Art fairs are multi-day conventions where gallerists, artists, and curators gather to show and sell artwork to collectors. Major ones include Art Basel, Frieze London, and the Armory Show in New York. This summer, Reno is getting its own art fair, the Reno Tahoe International Art Show, Sept. 8-11 at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center.
The marketing experts behind this ambitious venture are father-daughter team Briana Dolan and Kevin O’Keefe. Dolan used to work on the communications team for a New York-based designer of luxury interiors. O’Keefe has spent decades organizing trade shows, including the International Contemporary Furniture Fair.
The duo made a pandemic-inspired move to Reno in 2020 and launched the Reno Fine Arts Collective in 2021 to market local artists’ work, both virtually and in person. On RFAC’s online shop, you’ll find work representing just about every stripe of Reno art—from artists in the early steps of establishing their careers, to art-world veterans and professors. The range of messages is just as varied—offerings include serene Tahoe landscapes, giant playa creatures, work by some of the region’s most politically engaged artists like Ruby Barrientos and Joe C. Rock, and just about everything in between.
RFAC also operated a spacious downtown pop-up gallery for the duration of summer 2021, with a wide selection of artwork, a booth-like layout, and weekly speaker series—all of which amounted to a trial run for a larger event.
“The reason we did the pop-up is to find out if it’s true: wealthy people won’t buy directly from artists,” O’Keefe said in a recent phone interview. “What was satisfying to us was that when people from Reno came in, they bought the art.” He said that RFAC sold around $50,000 worth of local art last year.
Dolan said the number-one complaint she hears from local artists is: “There’s nowhere to show.”
With all due respect to the hardworking gallerists and creative artspaces in town, Reno is definitely missing some key rungs of a fully functional art-career ladder. Typically, once an artist has had their first few exhibitions, they need to look out of town for “mid-level galleries,” that can help them establish higher prices, wider collector bases, and a path toward museum shows. Traditionally, some Reno artists ship their work out of town once they reach the “mid-level” stage, and many leave town for larger ponds.
The pop-up gallery, while it was short-lived, did give several dozen artists a place to show. Dolan said that, despite last summer’s challenges—intense forest fire smoke, COVID, the surprise of witnessing the impact of Hot August Nights traffic for the first time—she sensed some enthusiasm among the artists that RFAC contracted with.
For the September event, Dolan and O’Keefe are ready to go big.
“We’re going to have a thousand pieces of original art that no one’s seen before,” O’Keefe said. The event will include pavilions for groups such as Indigenous artists, UNR alumni, and watercolor artists. A section titled Heart of Reno, which will showcase local artists, has 55 signups so far. (For locals who aren’t ready to spring for the $1,100 booth fee, there’s corporate sponsorship funding to cover it.) And several art groups and institutions plan to make a showing, among them Sierra Arts, Sierra Watercolor Society, the Latimer Art Club, Tahoe Artist League, the Lilley Museum, UNR and TMCC art departments, and Richardson Gallery.
“It’s going to be Citywide,” Dolan said. Plans include satellite events such as a student film showcase, a Sept. 9 music festival at Cargo, and a Sept. 10 awards show.
In addition to reaching locals, Dolan and O’Keefe also want to bring out-of-towners to the region—both presenters and consumers.
“We’ll market the event to collectors in places like Phoenix, Orange County, Montana, and New York,” O’Keefe said.
“There’s an enormous amount of luxury demand in this area,” Dolan added, referring to new residents who relocated to Reno and the Tahoe region from larger urban areas after pandemic-era work-from-home rules took on. The art fair’s exhibitor prospectus refers to local expansions in manufacturing and luxury housing in recent years and positions the event as an opportunity to reach architects, interior designers, consultants, and collectors. To this effect, the organizers plan to advertise in publications such as ArtNews, Luxe Interiors, and Architectural Digest.
“We want to position our community the best possible way,” Dolan said.
“It changes the way Reno looks at its own artists and the way the outside world looks at Reno,” O’Keefe said.
The Reno Tahoe International Art Fair will take place Sept. 8-11 at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, with satellite events at Cargo and other Reno venues.
Applications for exhibitors are still open.
Cover photo: Kris Vagner