As we are reminded every July, Reno is an art town. But, ironically, it has historically lacked venues where artists can show their work en masse and potentially sell it—and where collectors can accumulate new works in a range of genres.
Enter the Reno Tahoe International Art Show (RTIA), which debuted in September 2022 with much praise from artists, gallerists, arts organizations and attendees alike for its sheer quantity, variety and exceptional quality of work on display.
The 2022 event brought more than 200 regional artists and furniture designers, more than 40 galleries and features, over 80 musicians, film festival programming, a sculpture walk, and a First Nations, Indigenous Peoples art pavilion under one roof for three days, surpassing expectations for a first-of-its-kind event.
And as if that weren’t enough, this year’s event, taking place Sept. 14-17 at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, will double in size.
The Team Behind RTIA
The show is the brainchild of father-daughter duo Kevin O’Keefe, a longtime tradeshow organizer, and Briana Dolan, a former marketing executive with a hospitality design brand that specialized in cruise ships. In 2020, as tradeshows, cruise lines and the entire hospitality industry were upended due to COVID, the family relocated from the northeastern U.S. to Reno, which Dolan’s relatives called home (her husband is part of the Dolan Auto family).
O’Keefe and Dolan happened to also both be hobby artists—O’Keefe a painter, Dolan a collage artist. With the relocation and O’Keefe’s retirement, he reached out to his daughter for help in creating a website for his work. That idea soon spurred an even bigger one: an online gallery where other Reno-Tahoe artists could display their work and connect with potential buyers—the Reno Fine Arts Collective.
They quickly realized that they had tapped into something significant.
“There was definitely a palpable desire for more arts, more events and more places to go see art,” Dolan said. “When we got the collective started, the number one thing that we kept hearing people say was, ‘Reno is great for the arts. There are so many artists here, we’ve got Burning Man … but people who have money don’t buy from local artists. They’ll go to San Francisco, or they go to L.A.’ That was kind of the mantra. So we felt it was the right time to bring an international art show to the area.”
The overarching vision driving Dolan and O’Keefe in the development of the RTIA has been what they call the Reno Creative Movement, similar to what shows like South by Southwest and Art Basel did for Austin and Miami, respectively.
“Anchoring a significant, annual arts and culture extravaganza can change the way a place is seen and how it develops,” she added. “Our goal is to continue growing this thing, and already this year it will have doubled in size from last year. And we’re kind of growing it in the way that makes the most sense for the region and for what we’d like to do, which is very different from the way most art fairs run, which are basically all galleries. That’s not what we’re doing.”
Of course, RTIA boasts an abundance of visual art, from galleries, arts organizations and independent artists, with genres encompassing paint, photography, sculpture, ceramics, furniture, jewelry, music, film and more.
But what distinguishes the show is its blend of art and hospitality, putting the region’s defining features on display and showcasing what makes Reno-Tahoe special. Partnerships with local hotels, including the Peppermill Resort Casino Spa, and several food-and-drink establishments provide ticketholders with hotel room and dining suggestions and discounts, and the show organizers showcase area attractions and nearby events taking place during September, to spotlight the entire region.
What’s in Store for 2023
This year’s event will occupy the 60,000-square-foot Reno-Sparks Convention Center Hall—plus an additional 40,000 square feet in the form of a welcome lobby highlighting both sculptures and rare cars. The show will be comprised of four primary components, which the founders call “pillars”: Independent Artists, Galleries & Features, Sculpture, and Entertainment & Hospitalities. Nearly 200 exhibitors will be featured at this year’s show.
The Independent Artists area is home to independent artists and arts organizations from around the region. One new addition for 2023 is Foundations, an exhibit of work by Reno-Tahoe expats now living and working outside the area. All genres of work shown last year will return, with this year’s show bringing AI-generated art to the mix.
Another new feature in this part of the show is the Art City Invitationals. “In this concept, we were approaching known art cities in the way we want Reno-Tahoe to be eventually viewed … places that are known to be very rich in the arts, with galleries and artists, but places that would not necessarily participate in the circuit of art fairs,” Dolan explained. “We’ve invited them to take part in the show and present together as a pavilion from their city.” Artists from Las Vegas, San Francisco, Park City, Laguna Beach/La Jolla, Sedona and Carmel-by-the-Sea will be represented.
At Galleries & Features, the First Nations, Indigenous Peoples Pavilion will return, in one pavilion this year, and additional space will include jewelry and sculpture work. Also returning is the Neon Exhibit, which is expanding to include collectible museum pieces, as well as the Bespoke Furniture exhibit. The Cordillera International Film Festival will present a 90-minute short-film program, and RTIA Talks will present a mix of panel discussions, interviews, and speakers.
Last year’s popular indoor/outdoor Sculpture Walk will return, with its large- and small-scale works. And a new component, a Post Playa Art Feature, will present large-scale pieces that made their debuts at Burning Man this year.
At Entertainment & Hospitalities, local breweries will be on hand to offer tastings during the show, and this year’s event will feature a new VIP Lounge and Coffee Lounge. More than 20 area musicians will take the stage on site, as well as at satellite events and the RTA Awards Gala.
The Reno Tahoe Artist Awards—a separate nonprofit entity—works in concert with the show to recognize regional artists for excellence in six genres. Winners are selected by a panel of jurors. Cash prizes will be awarded in six categories, and a $5,000 Grand Prize winner will be chosen from among those six.
Also new this year is the Best of Show Awards, which is a voter-based, jury-assisted program that invites attendees and exhibitors to select their favorites in each of those six artistic categories as well as a student category. The winners each receive a $1,500 credit toward the 2024 RTIA.
Awards will be distributed at the gala on Saturday, Sept. 16 from 7-10 p.m., a separately ticketed event.
The Reno Tahoe international Art Show takes place Sept. 14-17 at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center. Tickets and additional information here.
Cover photo: 2022 file photo, Kris Vagner