By Tabitha Mueller
Black Rabbit Mead buzzed with energy as community members discussed the East Fourth Street public art project Friday evening, Nov. 8. People sipped mead as they moved around the warmly lit room and participated in various art-related activities designed to solicit ideas about East Fourth Street and the art that might go there.
The event was part of the first phase of creating a public art piece funded by the Our Town grant that the Reno Arts and Culture Commission received in May from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Local Artist Jen Charboneau encouraged attendees to contribute to a group art piece about East Fourth Street as she inked one-minute portraits of them onto slips of paper.
Charboneau moved to Reno four years ago and is working as a community liaison for the project, designing art-related events that will allow community members to share their thoughts.
She said that she feels drawn to East Fourth Street, with its industrial roots, architecture, and “grittiness” that remind her of her hometown Minneapolis.
“I think it’s really exciting what this city’s done in the time that I’ve been here and their push towards the arts and bringing in this large of a grant that’s specifically for the arts and for public arts. [These kinds of art projects] help Reno get on the map nationally and become recognized,” she said.
Megan Berner, the Public Art Program Coordinator for the Reno Arts and Culture Commission, said that Charboneau’s role is integral because involving the community in designing the piece is one of the focal points of the project.
“We have lots of public art, but many of our pieces didn’t include a community process where [community members] felt like they were part of the creation and selection of [art pieces]. [What we’re hoping to do is] get the community involved so that they feel like [this project is] theirs; that they’re proud of it, and that it does have some of their identity and character in it,” said Berner.
She and other project leaders hope that by engaging community members, they can maintain the character of East Fourth Street and mitigate any potential negative impacts the project may have on the neighborhood.
Grant writers focused the project on East Fourth Street because of the area’s history as well as feedback from residents who advocated for more investment in the corridor.
Will Truce, the president of the Brewery District Coalition and owner of Black Rabbit Mead, spoke enthusiastically about the project and said he hoped that the evening proffered East Fourth Street’s visitors a chance to recognize the area’s promise.
“I think this neighborhood has such tremendous potential to be a community gathering spot. And, essential to any community gathering spot is an emphasis on the creative things that our community’s doing,” he said.
Cindy Ainsworth, a founder of the Historic Reno Preservation Society and an attendee, discussed how Reno had changed a lot in the past couple of years. She shared that she hopes the art installed on East Fourth Street will bridge the gap between historical and modern Reno–and perhaps feature something neon, a nod to Reno’s roots.
Another attendee, Jerry Snyder, came to the event to sample the mead and find out more about the project. “I love Reno, I want to see Reno become what it can become, but there is also a part of me that misses dirty, grimy, Fourth Street. And it’s hip. There’s 10 dollar drink places…I guess my hope [for the public art project] is that it’s interesting. That it’s art that we can talk about, that reflects what the city’s going through, that reflects the city’s history, that reflects who we are,” he said.
Truce acknowledged that some locals have negative perceptions of East Fourth Street, but described how businesses committed to craftsmanship and industry are establishing themselves in the neighborhood and that attitudes towards the district are slowly changing.
He added, “I think that homelessness isn’t so much the problem on East Fourth, it’s that for so long the Reno community hasn’t felt like there’s much else…What we’re trying to do down here is show people that not only is it a safe place, not only is it a comfortable place, it can be an entertaining place. But beyond that, it’s a great place to be engaged with your community and all the people that live in your community as well. And [Reno’s] vulnerable populations are part of our family, and we can’t just ignore them.”
The community feedback sessions for the art project will take place through the end of January, after which project leaders will send out a call for proposals from artists. Once the Reno Arts and Culture Commission receives and reviews applications, they will then select three artists to come to Reno to share and develop their plans with the community. With community input, the Commission will then choose one artist to work on the project that will be installed sometime in July 2021.
To get involved in the project, visit renoculture.com, sign up for the City’s newsletter on the project and stop by open house events. For more specific questions or ideas, email [email protected].
Tabitha Mueller is a freelance writer and multimedia journalist based out of Reno, Nevada. She is fascinated by storytelling, place, and the intersection of narrative and data analysis and holds a bachelor’s degree in Geography and English and American Literatures from Middlebury College. When she is not tracking down a story or listening to podcasts, you can find her hiking Nevada’s gorgeous terrain, perusing local bookstores, playing Quidditch, and discovering Reno’s hidden stories.