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City of Reno Reorganizing Arts And Culture Program

Julia Ritchey

Heads turned in the local arts community when the city of Reno recently announced a change of leadership in the arts and culture program. Reno Public Radio's Julia Ritchey reports on the reshuffling. 

About 25 years ago Christine Fey created the arts and culture commission at a time when Reno barely registered an arts scene.

The city eventually tapped her to lead its cultural affairs program in 2000. And in her tenure, she grew the grants program more than ten-fold and spruced up the city's public spaces through the acquisition of hundreds of pieces of art.

But the city is shaking things up. Fey’s position has been eliminated and she’s now transitioning to an entirely different role as resource development manager, fundraising and recruiting more volunteers for the Parks Department.

"You know, one's never probably ready to do something new, but challenge is always exciting, so I'm jumping in with both feet," says Fey.

Alexis Hill, who led the city's Special Events department for four years, will be taking over the newly created title of arts, culture and special events manager, which will be housed under the city manager's office.

"I've been shadowing Christine for more than six months and the city manager wanted to put a spotlight on arts and culture," she says. "And in a lot of ways this should help us streamline and figure out best processes to manage these events and promote these events."

Assistant City Manager Kate Thomas says they decided to restructure rather than create a new position.

"It was as a result of a need for some succession planning," says Thomas. "It's not a new position, again, it's just a changing roles within the organization, but keeping a heavy focus on arts and culture."

The change hasn't gone unnoticed, and has some in the arts community concerned that the city may be trying to pile too much on one person.

Geralda Miller is co-owner of Art Spot Reno and a longtime arts advocate. She says the concerns stem from the explosive growth of Reno's art community.

"Reno has become a city where's there's year-round art," says Miller. "The amount of public art in our city is equivalent to a city the size of Oakland. That says a lot about what's happening here in Reno. We are truly becoming an arts destination."

She says although Fey's position was eliminated in the reorg, she hopes the city will revisit the idea of creating a position with the sole responsibility of overseeing just arts.

"We would like to see that there is that commitment from the city that they too believe so much in the arts that they would have someone managing it in that capacity," says Miller.

"Change is always difficult for everyone," says Fey.

"What I've been trying to tell everyone is that we've been working on this for 25 years," she says. "In a perfect world, we would hire somebody from a city like Seattle or San Francisco or Chicago or New York or somewhere, who would bring a whole new toolkit to bear."

But, she says, Hill is capable and should be given a chance. For her part, Hill says she's well-suited for the new role, having overseen the growth of the special events department to almost 280 events a year.

"I am excited to make this community better," says Hill. "And I do feel that the city manager's office has the tools and resources to make that happen. ...I hope people feel welcome to come and find me and talk to me and give me their ideas."

One idea recently floated by consultants from the Urban Land Institute is to grow beyond the annual Artown festival and maybe add another event closer to Burning Man.

"The city of Reno started Artown years and years ago, and maybe it's time to find another great art event that can happen in this community," says Hill.

First up on Hill's plate is a call for artist's submissions for Virginia Lake. She also wants to connect more artists and organizations with companies and corporate sponsors and beef up the city's grants program. 

Julia Ritchey is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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