In recent years, an incredible transformation has swept the Reno-Tahoe region. It has become a bona fide public art destination epitomized by hundreds of murals and sculptures in Reno, Sparks, Carson City, and beyond. (Here’s a map of the murals by area.) These dynamic attractions make trips through Northern Nevada both intriguing and inspiring.
A stroll or drive through Reno, Sparks, or Carson City reveals public artwork tucked in just about every nook and cranny that you can imagine, especially when it comes to Reno murals and sculptures. You’ll find artwork everywhere, from city plazas to parking structures, the sides of local businesses to alleyways. These vibrant additions have transformed Reno-Tahoe, creating a cultural scene that invites exploration.
Here’s everything you need to know about one of the region’s richest artistic landscapes, Reno, and how visual masterworks are enhancing the quality of life and inspiring praise.
A Burning Man Hub Goes Artsy
Reno boasts a long history of supporting the arts. This is reflected in local institutions and organizations such as the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra, the Reno Chamber Orchestra, the annual Artown celebration, the Nevada Museum of Art, and much more. Notable programs supporting Reno-Tahoe’s culture include the Sierra Arts Foundation, The Holland Project, and the Nevada Arts Council. Some of these organizations date back many decades, demonstrating the importance of culture in the region, both historically and in the present.
Reno’s proximity to the annual Burning Man Festival adds to this zest for the culturally pleasing and esthetically intriguing. It’s the closest city and boasts the nearest international airport to the event and has benefited from the creativity the festival inspires. That said, it’s a welcome surprise to learn you don’t have to fork over $400 to see art featured once a year in Black Rock City.
Instead, head to Reno’s Art Plaza to discover “Space Whale,” a 50-foot-tall stained glass sculpture of a humpback whale mother and calf by Matt Schultz and Android Jones that debuted at Burning Man in 2016. At the plaza, you’ll also find “Believe,” an iconic 12-foot-tall sculpture by artist Jeff Schomberg. Speaking of his masterpiece, Schomberg notes, “Public art creates a community gathering space and a great photo op for people, and just a good reason for people to come downtown and enjoy the large-scale art.”
In neighboring Bicentennial Park, check out “Portal of Evolution,” a sculpture created by Bryan Tedrick that appeared at the Burning Man Festival in 2009. Describing “Portal of Evolution,” Art Spot Reno’s executive director, Geralda Miller notes, “I love the movement of it with the wind blowing … [But] so many people don’t see it for what it really is … They see a butterfly, when [it’s] the female reproductive system … beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
If You Support Art, Artists Will Come
In the movie Field of Dreams, a midwestern farmer played by Kevin Costner famously builds a baseball field, attracting the spirits of celebrated ball players from the past. Of course, Reno-Tahoe isn’t in the business of attracting ghosts. But the region’s robust support of artists has brought in a growing number of highly gifted individuals related to the Burning Man Festival and beyond.
Reno has made investing in public art a citywide proposition, and the colorful results are apparent in the downtown corridor and throughout the city. The city hosts the annual ArtSignals program, which has turned more than 50 signal boxes into canvases for artistic exploration. The artists who skillfully transform these boxes receive $500. The city also commissions new works and buys large pieces to display.
To make this possible, Reno diverts two percent of its room tax charges to the program, a modest figure that has yielded impressive results. As Megan Berner, the City of Reno’s public art manager, explains, “The fact that funding comes from tourism is a valuable aspect. Not only because it increases the quality of life for the people living here, but it also draws people to … experience … those unique features.” Such generous support has been a win-win for what’s fast becoming the “Biggest Little Art Capital in the World.”
Reno Murals and Beyond: How to Get in on the Action
For people interested in exploring Reno murals and more, check out Reno’s Art Plaza and the Midtown District, two excellent places to start your exploration of Northern Nevada’s art scene. You’ll quickly realize there are a wide variety of styles on display when it comes to the visual arts. These include everything from murals and sculptures of a psychedelic bent to those that are whimsical, playful, illustrative, and contemporary.
To make the best use of your time, visit Art Spot Reno’s Midtown Mural Tour page. You’ll find detailed information about where to see some of the area’s most impressive public art displays. What’s more, you’ll find information about monthly docent tours. As Joe Marino of Blue Whale Coffee Company notes, “The Midtown Mural Tour is yet another way to appreciate the rich beauty of Reno. It gives us insight into the heart of our town and the people that bring it to life.”
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Engrid Barnett is an award-winning travel writer and digital content marketer based in Western Nevada. Recognized by the Nevada Press Association in 2019, her work has been featured in Nevada Magazine, Northern Nevada Business Weekly, Tahoe South, Rova, American Trails, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, and more.
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