Art and Soul: Reno's Cultural Scene Takes Off

A spotlight on the city's burgeoning artistic offerings

Once best known for its casinos and quick divorces, Reno is stepping into the limelight with another facet—its burgeoning arts and culture scene. From a world-class art museum (the only accredited in the state) to a lively music, arts and theater festival, to an exciting riverfront district celebrating the city’s urban renaissance, to fine art galleries, performance art theaters and more, these days Reno’s arts and culture offerings shine as brightly as its infamous casino marquees.

“The arts are getting richer, deeper, more varied,” executive director of Artown Beth Macmillan said. “This community is so creative. Our art scene is not a known fact—everyone focuses on gambling here—but the arts are bursting at the seams. There’s something for everyone. The arts scene has been bubbling and boiling to the top—it’s just flourishing now.”

It’s impossible to mention Reno’s arts and culture scene without recognizing Burning Man. The week-long, annual event, held 100 miles north of Reno in Northern Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, is a celebration of community, art, self expression and self-reliance. The experience has been said to be so profound that a culture has developed around it. More than 60,000 people gather the last Monday in August through Labor Day for the experience—one that must be experienced to truly understand.

Artown is a vibrant festival that brings the arts to life in Reno each July with a packed calendar of events including music, dance, film, history, theater and visual art—and most events are free. It began nearly 20 years ago to revitalize downtown Reno, and today has grown into a local cultural phenomenon, attracting almost a half-million people and even expanding year-round. 

The only nationally accredited art museum and the oldest cultural institution in the state, the Nevada Museum of Art was founded in 1931. It opened in its new space in 2003. The building is inspired by rock outcroppings in the Black Rock Desert and provides sweeping views of Reno’s skyline and the Sierra Nevada. It is recognized as one of the most distinguished architectural achievements in Nevada. Inside, the museum features exhibitions by national and international artists with a permanent collection of 19th through 21st century art. Divided into five focus collections, the permanent collection is unified by an overall emphasis on art and environment.

Forward-thinking Stremmel Gallery was founded in Reno's Midtown District in 1969. In its 6,5000 square-foot, architecturally award-winning building, the fine arts gallery specializes in contemporary paintings, drawings, and sculptures by mid-career and established American and European artists. Gallery manager Parker Stremmel notes that Reno is becoming a destination for the arts, and arts-minded people are taking more of an interest in the area.

The Riverwalk District celebrates Reno’s arts, culture and history. In the mid-1900s, Reno had become famous for gaming and nightlife, and the river that ran through it took a back seat to the glitz and glamour of downtown. In the 1990s, the city created The Raymond I. Smith Truckee River Walk that brought new attention to Reno's scenic river corridor. Today, The Riverwalk District is perhaps the best example of Reno’s urban renaissance.