Northern Nevada galleries, artists reflect on pandemic pivots

Christel Citko, owner of Art Source Gallery, says “COVID has affected everybody in business life, personally and mentally.”

Christel Citko, owner of Art Source Gallery, says “COVID has affected everybody in business life, personally and mentally.”

It’s no secret the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on Northern Nevada businesses, especially those deemed “nonessential” and had to shut down for months on end last spring and summer.
However, there have been benefits to some of those business sectors, including art galleries, which were able to sell more pieces online, lean on their vast client bases and build up their brand by connecting with other artists.
Here are three examples of how the local art industry has pivoted amid the pandemic.

‘Art brings joy to people’
Stremmel Gallery at 1400 S. Virginia St. in Reno is in its 53rd year of operation in 2022.
The family-owned business employs six people, including three of the Stremmels: Peter, Turkey and Parker.
Director Parker Stremmel said the pandemic hurt sales when galleries were forced to close at the beginning of COVID shutdowns, but now — as places remain open throughout additional waves and variants — things are slowly starting to rebound.
“(COVID) impacted our events and exhibition openings, but fortunately our business has been augmented with online sales,” Parker said in an early January interview with the NNBW. “I think the industry as a whole is moving in that direction. The internet has made the world smaller; we’ve had a lot of sales worldwide by people who’ve never even been to Reno before.”
Being shut down during the pandemic was a blow to the ego for many gallery owners, but Stremmel Gallery’s relationship with the Coeur d’Alene Art Auction and its online presence kept it going, even when the business was closed to the public.
“We were not open, but I was here every day accepting deliveries,” Parker said. “I think people got tired of looking at their walls, and the new Zoom background ratings had a positive effect on the art industry. And people had a lot of liquidity in the beginning of the pandemic (due to stimulus funds).
“Overall, sales have been going well. We still do a decent amount online as consumers get more comfortable doing that. Thirty years ago, buying art online sight unseen was almost heretical, but now it can happen in minutes or so.”
Thanks in large part to ecommerce, the company’s revenue is on the rebound.
“Our numbers are blowing up in the last week alone, and as things opened back up, we’re starting to see higher foot traffic,” Parker said. “We’re grateful people were willing to engage in commerce when the shutdowns happened, and thanks to email, Artsy and Facetime, we were lucky to still be able to have online sales.
“We think art brings joy to people, and during the crisis it was a nice reprieve.”

A look inside Art Source Gallery at 2195 S. Virginia St. in Reno.

Positive impacts to mental health
A few blocks to the south, Art Source Gallery is another local business that’s adapting to the times.
The gallery at 2195 S. Virginia St. started out as a furniture and space-planning store in 1979 in Silicon Valley. When the dotcom bubble burst, owner Christel Citko closed shop and moved to Zephyr Cove to open Augustine Arts alongside her husband who ran a popular restaurant.
While in Silicon Valley, Citko had a large client who wanted labor intensive artwork and she started commissioning art for their buildings. With both of their buying power, Citko started displaying her own art, and that is how she transitioned into the art world.
Citko eventually found that Reno was becoming more of a hotspot for commerce, so she opened Art Source Gallery in the Biggest Little City in 2005.
“COVID has affected everybody in business life, personally and mentally. COVID is a funny thing … on one hand it’s led to a lot of people buying art on the internet, but on the other hand, art is magical, and you need to be able to look at it, touch it, feel it, relate to it — and you can’t do that on the internet,” Citko said in a January interview. “And maybe when someone buys something it’s not what they expected and it’s not as easy to return it. We allow people to take things home to see if it fits in their space. Buying art online is convenient, but art gives back — you should be a part of that purchase.
“(When buying art online), you’re missing out on a major experience by not coming in.”
Art Source Gallery closed for six months at the beginning of the pandemic, but Citko said she’s seen a lot of ups and downs over her career.
“I do my best to maintain,” she said.
She believes art has done wonders for people’s mental health during the pandemic.
“People need fresh, new energy and to make their environment a little healthier, a little happier. You need to come in, relax for a moment, refresh your spirit and enjoy the many beautiful things to look at,” she said in her gallery. “This place is inviting, and if you like something, you can take it home.”
Citko does admit there’s been a bump up in her online sales during the pandemic.
“There is an increase in sales on the internet and they come from all over the United States. I try to provide them a little bit about the artist, but I enjoy interacting with people in person and have them discover something they love,” she said. “The second time around in the pandemic, I think people are feeling tired of this — they want to live, they’re ready to go out and need that interaction, social atmosphere.
“I think the point of a gallery is to educate people about art, the artist, and make them feel good about their purchase. It’s worth the effort to meet the gallery owners and stand in front of the art, interact with it. Art is magical.”

A community for local artists
Unlike other longtime galleries in the area, father/daughter artist team Briana Dolan and Kevin O’Keefe were new to Northern Nevada and wanted to pursue their craft — and support other artists — so they launched the Reno Fine Arts Collective website in February 2021 and built up their brand from there.
“The online portion came first; it was hatched out of a newfound interest because of COVID,” Dolan said. “My dad (O’Keefe) worked in the hospitality and show industry, but that all stopped in the beginning of COVID, so we decided to focus on our own work.”
Dolan is a mixed-media collage artist and O’Keefe an oil painter.
“We started online because we didn’t know where we could take it,” Dolan said, explaining they launched the website ( a year ago mainly as a portal to grow their network of other local artists and connect with restaurants and retailers around the Reno/Tahoe area.
From there, they opened a pop-up gallery in downtown Reno in July in the ground floor at 200 S. Virginia St. and kept it open through November to see if it was a place where they could anchor the collective.
“We wanted to have an online shop available but anticipated people would want to see it in person,” Dolan said.
As far as how sales have fared during their new venture launched in the middle of a pandemic, it’s gone fairly well, O’Keefe said.
“In July we did well. Channel 4 and Channel 2 came in, a lot of people came through, and we sold around $10,000 in sales,” he said. “In August it was more difficult because of the smoke from the fires, and Hot August Nights closing off South Virginia Street. Then in September it picked back up again; we did $40,000 in sales so we decided to keep the gallery open throughout November.”
While Reno Fine Arts Collective didn’t choose to stay in the downtown Reno location permanently, the five-month pop-up gallery proved to be a success.
“It was important for us to see if people in Reno would buy art. I was told that people don’t buy art locally, in a secondary market like Reno, but we sold about 300 pieces of art,” O’Keefe said.
He said most customers were either people who sold their homes and bought bigger ones in the area or people moving to Reno who wanted to support local artists.
“The pop-up gallery was a good test to see if people who live here buy art from here and we found that they do,” O’Keefe said.
He said one woman, an influential investment advisor who owns a home in Incline Village and one in Montreux, bought $15,000 of art from the collective, all from local artists.
That momentum is building up to the collective’s Reno-Tahoe International Art Show, to be held Sept. 8-11, 2022, at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, where around 100 local artists will be in attendance, as well as other art groups.
“There will be a thousand pieces of art or more available for sale. The promotion for that is underway, a massive campaign is happening right now for that,” Dolan said.
In the meantime, the collective is looking at locations to host a permanent gallery, with the idea to create a comfortable yet sophisticated space with coffee, wine and perhaps entertainment.
“We want to celebrate the best of what’s here that is local, where you can sit down, have a drink, and enjoy the environment. We want this to be a destination for local people and visitors,” O’Keefe said. “Our model is different; we want to change the viewpoint of art and support local artists.”
“We’ve had such a great time digging our heels in this city,” Dolan added. “People are so friendly and it’s hard not to get excited about that energy. We represent the talent, and if the talent is here, then that’s all it takes.”


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