In Reno, public art moves forward (mostly)

In November, Asa Kennedy and crew painted a mural on Wedekind Road in honor of Día De Los Muertos, as part of a program intended to bring outdoor art to a wide range of Reno neighborhoods, including those without a tourism base - photo: Kris Vagner

Reno’s Public Art Committee met via Zoom on May 11 to discuss plans for ongoing and upcoming public art projects. While the City faces major budget shortfalls this year and next, much of the funding for current projects was allocated in 2019, long before the pandemic.

Some City-sponsored art projects will move forward. Others are shelved or awaiting funding decisions. And one new project came about directly as a result of COVID-related business closures.

Bicentennial Park: On hold

The sculpture garden in Bicentennial Park was installed in 2016 by the City and the Rotary Club. Before the pandemic, the Public Arts Committee had planned to put new artworks on two concrete pads that are now empty. Funding was earmarked, and a call for artists went out, but now the project is on hold. “The money is there, but we’re not allowed to move forward on things that are not contracted right now,” said Alexis Hill, Reno’s Arts, Culture & Events Manager, in a phone interview.

Circles by artist CJ Rench in Bicentennial Park in Reno – photo: Kris Vagner

National Bowling Stadium: Waiting to unveil

A City-funded piece—three large, vertical, sculptures by Washington artist Paul Vexler—was suspended from the stairway inside the National Bowling Stadium in February, but, given that business closures began in March, not many people have seen it yet. Plans for an opening reception or official unveiling are on hold until further notice.

Sculptures by Washington artist Paul Vexler were suspended over the stairway in the National Bowling Stadium in February, not long before the COVID shutdown began. Photo: Courtesy Paul Vexler

Midtown Public Art Project: On schedule

There’s a new roundabout on South Virginia Street in midtown, complete with sculpture pedestal. Back in July, the Midtown Design Review Committee approved a 30-foot abstract metal sculpture by Arkansas artist Hunter Brown. Given reduced vehicle traffic in March and April, the street construction is ahead of schedule, but the sculpture installation remains on its original timetable. It should arrive sometime late this year.

A rendering of the sculpture planned for the Virginia Street roundabout. The piece is by Arkansas-based artist Hunter Brown. Image: Courtesy City of Reno
This pedestal on a new roundabout on South Virginia Street will eventually be the base for an abstract metal sculpture. Photo: Kris Vagner

Fourth Street Project: Probably a go

On East Fourth Street, as homeless shelter clients have become neighbors with hip new bars, city officials have been strategizing to design a public art plan to suit a gentrifying neighborhood. The Public Art Commission secured $100,000 in National Endowment for the Arts funding in 2019, and the City Council approved an additional $100,000 in matching funds from the Room Tax Fund. (Room Tax revenue comes from Reno hotel guests, and it goes toward promoting tourism. Some funds from that revenue stream are earmarked specifically for public art.)

To begin the process of designing art for Fourth Street, officials solicited input from the public, holding events at places like Black Rabbit Mead Co. and The Depot Craft Brewery Distillery. They also circulated an online survey and held a session at the Community Assistance Center.

The city’s matching funds are subject to one more round of approval. The committee plans to release a call for artists later this month. The expected installation time frame is summer 2021 or later.

“We think it’s really important that we install something spectacular for Fourth Street when things open up later,” Hill said during Monday’s Zoom meeting.

Storefront Murals: New and underway

Storefront Murals is a new city arts project conceived in response to COVID-19-related business closures. The City is offering $500 to selected artists to cover materials and labor for small murals. The intended recipients are businesses in high-traffic areas that are not yet authorized to open—bars, for example, many of which have been boarded up since mid-March. “It’s so if you’re walking in your neighborhood, you see art instead of boards,” Hill said.

The call for artists is on the City’s Call for Artists page. “If businesses want this, and they’re in a high-traffic area, we want to hear from them,” Hill said. (Her address is hilla@reno.gov.)

Art Belongs Here: Probably a go

While public art is often designed, at least in part, to bolster tourism and visually anchor busy retail districts, in January 2019, the City launched a program to put art in residential neighborhoods. Seven pieces, mostly murals and creatively designed bike racks—were installed in 2019. The committee would like to continue this program in 2020 and is awaiting City approval on funding from a national organization.

Gate Project, Wingfield Park: Deadline extended

At Wingfield Park Amphitheater, the entryway to the back of the stage is a dark place to hide in, and it’s easy to vandalize. To prevent incidents, the Public Art Commission asked artists to submit design ideas for a gate, intended to be both a visually striking art piece and a practical security measure.

The initial submission deadline has passed, but with July performance events canceled, the impetus to spruce up Wingfield Park by summer is not particularly pressing, and the committee extended the call for designs through June 1.


Kris Vagner is an arts and culture writer who’s earned awards for critical writing, entertainment writing, feature writing, and—somehow—sports writing. She’s also the editor of Double Scoop, Nevada’s visual arts news site. More at www.krisvagner.com. Support her work in The Ally.