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The Fate Of Reno’s Space Whale Is Unclear

A whale sculpture made out of stained glass panels.
Bob Conrad
Space Whale sculpture.

The Space Whale, which is currently located by the BELIEVE sign on Reno’s city plaza, may need to find a new home soon. The sculpture's lease is up at the end of this month. ThisisReno’s Bob Conrad, who has been following this story, met with KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck to discuss what the possible next steps are.

The Space Whale was installed in August of 2017 on a one-year lease. A year later, the lease was renewed for an additional year, but a new lease hasn’t been agreed on yet. Conrad talked with the City Arts, Culture, and Special Events Manager Alexis Hill about the possible options for this sculpture.

According to Hill, Reno City Council can extend the lease again or create a new one. If an agreement isn’t made, the Space Whale will be dismantled and removed. Additionally, the Reno Arts and Culture Commission has been looking into bringing new sculptures to where the Space Whale stands, with the possibility of having revolving sculptures in the area.

Conrad says that the Space Whale is a huge tourism draw. He compared it to Chicago’s Cloud Gate sculpture, known as “the Bean.”

“I just saw it for the first time, I want to say just about two years ago,” Conrad says, “I was amazed at how much it drew people to that part of Chicago. I mean literally crowds coming along. I have a whole photo gallery of people just taking selfies and taking pictures of each other. I think the Space Whale here in Reno is sort of our “Bean.” I've seen similar types of activity around the space whale. It's a very significant thing to have in a city, this kind of public art,” Conrad said.

Broken glass panel.
Credit Bob Conrad
Broken glass on the Space Whale.

Despite Reno residents and newcomers alike snapping selfies with the whale, this sculpture hasn’t been taken care of properly. It’s been vandalized and some of the stained glass panels are broken.

Conrad has been covering news and discussion about the Space Whale since it was installed. He shared some of the concerns about the art piece that’s he’s heard from community members.

“Reno has designated funds for public art. They have to be spent on public art. And so when people heard, you know, it was what $60,000 or $70,000 was being spent on the Space Whale they said, ‘Well, why can't we put that money into the homeless situation?’ [It's] a very legitimate question, but when you look at how governments are financed and how they have to spend their money, they have designated funding lines and budgets that they have to spend on certain things. You can't take money from, the Reno Police Department, for example, to pay for public art. I think there's a lot of misunderstanding about how that actually works at the end of the day," Conrad said. 

Learn more at ThisisReno.

Bob Conrad, PhD, APR is a media professional with more than 20 years of experience in journalism, public relations, marketing and publishing. He’s the co-founder of ThisisReno.com, a locally owned and operated online news website.
Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning journalist covering politics, focusing on democracy and solutions for KUNR Public Radio. Her goal is to provide helpful and informative coverage for everyday Nevadans.
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