me to compose music,” he wrote in a recent email. “Ideas come to me at full speed and I can easily come up with material. Other days, I find myself hitting a wall and can’t come up with anything.”

But perhaps the most overlooked advantage that Reno artists have is Reno itself. The same outsider status that keeps us at arm’s length from the art markets that govern San Francisco and L.A. (and New York and Chicago) is also the thing that keeps too much of our art from going too commercial. In other words, if you want to make work in Reno, you have to really want it because you’ll probably need another job to support your creative habit. For some, this prospect is too much, for others, it’s an equalizer—or as Clark puts it, “a balanced life.”