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Meet Steve Nighthawk, the Indigenous artist behind this year's Artown poster

Steve Nighthawk on May 3, 2024 in Reno, Nev.
Maria Palma
KUNR Public Radio
Steve Nighthawk on May 3, 2024 in Reno, Nev.

A local Indigenous artist was chosen to create the poster for Artown, a month-long, citywide arts festival. KUNR sat down with Steve Nighthawk to talk about his artwork.

Throughout the summer, residents of Reno and Sparks will become familiar with a poster that will soon be distributed at several businesses as part of Artown's promotional campaign.

Steve Nighthawk, a descendant of the Shoshone, Washoe and Paiute Nations of the Great Basin and an enrolled member of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, created that artwork.

Nighthawk’s design embodies tribal practices and the spirit of the city of Reno. It connects the mountains to the Truckee River and celebrates life, music, dance and culture. It incorporates natural elements such as blue skies, clouds and two red-tailed hawks, a spiritual bird for Native communities, Nighthawk said.

Artown poster created by Steve Nighthawk.
Artown poster created by Steve Nighthawk.

“The centerpiece is a traditional basket which is very important to Native people because it's been done here for 1000s of years. And the outline of the city of Reno and with the music notes coming out, the movie reel, piano keys, the hand drum, the ballerina slippers, Hollywood masks, all down to the earth on the bottom and the dancer,” he said.

It took Nighthawk about a month to complete the 18” x 24” original design. He has been involved with Artown for years, but this year the conversation about creating the poster for the event came up, he said.

“I did a sketch first. And then I filled it in. Most of the color is chalk pastel, then charcoal pencil, and a little bit of acrylic paint. So it's kind of mixed media,” Nighthawk said.

Nighthawk has spent most of his life in Reno and remembers creating his first art pieces at the age of six. He has turned his living room into an art gallery where he works on paintings and drawings of nature, real life, wild-life and native traditions that he then sells or trades.

He is currently working on paintings of Pyramid Lake, wolves, hummingbirds and eagles.

With this poster, Nighthawk wants to remind the community that northern Nevada's Native communities have been in relationship with nature for thousands of years.

“Well, first off, we've always been here. We, Native people, have been here in this area for 1000s of years. And to be a part of the community is very important. Whether it's Artown, or something else,” he said.

His message to the community is to take care of each other.

“Take care of nature, wildlife, or mountains, or rivers or lakes. So that we can all move forward,” Nighthawk said.

An artist reception with Steve Nighthawk will be held on July 11 at 6 p.m. at Sierra Arts Gallery in Reno.

As a note of disclosure, KUNR is a media sponsor of Artown.

Maria joined KUNR Public Radio in December 2022 as a staff reporter. She is interested in stories about underserved communities, immigration, arts and culture, entertainment, education and health.