Social injustice issues seem to have been on a cyclical path since the dawn of America (and long before that). Case in point: they had to re-release Public Enemy’s 1989 song “Fight The Power” with a 2020 remix. America’s melting pot simmers and settles and boils again. The energy fires up artistic expression that spurs the movement and encapsulates the moment. The unfortunate parallel is that just as all art is ephemeral, the national attention span for social justice is fleeting, too. But maybe not this time. Artists in Nevada are in pursuit to shift the scales of justice permanently.

As Double Scoop has reported before, it’s never time to tokenize this art or these artists. It’s time to indelibly elevate the conversations these pieces raise—to acknowledge the widely felt strife and inequality that has divided and marginalized our communities. Can art truly be a catalyst for change?

This is an incomplete list of social justice art in Nevada and where to find it:

BLM mural, Joe C. Rock 

Brüka Theatre
99 N. Virginia St., Reno

Artist Joe C. Rock walks by one of the murals he painted on Reno City Hall after rioters broke the windows in June. The mural has since been moved to nearby Brüka Theatre. Photo: Luka Starmer

Reno muralist and artist Joe C. Rock was commissioned to paint a mural at Reno’s City Hall on the plywood covering the holes smashed by rioters after a Black Lives Matter protest in June. The mural in its entirety is now outside The Brüka Theater, not far from its original home. It will remain there until January 2021.

The work honors the messaging of the BLM movement with the words “unity” and “equality.” Rock included images of activists, a raised fist, Colin Kaepernick, and a man holding a sign with an explanation of the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”

“So many people have a negative reaction to the saying, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ that I saw it as a helpful statement for those to understand,” said Rock.

Diversity Murals, Rafael Blanco

Sierra Hall & Ansari Business Building auditorium,  UNR
1001 N. Virginia St. & 1664 N. Virginia St., Reno

UNR commissioned Rafael Blanco—a native of Spain, UNR graduate, and art professor in Chicago—to paint a mural on Virginia Street in July. Photo: Luka Starmer

The University of Nevada, Reno doesn’t want to blink when it comes to the optics of diversity. They want their commitment to campus diversity seen, so they commissioned a big piece by artist/alumnus Rafael Blanco. Seeing a mural like this might be the deal maker for prospective incoming students, according to a short, internally produced, promotional video about the new public art.

For this piece, Blanco, a 2013 graduate of UNR’s MFA program, sought the design input of a committee of students to reflect their requests for greater diversity, inclusion, and representation at the University.

#Justice, Various Artists 

Online, hosted by UNLV

Image: UNLV Department of Art

“#Justice” is a virtual exhibition hosted by UNLV, running from October to January. All media types will be photographed for the online display featuring works by UNLV students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members. 

“The hope is that students will give some time to thinking about what is taking place in our country right now, and respond to that with their art that defines our struggles, offers new ideas, helps us better appreciate who we are in this moment and how we could be better,” said Jerry Schefcik, Director of Donna Beam Gallery at UNLV. “The call [for submissions] was pretty much open to interpretation.”

We Are The Sea—A Community Art Project Supporting BLM, Various Artists

Video Tour hosted by Sierra Arts Foundation 

An activist organization called Believe in Nevada collected protest signs, posters and original works of art and affixed them to the Believe sculpture at City Plaza in Reno. The exhibition found a temporary home at the Sierra Arts Foundation. The gallery version of the project included five parts: a street-facing window collage, a series of original artworks, a poem on a large banner, the “wave” of voices and photography displayed on a television. The materials focused on racial justice and social justice. The exhibit is currently seeking a new home.

Project Rouge Murals, Various Artists

900 W. Bonanza Rd., Las Vegas

Photo: Courtesy Eric Gladstone

On the rubbled site of the former Moulin Rouge Hotel on the Westside of Las Vegas, muralists have taken to the walls to make a statement about the Black Lives Matter movement. The former casino was one of the first racially integrated casinos in Las Vegas, and was the hangout of famed performers like Sammy Davis Jr. Now it’s the home to portraits of Breonna Taylor and Martin Luther King Jr. The walls are colorful and inviting in a way to change an entire vibe on the block.

“That neighborhood is the gateway and the heart of the Black community and Black history in Las Vegas,” said Brent Holmes, an artist, activist, and community organizer for the project. “We really have to figure out a way to preserve that history and to celebrate it.” He said he would love to see a West Las Vegas renaissance with the support it needs to grow, but without being gentrified.

An Anatomy of Institutional Racism, illustrated comic, Chris Lanier 

Online

Image: Courtesy Chris Lanier

Chris Lanier—artist, author, Sierra Nevada University professor, and Double Scoop contributor—created a comic adaptation of the Ferguson Department of Justice report. It’s as detailed as it is factual, including a bibliography of sources. The 28-page PDF combines hand-drawn infographics with characters in action. Lanier said the project is an attempt to make the idea of “institutional racism” both concrete and accessible.

We’d like to publish a Part 2 of this listing soon. If you know of any Nevada (or Tahoe) artists, exhibitions, or events that address social justice, please send details to Luka Starmer: lstarmer12@gmail.com.

Cover photo: Kris Vagner

Luka Starmer

Posted by Luka Starmer

Luka moved to Reno from upstate New York in 2015, thinking he'd pass through for long enough to earn an MA in journalism, but Reno culture sunk its claws into him, and he's still here. He works in virtual reality research, makes videos, DJs at parties, and is good at pretty much everything.

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