Part 2, The Curator's Take with Geralda Miller, a Q and A
While Reno rebrands, part of its journey is a developing public arts scene, which comes with the risk of artwashing, whereby artists take part in a cleansing effort, and act as "regenerative detergent." Our Town Reno wanted to find out from those directly inside the evolving art scene what their own thoughts were. We first checked in with one of the major homegrown muralists in town, Bryce Chisholm from AbcArtAttack. Part 2 of this series is with Geralda Miller, the curator at Art Spot Reno.
Robyn Feinberg: Can you tell me about yourself and your involvement with the art scene in Reno? I know you have a background with the arts in Reno.
Geralda Miller: I got into the arts as the arts and culture reporter at the Reno Gazette-Journal, and I was really excited to see what was going on. The paper really wasn’t covering, it really didn’t do a lot of in-depth coverage of the arts. The previous reporter was into the theater, so he wrote a lot about the theater scene, but I was more interested in really digging into the grassroots movement of the art here, and of finding out exactly what was going on, why was it going on, what were the influencers for what was happening at that time. And that was when Dave Aiazzi actually was city councilman, and he was really big for supporting the arts, and he, he was a “burner,” so he went to Burning Man and he was really close to a group of artists that went to Burning Man. So, he got some of those artists, and they were situated at the Salvagery, they came up with the name (the community art space) Salvagery, and .... their first project was a piano project, where they took old pianos and made art out of them. They were placed around Reno during the month of July, which is Artown, and so that was kind of their first art project, an arts collective project. And then, they became part of the temple in 2011, the Burning Man temple, it was built there at that site at the Salvagery. That was really an exciting time because never before had that large a scale piece of art from Burning Man had been built here in Reno. So, that was really kind of giving Reno entree into the art scene of Burning Man. That was kind of, I think, a pivotal point for the relationship between Reno and Burning Man. And Burning Man is key, a key association here for Reno. It’s an economic driver ... and also I think that since this building of the temple, we’ve seen a lot more artists who have moved here, and want to be a part of Reno’s art scene. So, I think that there is some of that that has been a strong influence on Reno.
Robyn Feinberg: Can you talk about this term that’s thrown around, the “Burning Man effect”?
Geralda Miller: Well, I’m a burner, I’m ten years a burner. This will be my eleventh year out there. And I started going out there as a reporter, I actually wasn’t going as the official reporter for the paper. I went out there and shot pictures, I did like a 'who’s who' out on the Playa, I did a photo thing out there, and I went on art tours out there to see the art, and I wrote about the art and I wrote about local artists who were showing their art out at Burning Man. That was my interest, my interest was more about why do artists want to be out there and build, what is it about Burning Man that all these artists want to build out there, and it’s really impressive, I mean, the art that’s out at Burning Man is such a large-scale, and you can do things out there, you can build something, a project, an installation out there that you can’t in the city, that you couldn’t maybe because of size, because you might want to be using fire effects, flame effects on your piece, different kinds of lighting on your piece that just might keep it from being built in a city. So, it’s a great, I find it to be kind of like this great incubator and kind of like a test lab for the arts. It’s also, what’s happening now, I’ve seen a progression where it’s now become this collaborative movement between science and the arts. You see quite a few artists that are pairing up with different types of techies or scientists and they’re building these really interesting, super-creative art pieces out there on the Playa, which are mind-blowing actually.
Robyn Feinberg: Do you think that more people want to bring their art to Reno because of Burning Man?
Geralda Miller: I don’t think that it’s all because of Burning Man, no I don’t think that, I’ve never been one that says that people are moving here only because of Burning Man, I think that there are some people that see that, it makes sense to move to Reno, and even Burning Man is looking for space, and their considering having an office here. For tax reasons, it makes sense. But there are artists who have moved here because now we have The Generator, which is a makerspace, that makes a lot of Burning Man projects, and we also have Artech which is another warehouse that builds Burning Man art. So, because we have these large makerspaces here now, I think that that has helped, kind of like encourage more artists to come to Reno and live in Reno. But I don’t see this big movement, or the “Burning Man effect,” I wouldn’t call it that. I’d just say that, yes, it is one of these influences, but if you look at Reno’s history, you can go back and you can see that there have been all types of artists here for years.
When I think of the arts too, I don’t think of just visual art, you know you’ve got to think about music, about dance, you’ve got to think about theater. Reno Little Theater is the oldest theater in the state of Nevada, it’s right here in Reno. So, there’s been this theater scene that’s been pretty rich here. You’ve got to think about the influence of the casinos. The casinos, back in the day, they all had these huge house bands, they were bringing in these major performers from around the country to perform here in the casinos. And they all needed bands to back-up those singers. So, they brought in, and Reno attracted, top-notch musicians from around the country, around the world. They came here and lived here in Reno, and actually stayed here in Reno. Reno has a very rich music scene and has some strong musicians because of its gaming history...Reno does have a rich history for the arts. And also, you think about the city of Reno, the city of Reno has been purchasing visual art, fine art, for years. The city has acquired, and owns the amount of public art the size of Oakland. Actually, the city itself believes in art. I think that you have think about all those factors, and look at all of that when you think of Reno and Reno’s arts movement.
Robyn Feinberg: Having been a writer for the Arts and Culture section of the Reno Gazette-Journal, how have you seen art evolve in Reno?
Geralda Miller: It’s interesting...we now have a mayor who is embracing the arts, and that’s a first. That’s something that we should really be excited about, finally we have someone, even in city government, that is pro the arts. Her state of the city address this year all was based on the theme of the arts, so there has been, and is there movement. A lot of people, and myself, don’t think that Reno is an arts destination yet, I think that we’re on the verge of becoming an arts destination, we have Artown, which is in the month of July, however, we need to do more year-round. That’s one of the reasons why my business partner Eric Brooks and I, with Art Spot Reno, that’s pretty much our slogan. You know, Reno is the sport for year-round arts, it’s 365 days of the year not just one month of the year. And when I will know that we pretty much have it an arts destination when there isn’t this emphasis and focus on just one month of the year. Right now there’s still that, even within the community, even the residents of Reno, you talk about the arts and they go “Oh well I go to Artown,” well, what else do you do? How else do you spend your time on the arts in Reno? Are you going to the theater? Do you have season tickets? Are you going to different musical events that happen outside of July? Off Beat music festival for example. What else are you doing? When we get people from south Reno...when we get them into our downtown area in another month when they’re not scared of the homeless and walking around, then I’ll know that we’ve become an arts destination. When we get people coming over the hill from the Bay Area and they’re wanting to check out more of our arts and culture scene here, then I will know we are an arts destination. I don’t think we’re that yet.
Robyn Feinberg: So can you explain your business, Art Spot Reno, and how it started?
Geralda Miller: Well, Art Spot Reno was started by a woman named Sam Strummel, and she and her husband owned Sierra Water Gardens... And she decided that she wanted to have this business, she want to start Art Spot Reno, and her whole idea was a 'rising tide lifts all ships,' that was her thing. She was like 'We’re going to have a business where people fly their flags and say they’re an art spot, and it’s like a membership base where businesses can pay to be a member, get a flag.' It was basically just an online resource for businesses to say 'Hey, we believe in art in Reno.' Because she owned two businesses herself, she really didn’t develop the Art Spot as much. I remember when she started the business, you know, I wrote about it for the paper, and I really liked the idea, I loved the concept. So, when I lost my job at the paper and I was trying to decide what I was going to do next with my life, where am I going to go, what am I going to do, and I thought the only way, and the only reason why I would want to stay in Reno, is if I did something that was affiliated with the arts in Reno. I found this to be, this area, the arts to be the growing, the exciting movement for Reno. I said then, if I’m going to stay in Reno, I’ve got to be a part of the arts. And so I went to Sam and I said 'Hey, I love your whole idea of Art Spot Reno, it’s not been something that you have really been able to build, and to grow, and I’d like to take it over.' And she was like, 'Oh my gosh, Geralda I’m so excited.' So, that’s pretty much how I got Art Spot Reno, and Eric Brooks had just moved to Reno, he had been in Scotland, he’s an artist and he had done a residency in Scotland, and he came here to Reno to manage an art space on 4th street. When he saw that that wasn’t really going to happen, he was looking for something as well, and so it was like, well, let’s do this together. That’s pretty much how it started.
We decided that since I had been at the paper, I saw that people really wanted and needed a calendar of events, what’s going on in Reno. So, our focus was to have the most comprehensive calendar of events, arts and culture events, for Reno so people would have a place to go find what’s going on in Reno. We started it basically with that, with me blogging about what’s going on in the city, and from there we became arts advocates, we became advocates for artists here, and for their rights. So, we started doing more advocacy work. Then, Eric actually was the one who said 'I really like all the murals here in town,' well I said, 'Take me around and show me all of the murals,' I didn’t really know. What he was doing though, whenever someone would come visit him, whenever his friends would come visit from out-of-town, he would take them on these little mural tours, drive them around and show them all of the art murals in Reno. So, he did that with me and I just loved it...that’s when we decided to, on our website, have google maps of the different areas where you could find murals.
That’s when we decided we are this kind of portal or resource for all things art in Reno. So, we said, we’ve go to start offering these Google Maps so people can go out on their own and see the art here in Reno, so we did the Google Map and then we decided, well, let’s give tours. So, we started giving midtown tours, that was our first tour, on the second Saturday of the month. And there’s so many murals, more than 80 now in Midtown, so we split it up, a northern route and a southern route. We now have a docent that helps us out with the mural tours because they’re so popular. We began an art walk, First Thursdays, we thought that, yes, there’s this Nevada Museum of Art that has First Thursday, but wouldn’t it be great if Reno had a First Thursday, wouldn’t it be wonderful if more businesses, more galleries, just kind of fed off of that and opened up and had a First Thursday night. Some cities do it well, Portland does it and has one, Oakland has one. So, we decided to start Art Walk Reno on the First Thursday, and at first, we would give people maps and let them go around and see the art, and now we lead them, do like a tour, we go visit non-traditional places, coffee shops, businesses that are showing art. We do go to some galleries as well...trying to promote, trying to get more people downtown and trying to promote and show all the different parts of art that are here in Reno.
Robyn Feinberg: With the mural tours, I’ve noticed more and more murals going up, is that something you bring people in for, why?
Geralda Miller: Last October, Art Spot Reno put on the Reno Mural Expo. We decided that murals are a way for a community to be a part of the arts, you know, it’s a free gallery, you know, it’s an outdoor gallery... And also, we know that murals help to fight tagging and graffiti. It’s been proven that they really do keep taggers from tagging your city and your walls, and we know that murals can help with fighting blight. So, because of that, we decided to, we walked, my business partner and I, all around downtown, and there’s a woman here who, she’s very active and is always going to the city about areas where there’s a lot of broken glass...areas that need work. We walked with her, and she knew a lot of people who owned some of these old motels that are closed up, and we’ve identified walls around the city that we thought would be great walls to have a mural.
And so, we contacted a lot of these owners, a lot of business owners, and ended up painting murals around, we ended up with 32 murals, so when you talk about the growing mural scene in Reno, you’re talking about what pretty much Art Spot has helped to do to build the mural scene of Reno. We brought in an artist from South Africa, from the Netherlands, we brought, I think, ten national artists from around the country, and even someone from the Navajo nation (Chip Thomas)...he came and was a part of our three day expo. So, we brought in Sebastian Coolidge, who is a well-known muralist from Tampa, Florida. We brought these muralists, artists, from all over, here to Reno. For three days, we identified walls and we had them paint all these beautiful murals in our city. That was something that we did as kind of like our way of helping to bring more art to Reno. We do have here in Reno we do have some strong muralists, and you should come on a mural tour and see that for yourself. But, there’s one muralist in particular, he was our consultant on the mural project and he paints all around the world, Erik Burke. Erik has been fabulous, when you look around the city and see all of these beautiful works of art that are here, most of them, not most of them, but a lot of them are his. He’s a local Reno resident, born and raised here, and for years he was a graffiti artist painting illegally, and now he’s this well-respected artist who is painting around the world.
Robyn Feinberg: You said murals help fight blight, can you explain what you mean by that, or what the idea behind that is?
Geralda Miller: Well, you have these areas that are run-down, that are an eyesore on the city and community, and you put a mural up and automatically you’re bringing color, you’re bringing light to an area or some place that’s otherwise just pretty drab and dreary. When we put the Expo on, we’re painting in alleys, and we’re on 4th street, where there are a lot of homeless. We were giving tours, we had docent-led tours every day, and one of our docents told us about, the story about a homeless man who went on the tour and he went on the tour one day, and was listening and paying attention to all the art. The next day, he brought his girlfriend, you know here’s a homeless man and his girlfriend, he came back, he was so proud of what he saw in his area that he came back. So, what does that tell you?
Robyn Feinberg: There’s this new political watchword, “artwashing,” that generally means a city will start building galleries, museums, and paying for more art, such as murals, as part of gentrification and resurgence efforts, with nicer more expensive areas building up around them and pricing people out. Do you agree with that, is it happening in Reno, in your opinion? Is it an intention with the art scene?
Geralda Miller: Of course it’s not the intention, with the art scene, absolutely not the intention with the art scene. I don’t even know why that would be thought to be the intention of the art scene, of course no artist is thinking like that. Artists don’t think like that, that’s not an artist’s purpose. What happens though, gentrification is a fact of life, I’ve lived in enough cities around the country to see how gentrification works. We know that gentrification is happening, look at Midtown. Midtown is a good example of that. And it is a concern, it’s something we’ve talked about, and we talk about with out city officials, regularly. Our concern is that artists are not going to be able to afford to live in these communities where they’ve built. That’s always the way it is. You have artists come in, it’s always gritty. I remember when Midtown was gritty, when Midtown was this area where more of the artists lived and others, and (some) Reno folks were afraid to even go in... I remember when people were afraid to go to Midtown. Now, because of the development, and it’s not because of the art, it’s the development. Yeah, people feel safer when they see art on the walls, the artists were there and the artists were there not so that white folks from wealthier neighborhoods could come in and take it over, that doesn’t make any sense. That doesn’t make any sense to me. Why would an artist think like that? Artists aren’t thinking like that, that’s developers, that’s the way they’re thinking, 'Ah look, they're in here making this area pretty, we can make it prettier, we can like slick it up.' Midtown is very slick right now, I mean, the grittiness is gone. What made it a really interesting, different community, that’s leaving, that’s leaving the area.
Robyn Feinberg: To wrap things up, do you think that art is doing something important for Reno?
Geralda Miller: Art is doing something for the city. Art’s doing something for the city right now. I mean when you walk around and you see sculptures, and murals, you can see where it has made an impact. It could make a better impact, it could make a stronger impact in design. It will be interesting to see who this developer who just bought up all of 4th street (Jeff Jacobs who has been buying properties along parts of 4th street), and is tearing down all of these motels, hopefully he’s teamed up with some very creative design firms and will bring great design here, which is art. And also, hopefully have and incorporate, be it sculptures, murals, mosaics, be it something new, light, hopefully that will be incorporated into design. So, there is a way for the arts to strongly be a part of design of new development, and I hope that that happens. I hope that there is that collaboration between the artists and creatives, let’s bring all of the creative minds together, because I think that that’s key, that’s important.
Note: Some comments and questions were trimmed and edited for clarity with no change to the original content or meaning.