Murals fight graffiti, position Reno as art-friendly |

Murals fight graffiti, position Reno as art-friendly

John Seelmeyer

Eric Raydon walks down a Midtown alley, behind some of the more than 100 homes that his family’s Marmot Properties have redeveloped in central Reno.

He stops to admire the object of his visit: One of the murals that his company has commissioned on garage doors that once provided a canvas for graffiti taggers.

It’s part of an explosion of murals on surfaces large and small throughout the downtown area. The trend combines celebration of the neighborhood’s vibrant rebound with the more prosaic interest of property owners who have grown weary of battling graffiti.

“We kept getting tagged and tagged and tagged,” says Raydon about his companies struggles to keep alley garage doors free of spray-painted graffiti. “Nothing was working.”

Rather than send a maintenance worker out with graffiti-removal chemicals over and over, Marmot Properties hired Reno artists including Erik Burke, a muralist who has completed completed projects across the country, and Joe C. Rocks, whose work includes the purple-cat entrance of the Happy Happy Joy Joy toy store in Midtown.

Their garage-door murals are left untouched by taggers, who continue to hit nearby fences.

“There seems to be a mutual respect between taggers and street artists,” says Raydon.

An upshot: The street art contributes to vibrant street life in Midtown.

That’s a feeling that Circus Circus seeks to capture with the murals it commissioned on the side of its downtown casino as part of the Artown celebration this year.

“This was a great opportunity to do something that not only benefitted the property, but also the community,” says Debbi Engebritson, director of marketing for Circus Circus Reno.

Like property owners who expect that investment in murals will reduce the costs and hassles of graffiti-removal, Circus Circus executives also see compelling business reasons in the murals.

“Our ultimate vision is that the murals will encourage additional visitations to the property. As the art in the community grows, it will make Reno a must-see destination for unique reasons, says Engebritson.

Seven artists competed for cash prizes — top prize was $2,000 —in a 24-hour mural-painting marathon at the property a couple of weeks ago.

Rex Norman, an artist who works under the name “Killbuck,” took first prize with his mural of a Strong Man.

The murals on Circus Circus grew from a brainstorm by Dick Bartholet, president of the Regional Alliance for Downtown, last winter.

Walking from downtown to his office at the University of Nevada, Reno, with Howard Rosenberg, who teaches art at UNR, the duo began talking about the role that the exterior of the Circus Circus building plays in setting the tone of Virginia Street.

They made a pitch to executives of Circus Circus and its Las Vegas-based parent, MGM Resorts International, and created the idea of a mural marathon as an Artown event.

Engebritson says Circus Circus now expects the mural competition to be an annual event, freshening the art work each year.

And the Regional Alliance for Downtown wants to encourage creation of more murals throughout the central city, says Jeff Frame, a Reno architect who chairs the murals subcommittee of the downtown group.

“There are some great murals in Reno, and there are some great artists around,” he says.