"Let me tell you how it all began," Howard Rosenberg, University of Nevada, Reno professor of art, said of the first Artown festival in the summer of 1996.
He and others involved with the City 2000 Reno Arts Commission were "bantering back and forth" when the idea to start an arts festival came forth.
"The whole idea was to come up with something that would be arts-oriented and would draw people into downtown," Rosenberg said. "It would show what we have locally in the arts; not just the visual arts, but all the arts including performance."
Weeks later Rosenberg was at the podium alongside noted advertising executive Mark Curtis for a presentation to the Reno City Council. They received $25,000 in initial funding.;
From that point, planning progressed and the energy and enthusiasm grew. Area artists, University faculty and many others came forward with ideas and artistic contributions, and the festival's first schedule of events came together.
In a case of pre-event jitters before the festival's premiere performance, Rosenberg wondered if the community would turn out.
"I will never forget it if I live to be a million - hundreds of people started arriving at Wingfield Park (in downtown Reno)," Rosenberg said. "People wanted to see it work. Everyone involved donated time. It's the way a city should work, and it did work. It brought people into downtown."
The Artown tradition has continued each July for the past 20 years and has left a positive and indelible imprint on the city. The University of Nevada, Reno has joined as a sponsor of Artown 2015 which includes the following University-hosted and -involved activities:
- MarchFourth! Parade, 6 to 7:30 p.m., July 1, McKinley Arts and Culture Center, 925 Riverside Drive. Wolf Pack mascots and members of the marching band and cheer squad led the kick-off parade for Artown 2015. The parade starts at the McKinley Arts and Culture Center and ends at Wingfield Park.
- The Politics of Holocaust Memory, 4 p.m., July 8, Student Galleries South, Jot Travis Building. A talk by University Galleries Director Paul Baker Prindle coincides with the "I Am My Brother's Keeper" holocaust remembrance exhibition (see below) on display at the University through Aug. 14 in the Student Galleries South.
- Circus Circus 24-Hour Mural Marathon, 10 a.m. to 10 a.m., July 10-11, Circus Circus. Large panels on the exterior of this downtown hotel-casino will be turned into art installations. Through its connections to the Regional Alliance for Downtown and other downtown and business initiatives, the Nevada Small Business Development Center and Dick Bartholet, the center's director of research, have been integrally involved in planning for this second annual event.
- Meet Africa! Entrepreneurs and Change Makers, noon, July 23, Honor Court. Meet 25 young African leaders selected to participate in the Mandela Washington Fellowship, a six-week academic and leadership institute hosted by the Northern Nevada International Center in collaboration with the University's College of Business. At this Artown event at the University's outdoor Honor Court near Morrill Hall, the Mandela Fellows will discuss their experiences as young leaders and change makers in their respective African countries.
- 'I Am My Brother's Keeper,' continuing through Aug. 14, Student Galleries South, Jot Travis Building. The exhibition is from the Yad Vashem Museum, the largest and most significant institution for Holocaust remembrance and education, and pays tribute to the courageous deeds of the Holocaust resistors known as the Righteous Among the Nations.
- Reflections on Pyramid Lake, continuing through Sept. 15, Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center. This exhibition by the University's Special Collections showcases historic, artistic, scientific and native visions of the famed Nevada desert lake.
The complete, month-long Artown 2015 schedule features almost 500 individual events, exhibits and workshops featuring music, art, dance and other cultural experiences.
"Artown is a deeply important part of the growing arts ecosystem here," Baker Prindle said. "It's clear that we are past the tipping point and Reno is fast emerging as a cultural capital for the Great Basin region. The power of the arts to grow innovation and creativity is one of the greatest energies available to our region as it moves into a new era of economic growth."
Curtis is writing a book about Artown and in his manuscript he describes the first festival as providing the spark that ignited a revolution: "Those of us who call Reno home had no idea that something much broader than that festival had begun."
In considering the history and success of Artown, both Rosenberg and Curtis are quick to credit the early leadership and contributions of Tim Jones, former associate director of the University's School of the Arts, and Karen Craig, Artown's first executive director.