When the press were invited to attend the announcement of Circus Circus’s second annual Mural Marathon on June 19, and painted the first brush strokes over it I was struck by the character of the neighborhood more than anything else.
The homeless walked around like something out of a Romero film. Liquor stores and pawn shops became more more tightly clustered. The poverty was there to see for anyone paying attention. The vibe was one of struggle. The Fourth Street corridor and its extended area has gotten some press lately about its perceived image and the problems facing its community.
What should be getting more attention is not the crime, which is going down, or the homeless, which need help, not spurn, but the innovators and entrepreneurs coming into these neighborhoods to make them a better place to live for everyone, not just a select few.
Up the road a ways on Fourth Street Urban Roots took over their home base from a biker bar and turned it into something absolutely magical. I know this firsthand because I worked for them and lived up the block and the surrounding neighborhood honestly was kind of crappy.
They didn’t have to set up shop there. They chose to because if you want to make the community a better place you have to actually be in it, not view it like a specimen from a safe distance.
Down the the road in the Fourth Street corridor proper the Reno Bike Project has done the same thing. They have started programs to help the disenfranchised get cheap bicycles so they can get to work without killing themselves before the work day even starts.
I was one of those people. I rode that bike to meet the editor that hired me for this job.
A few blocks from my new apartment IMBÎBE Custom Brews just set up their brewery on Locust street in an area that desperately needs a kickstart to the heart.
If you’ve ever spent some time living in rougher neighborhoods you’ll know what I mean. I am from New York City.
I have been privileged enough to live in some dodgy places right before the wealthy decided to co-opt them as an extension of their territory in the much publicized and very divisive process known as gentrification.
I lived in Harlem in the seedling stages of its Renaissance when property deeds were changing hands, but no one would go uptown even if they did own the place.
I lived in Jersey City in one of the most crime ridden areas a short time before other adventurers decided to flood the area for better or worse.
The point is I know dodgy. I know the signs of gentrification. But most importantly, I know when it’s being done right. Back east the poor were flushed out like yesterday’s garbage to make room for the new gilded age aristocrats.
We’ve all heard and read plenty on New York and San Francisco’s mass exodus. We didn’t get it right back home. But for the very first time I am seeing something that gives me hope that we may get it right here in my new home.
Circus Circus wants to scrape the canvas blank and paint a better picture. And like the greatest of metaphors they decided to do so literally.
Sometimes it doesn’t take a million dollars to make the world a little better, it just takes the people that can do something to go and do it.
Nettie Oliverio, chair of the Reno Little Theater, said it rather perfectly:
I’ve been astounded at how the placement of a sculpture in an otherwise dilapidated and “throw-away” section of town can suddenly make the area look cared-about. The hope is that if it looks cared-about, it will be. Our city has had its share of buildings that turned their backs on pedestrians, traffic and even the river — another way of saying “we don’t care” — and those murals on Circus are, in their first round, pretty darn good counters to that abandonment. There’s never a time I drive that section of Virginia that I don’t find joy in looking at them and I hear others say the same thing ALL the time.
Stephane Cellier, a classically trained painter from France and this year’s third place tie for the Mural Marathon with his piece “Tom,” spoke about his perspective as another outsider seeing the flavor of this town:
Reno is a very surprising city, made of lots of contrasts, for a French guy like me. Reno looks like blend of so many different cultures, styles, and architecture that it almost look like different cities melted in one.
Downtown makes you almost feel in Las Vegas… but two blocks away you walk close to a charming river, like if you were in another town.
In addition, even in hard times like the present days, where arts is not even more taught in schools, Reno tries to promote the arts all around the years. I think I never met so many good artists and people involved in art promotion, than in Reno.
I love Reno for all these reasons, and I’m glad to be part of that community.
This is a place that attracts people from all over the country and all over the world, be it weirdos like me and Stephane, Tesla Motors or the oddballs at the Morris Burner Hotel, this is a place that prides itself on art and innovation and most importantly community.
For such a little city Reno has left some big shoes to fill. I hope the rest of the country tries them on.