As Arts & Culture Manager for the City of Reno, Nevada, Megan Berner manages a public art collection of over 200 artworks, project manages all new public art projects, works with artists, manages the City’s Arts & Culture Grants program, oversees the City’s various gallery spaces, and serves as staff liaison to the City of Reno Arts & Culture Commission and their Public Art Committee. She is also a visual artist.
What do you enjoy most about your work as the Arts & Culture Manager for the City of Reno?
The best part of what I do is working in the community. I am originally from Reno and feel very connected to this place. It is exciting to work in a position that helps facilitate art and creative placemaking and to see ideas come to life. It’s especially rewarding to have the community be a part of the process, for them to interact with the artists, and to witness the transformation that takes place when art projects are implemented. Not just the visual transformation but also the building of social capital and the sense of connectedness that comes from community processes. I also enjoy working with our organizations to support what they do in our community whether through funding, finding space for programming, or collaborating on programs and professional development opportunities. I am lucky to work with a part-time public art technician and a brand-new full-time Program Assistant plus a team of other supportive interdepartmental staff at the city. I couldn’t do my job without them.
You serve as liaison to the City of Reno Arts & Culture Commission. What does the Commission do for the artists and arts organizations of Reno?
The City of Reno Arts & Culture Commission (RACC) is the official advisor to the City of Reno on matters related to the arts and cultural life of the community. Their mission is to create an environment that encourages excellence by area artists and cultural organizations and to strengthen the awareness and involvement of all citizens in the community’s cultural life.
We commission artists to create public artwork for the city, ranging from small scale murals to large scale sculptural works incorporated into street and building projects. We also have an annual grant program that gives funding to arts and culture organizations for events and projects. Those organizations hire artists and creative workers, which helps support our arts community.
The city has multiple art exhibition spaces including Metro Gallery at City Hall, East and West Galleries at McKinley Arts & Culture Center, and the Canyon Flats Video Wall. We also program the windows along Center and Lake Streets at the Reno Events Center and Ballroom with artwork from students at the University of Nevada Reno and Truckee Meadows Community College.
In 2014, we established a City of Reno Poet Laureate Program, which highlights local poets and invites them to participate in public gatherings and share works of poetry or commentary on Reno life. This is an appointed position that is held for two years. The RACC created a City Artist position in 2019 as a way to recognize outstanding visual artists in our community. The City Artist is a one-year appointment that includes a solo exhibition in the City Hall Metro Gallery, public talks, and the curation of an exhibition.
The City of Reno is participating in the Arts & Economic Prosperity 6 (AEP6) research study as a returning partner. What have you found out about Reno from your experience in AEP5 that surprised you?
We have a thriving arts and culture scene here! That part wasn’t so much surprising, but to learn to what extent the arts have an impact on our economy did surprise me. The arts are the fourth largest employer in our county and generated $7.9 million in state and local government revenue. It’s nice to see numbers that can really help us make a case for funding for the arts.
Reno is home to multiple arts and culture organizations, a thriving public art scene, and is considered the gateway to Burning Man. What’s your favorite thing about living and working in Reno?
There is such a creative energy to this place. I grew up here and didn’t really appreciate it until I left and came back. It has really changed in the last two decades to become a cultural hub. There has always been a kind of gritty, grassroots feeling to the arts scene here. We have incredible talent and resilience and the ability to reinvent ourselves. The creative people here are inspiring and always working on ways to support each other and share what they do. I love working in the community and helping to elevate the arts and bring more art to our city.
You’re also a visual artist, including photography, site-specific installations that incorporate video and sound, and textile projects, among other creative works. Where do you find your inspiration?
The main inspiration for my work comes from the environment. Coming from the high desert, I am drawn to more subtle and seemingly desolate landscapes. I find that being in these spaces really invites introspection and reflection on the complexity of human-place relationships. I’m very interested in the psychological experience of a place—we interpret the world through our senses and so it’s a very unique experience for each of us based on our past experiences and memories. Specific things about the landscape and environment of my native Nevada home that come up for me again and again are light and wind.
The idea of mirages appeals to me because they are observable optical phenomena that can be recorded on camera, yet the images that they appear to represent are interpreted by the mind—not a hallucination but perhaps a representation of our desires. In a very real way, it reflects this idea of a landscape of the mind or imagination—a concept related to mostly uninhabited or unconstructed landscapes that aren’t built for human comfort and convenience.
Travel has always been an integral part of my art practice. There is something about being exposed to the unfamiliarity of new places that creates a hyper-awareness of the surrounding environment. It always connects me back to myself, which is the basis for most of my work—though not often in a literal sense. I am particularly interested in exploring inhospitable and so-called empty spaces—the desert, the tundra, the ocean—as they are spaces that lend themselves to wanderings of the human imagination, a psychological experience of place.
How has climate change impacted your artistic practice?
Since most of my work is connected to the environment and I draw inspiration from natural phenomena—like light and weather—it was almost instinctive that the subject of climate change appeared in my work. I had the opportunity to participate in an artist residency in the Arctic in 2015, which really opened my eyes to the changes happening there. The crew of the ship that we were sailing on had been visiting the area for the last 10 years and were telling us that they could see the change in the glaciers much more dramatically in the last few years; that they were quickly receding. We went hiking back in an area that had formerly had a glacier in it long ago. It was filled with fossils embedded in the rocks and the fossils were of tree leaves and flora that don’t exist in that area currently. It really made that connection to the shifting climate and how some of these spaces may be drastically different, perhaps in our lifetime, and that certain aspects of them maybe won’t exist in the future.
I already deal with somewhat desolate landscapes and the thoughts of how these places may shift with the acceleration of climate change show up in the depictions of these imagined spaces. For example, in making my series titled “Fading Light | Shifting Landscapes,” I was thinking a lot about climate change. It showed up in that series as mashed up landscapes—desert scenes with somewhat hazy, apocalyptic skies that could represent twilight or something darker depending on how you interpret it, or a scene with desert hills and snowcapped glaciers behind, a sort of hybrid space. There is a certain beauty in these imagined spaces but also a melancholy that I hope makes the viewer think about their connection to our natural world. My intention is not for my work to be scary or depressing—though I know climate change is very serious—but to connect people to their environment so they perhaps have more awareness of how they interact with the world.
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