A January Stroll Through Downtown Reno

My good friend Liz Margerum returned to Reno from Copenhagen, Denmark with her husband and nine-month-old daughter for the holidays. A Reno native who hasn’t explored her old stomping grounds in a few years, I decided to take them on a downtown art tour. It’s been a couple months since the Reno Mural Expo and I, too, wanted the chance to experience these fantastic murals and walk our downtown corridor.

Many Reno residents are afraid to walk around downtown if it isn’t the month of July. I get it. The casinos draw “colorful” characters and our city has a homeless problem. But I wanted to know for myself if this was a justified fear. Having lived in Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Dallas, I believe I’ve earned my street credentials.

We started at City Plaza, checking out two magnificent sculptures – BELIEVE, by Jeff Schomberg and Laura Kimpton, and the Space Whale, by Matt Schultz and the Pier Group. Since Liz and her husband, Ricco Schneider, met at Burning Man in 2014, I thought these former Burning Man sculptures would be notable. They were. Although Liz’s daughter was too young to enjoy them, Mike Lucido’s whimsical raccoon murals on the electrical boxes are a fun attraction.

We walked two blocks to see Fallen Rose’s alley cats and one of my favorites of the Expo – the west-facing wall at Doc Hollidays. Anthony Ortega’s colorful owl with its piercing eyes watching over Second Street.

Two blocks north on Lake Street is Asa Kennedy’s panoramic cityscape. From this vantage point, anything is possible. What an inspiring message for all those coming and going from the bus depot. And a block away is its polarity. Ricky Lee Gordon’s message, “Nature Conspires with Spirit to Emancipate Us,” is a dark and gloomy commentary on the duality of man and nature. We then walked two blocks north on Virginia Street, passing Erik Burke’s huge mural, “Blueprint of a Mother”, honoring his wife, to six playful and uplifting murals.

A pink flamingo, a green cow, a black coyote, and a big black bear with fish – the production wall at 340 N. Virginia St. has been referred to as the farm. And with the alien queen and the field of flowers, I sense a thrilling M. Night Shyamalan-esque story is just waiting to be told. (Where did that white car that was parked in front of Joshua Coffey’s bear for more than a week really go?) I’m also happy to point out that four of the murals were painted by women (Lisa Kurt, Emily Reid, Jamie Darragh, and Kelly Peyton) and one by a 10-year-old girl.

We take a four-block detour on Fourth Street to see five exceptional murals. While walking to The Depot, Ryan Fassbender’s “4 Dollar Bill” spans the wall behind Lincoln Lounge. A street familiar to the city’s homeless community, this image has profound symbolism. Meanwhile, the five murals gracing The Depot are hidden gems by Joe C. Rock, Ahren Hertel, Rafael Blanco, Handsome Hernan and Bryce Chisholm. Now to stroll back to the alley just past the Reno Events Center and head to Fifth Street. Ricco commented on how clean the alley is compared to those in Copenhagen.

As we approached Fifth Street, Chip Thomas’ powerful image of a woman’s face that’s covered with environmentally-charged words appears. This wheat paste on the Monte Carlo motel took my breath away when I first caught a glimpse of it during the Expo and still does. On the adjoining east-facing wall is Yale Wolf’s super-stretched Cadillac, a perfect tribute to Hot August Nights. Continuing down the alley, we see two of the largest murals in the city, more Burning Man sculptures, and a casino’s contribution to the city’s strong art scene.

Erik Burke and Joe C. Rock are delivering messages in their murals – “Look to the Pasture to See the Future” and “Daydream.”  Meanwhile, the sculptures in the Reno Playa Park are beckoning. After exploration and play, we began our walk down Virginia Street. On the west-facing wall of the Monte Carlo, we now get to see David Kim’s tribute to his Korean heritage. The smiling Asian woman represents the thousands of women and girls that the Japanese Imperial Army forced into sexual slavery during World War II. It’s also a reminder that Reno is part of the current sex trafficking trade.

Stomachs are beginning to growl and energy levels have dropped, which means it’s time for lunch. Deciding on Liberty Food and Wine Exchange, we walk past three more murals on Second Street. Ricco crosses the street and goes into Fulton Alley to fully absorb Stephane Cellier’s “Kiss.” The last two murals are on the façade of the red building at the corner of Second and Sierra Streets. Both explore Reno’s culture. Joe C. Rock’s, on the south-facing wall, shows a little of the history of gaming in Reno. The west-facing wall includes a Native American with his hat and cowboy boots, wearing colorful pants with a design artists Collin van der Sluijs, from the Netherlands, and Troy Lovegates, from San Francisco, say was inspired by casino carpet, and a familiar blue bird. We only missed the two murals at Headquarters Bar.  

Ready to sit, relax and dine, we review the two-hour walk. Liz was excited to see so much more art downtown.

“I think it hides some of the ugly buildings and discourages graffiti,” she said. “It also adds a cool fun vibe. You may not like every mural, but I think there is something for everyone. The murals help to spruce up downtown Reno and give people something positive and thoughtful to look at.”

Ricco was also impressed.

“The painted walls in Reno makes the otherwise drab and dead walls spring to life and makes the city come to life. It gives the city soul and character,” Ricco said. “The images are all diverse and they make you think. It was an amazing afternoon on an urban treasure hunt.”

Downtown has never been safer to walk. But if you are nervous about experiencing our new outdoor gallery, then join us beginning in March on a monthly docent-led tour of the more than 30 new murals. Check our website for more information on dates and times.

Geralda Miller, Art Spot Reno Curator

“Irma” by Rafael Blanco

By Bryce Chisholm

“Comfort” by David Kim

Bear by Joshua Coffey