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Space Whale’s future is still in doubt

By Bob Conrad
Published: Last Updated on

City Plaza’s Space Whale still faces an uncertain future. This Is Reno first reported in August, after the contract with the sculpture’s artists had expired, there was no firm plan with what to do with the whale.

Since that time, the whale remains on city property, and according to city documents is no longer insured. No agreement has been reached with the City.

Emails obtained through a public records order with the City of Reno show that Matt Schultz, lead artist on the project, wanted the city to pay $500,000 for the whale.

Schultz said some of that $500,000 would go to the Sparks-based arts nonprofit The Generator.

“There is one more option which I think serves all of us incredibly well,” he wrote to city officials after the lease agreement ended. “I would be interested in transferring the whale to city ownership if the city would agree to direct the funds to The Generator.

“We could arrange a $500k equivalent purchase price, paid or donated to The Generator at $50k per year for 10 years.”

The City in December declined the offer.

“At this time, I cannot recommend to our Council a purchase of the Space Whale for $500,000,” City Manager Sabra Newby wrote to Schultz. “I may be able to recommend a purchase at the $150,000 level, where the $100,000 would be for the piece itself and $50,000 would be dedicated directly to your team members for services and supplies to repair the Space Whale.”

Schultz in return countered at $200,000, saying some of that money would go to The Generator and other nonprofits. No further action has been taken, according to city staff.

The Generator’s Jerry Synder said there is no agreement in place for money to go to the nonprofit.

“There has never been anything really put on the table for a decision,” he said. “The Generator does not really have an ownership interest in the whale. If Matt comes to terms with the City and some of the proceeds of that sale benefit the Generator, that would be good news, but there isn’t any defined structure for how that would look.”

Sculpture in constant need of repairs

City records show that the whale needed regular repair since it was erected in 2017. Damage to the whale leaves broken glass on the ground around the sculpture. That damage has created a public safety concern.

City staff repeatedly requested of Schultz regular maintenance on the sculpture. Staff as far back as 2017 requested acrylic replace the stained glass.

“There is (still) a lot of packing tape and duct tape covering glass, etc., and, some broken glass as well,” the city wrote to Schultz in August after similar emails in June and July of last year. “It needs to be addressed since it is a safety issue as well as just looks like it is in disrepair.”

Today the sculpture has been taped, covered over in parts with plastic and continues to draw concern from city personnel.

Staff again requested before the city’s Christmas tree and holiday lights festival that the piece be cleaned up before the event.

“We have a huge city event tomorrow night for the tree lighting and noticed that the Space Whale is in a state of disrepair,” the city’s public art coordinator, Megan Berner, wrote to Schultz. “It looks like there is some foam or other material being used to cover the holes… This is not ideal. Could you please have your team go down there and make some repairs/clean it up prior to the kick off for the event tomorrow?”

The repairs were made during the festivities.

“We sent a team over on Saturday to make some repairs. They apparently did the work during the event. With the short notice it was hard to find people,” Schultz explained.

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