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Art Festival Swallows Reno

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Courtesy Artown
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The East Bay Area aerialist group Bandaloop kicked off the monthlong Artown art festival this week by dangling off a building in downtown Reno.

From modest beginnings a quarter-century ago, Reno's Artown — pronounced Art Town — has grown to 500 events at 100 locations over the course of July.

The monthlong festival has become a citywide celebration of all things art, including music, theater, dance, and film, along with visual arts.

Artown organizers seek to encourage local artist participation along with featured national acts. Nearly 90 percent of the estimated 300,000 attendees come from the Reno area, but the festival this year began to market in Sacramento.

Growing along with the festival has been Northern Nevada’s affection for the arts, according to Beth Macmillan, the longtime executive director of Artown.

“The community is now well-informed and sort of well-versed and has become pretty sophisticated in their opinion of the arts because so much of (Artown) is free; their investment is just showing up,” she told State of Nevada.

Besides boosting art appreciation, events like Artown also add to the bottom lines of Reno-area businesses.

“When people are out going to arts events they’re also going to restaurants, they’re shopping they’re buying drinks, and those kinds of things,” said Bob Conrad, who has written about Artown at his website, ThisIsReno.com.

In Las Vegas, the monthly First Friday art festival has been bringing visitors to downtown for almost 15 years and served as a catalyst in development of the Arts District.

Joey Vanas, executive director and chairman of the First Friday Foundation, said the festival has driven business downtown, but some merchants risk counting on it too much since bad weather or competing events can cut into foot traffic.

"First Friday driving the economics of downtown is a double-edge sword," Vanas said. "It's great  to have that injection of bodies and people and income coming in. At the same time, a lot of people depend on it, have depended on it for a lot of years, and that's not a real viable model to be so dependant on one day out of the month."

Beth Macmillan, executive director of Artown; Bob Conrad, ThisIsReno.com; Joey Vanas, executive director and chairman of First Friday Foundation

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With deep experience in journalism, politics, and the nonprofit sector, news producer Doug Puppel has built strong connections statewide that benefit the Nevada Public Radio audience.