Changing the Cultural Mindset

A woman who called last week told me her landlord had a wall next to his building that he’d like to have someone paint a mural on. He could supply the paint but not pay them.

I contacted a few muralists I know whose work is prominent around Reno about the inquiry. An enriching dialogue ensued that’s had me thinking about the value we place on our local artists, actors, dancers, writers and musicians.

One of the muralists said: “… it is like asking a dentist to pull a tooth for free because you’re famous or something.”

“I would love to do an awesome mural, but I have a hard time doing them for free anymore,” said another. “This is my job, and I have to pay the bills.”

A few years ago, one of these artists probably would’ve jumped at the opportunity to have a wall on which to display their craft. But they’ve been there and done that. And who knows, they still might feel a bit of a rebellion against the man at some point, go out in the wee hours and find a wall to be expressive. For the most part, they’ve evolved and joined the league of legitimacy. Their work always has had value, even contributing to the beautification and revival of a neighborhood, but now it has worth.

I feel as if I must apologize to them for even presenting them with this proposal.

They’re right. Other professionals trained in a specific field get paid for their services. So why is it that Reno is comfortable not paying those instrumental in its cultural development? And, more importantly, what is it going to take to change this mindset?

Change or status quo?

These are questions Chad Sweet, producing artistic director for Good Luck Macbeth, ponders. He said he even wonders what would happen if every theater company in Reno decided to shutter.

“I don’t know,” he said. He assumes people probably would pay a little bit more and see the traveling theater that comes to Reno, whose actors, by the way, get paid.

There’s one thing Sweet knows.

“If you don’t have home-grown arts and culture, you have a shell of a community,” he said. “If that happens, Reno just turns into what it used to be.”

Good Luck Macbeth recently began asking for community support to help pay its actors.

“We believe all artists have a right to make a living for their work,” according to GLM’s website.

To begin to answer those difficult questions, I think it goes back to those notions of value and worth. Reno must develop a sense of pride and value those contributing to the local cultural arts. No, you don’t have to drive over the hill to see, or hear, talent.

And more artists, writers, actors, dancers and musicians must, like those muralists, recognize their self worth and say “no” to working for free, or for less than they’re worth.

I always like to go to the lowest common denominator and ask, “what’s the worst that could happen.” In this case, my Ouija board says the worst thing that could happen is things staying the same for Reno. The city has the most to lose from not valuing its community.

Geralda Miller, Curator

Geralda Miller, Curator


5 replies
  1. Edward Coleman
    Edward Coleman says:

    The short sad answer is that most will leave and go to places that will value their work as they see it or stay here and burn out. I am not from Reno so I look at this a bit with an outsiders eye. When I first encountered the art community here it was like a bunch of small factions fighting for their turf (this group does not like that group etc. despite the fact that they do the same thing and could learn from each other). To a large extent it still is. This is fine if you never want to be recognized. The shift that I think the Art community needs to make in this town is to start speaking with one voice. The old saying united we stand and divided we fall comes to mind. The main problem I see with the Art Community in this town and its inability to get worth is that it is to fragmented and at odds with itself.

  2. Lauren Hufft
    Lauren Hufft says:

    I also feel it’s up to the artists to say “this is what I’m worth” and to follow through with their price.
    I have been asked to do free work for people that will turn around and be able to use my talents to make money.
    The mural artists that are refusing to work just for paint are helping to set the standards here.
    Dentists, lawyers, mechanics don’t work “for the exposure”, why should we?

  3. Kurt Christensen
    Kurt Christensen says:

    I had to comment in this very important subject because it really hits home with me.

    I am, or should I say was, the all time king of donating my 25 year building skills. Wether it is large projects for Burning Man, multiple small businesses that are opening on a tight budget, friends and clients that started something on their own only to realize they needed someone like me all along……..I could go on about the multiple hundreds of hours I have given for free to and endless list of people from the homeless to the most wealthy in this valley. What that got me in the end is one thing and one thing only; a reputation as being the guy with amazing skills who works for free.

    I am also a huge gift giver so it needs to be said that I have given away over 800 pieces of art from jewelry, furniture and lighting, art, flooring, even up to counter tops from trees that I personally cut down. It is something I will always do. I say this in respect to people who volunteer their time because there is a big difference in volunteering and being asked to do art for free.

    Of all of the donating to these people and businesses I have done locally for over 25 years, it has translated to about $300-$400 in sales or commissions at my studio.

    I am in no way trying to sound cynical, just factual. Be aware of being told things like, “this will get you a lot of free publicity”, or, “you could get a lot of future work from this”, or “when we get busy we won’t forget you,” ($). I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. I’m just saying in my experience it simply has not.

    I believe In community, and I believe in donating. I still do both a LOT. i think that if you feel endeared to something, by all means give, give, give. But if someone is asking you to do art for free, I would just like to say think and consider what’s in it for you and your art first. In most if not all cases, the builder, the plumber, the electrical contractor all got paid for their skills. Why should art be any different? I believe all of you are worth being paid for your unique talents.

  4. Marjorie
    Marjorie says:

    Very clear observations and questions, and kudos to the artists that stood their ground on being paid. I have seen this issue in every town and city I have lived in and believe it is fundamental, and for many going even back to being told as children “you have to be serious, you can’t make a living at art.” Even if that was directed personally , I wonder how much of that carries over into adulthood and respecting the value of artists as professionals. As I’m relaunching my own art after years of setting it aside to climb the corporate ladder this conversation is of special interest – I’ll check back to see what thoughts others have. Thank you Geralda for bringing this into the light.

  5. admin
    admin says:

    I recently read a blog in the Huffington Post, suggesting that artists in Detroit organize. Perhaps it’s not a union, per se, that’s best for Reno, but I think you’re right, Edward Coleman. The arts community here is fragmented and must figure a way to unite and be one voice. However, this is something that cannot happen top down. Perhaps it’s time to start bringing these small factions together to talk and build that voice.


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