County News

Public art bridges gaps, strengthens communities

Mickey Sprott, Cultural Supervisor, Clark County, Nevada, speaks during the NACo Annual Conference Saturday at the Arts and Culture Commission meeting. Photo by Denny Henry

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Public art brings people together and cuts across political challenges

“I would argue that there isn’t much that arts and culture can’t help solve,” Tony Manfredi, executive director of the Nevada Arts Council, told the Arts and Culture Commission Saturday at NACo’s Annual Conference.

Members of the commission discussed ways to engage with state art agencies, establish public art programs and create projects on the county level or in partnership with local communities.

The value of the arts is very important to counties, Manfredi said, because it brings people together and cuts across any political challenges.

“Bring the arts in,” he said. “Utilize that and realize that it’s really a critical component in all of the challenges that we face.”

Clark County, Nev., Cultural Supervisor Mickey Sprott said the county has numerous pieces of public art in its collection as well as more than 400 utility boxes painted and designed by local artists.

The county has undertaken projects to create public art programs such as the Clark County Child Haven Center, where Social Services brings children who were removed from their families. The center had sterile, dark hallways that were intimidating to children before an artist designed colorful murals to make the space more child-friendly.

“When you go back home to your counties, talk to your departments. Find out if you have processes where you’re taking in children or any of the front-line interactions. How can art change those interactions, make it more positive?” Sprott asked the commission members.

Another project in Clark County involves a town hall meeting room in Overton, Nev., where a wall features a mobile 12-foot by 40-foot oil canvas that depicts the history of Overton. The piece can be removed and taken to a different building if the town board moves from the office.

“Every time town hall meets, they have a reminder now of where they came from. It also reminds them of their duty to keep that rural lifestyle that is so important to them,” Sprott said.

Washoe County, Nev., Grants Administrator Gabrielle Enfield discussed the county’s ArTrail project, which serves as a public participatory experience along a 200-mile route through the county, she said. The trail celebrates cultural, historic and artistic landmarks.

Burning Man Project’s Civic Arts Coordinator Joe Meschede also added to the art community in Washoe County by creating Burning Man, which he described as a temporary city that becomes Nevada’s third largest city for one week before it disappears.

Artists, musicians and other volunteers travel to the desert where they create and support their own city with an airport, post office and hospital. He said everyone brings their own talents to support the functioning city and at the end, the art and structures are burned.

“People don’t always consider themselves to be artists. Burning Man is the place where people decide that they are,” he said.

Jay Dick, senior director of State and Local Government Affairs at Americans for the Arts, said when it comes to federal government support for the arts and culture, funding is at a recent all-time high. Arts and culture are now in five different appropriations bills on the federal level, he said.

“There’s a lot of great things going on, on the federal level, that you see going down to the states, county and local levels,” he said. “It’s a great time to be involved in the arts and culture because we’re really spreading our wings.”

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