Stacey Spain: A Conversation with Christine Fey

I sat down with Christine Fey, the city of Reno’s resource development and cultural affairs manager, to talk about her role in Reno’s public art process by discussing the Virginia Street Bridge public art project. A little background here is important — Fey was once my boss and has always been a mentor. She is also responsible for championing the current Reno public art process, its 2 percent for art ordinance and the implementation of the public art program for the city of Reno.

I am currently serving on the public art selection panel for this project, so I thought this would be a great way to let readers in on the process.

Question: How did you (pardon the pun) bridge the gap between communicating with artists and speaking to elected officials, administrators and the public about possible art elements for this important downtown location?

Answer: I try to build confidence in the process for all people involved, but with the artists, I assist them in envisioning the product. Artists look for the same information as everyone else — they want to know what is required, how they can become part of a design team early enough to capitalize on construction choices, and then you have to let them dream a bit.

Q: The Virginia Street Bridge public art project includes a description of some specific art elements including a bridge handrail, a bridge sidewalk area and minor retaining walls. How do you determine which areas in a large project or structural elements in the landscape are appropriate for artistic embellishment?

A: I tease it apart with the design team, we focus on nonstructural items, things you can have a visual impact with — any flat work are surfaces that can provide a canvas. The handrail, sidewalk and retaining walls are all items which needed to be built anyway. Using these surfaces gives the artist a bigger impact and is cost-effective.

Q: The budget for this project is pretty large — $270,000. Can you talk about the scope of the project and how you reached out to artists here in the community and elsewhere to get great applicants for the project who will be capable of delivering on their designs?

A: This project specifically gave extra consideration to regional and local artists as we wanted the artists involved to be readily available for design team meetings during the process. We were also interested in artists who know the community and appreciate the locale. We wanted to have a group of artists to choose from who are used to working in this size and scale and who are comfortable working as part of a large construction project. Steel and concrete experience will be helpful as well.

Q: After the selection panel reviews the submissions, the Reno City Council must approve the selection and design. When will the final design be completed and when will construction begin and end? When will we get to see the fruits of your labor?

A: In a perfect world, the designs will be approved this spring, then the artists will work with the design team to integrate their designs, and the project will be in construction and completed a year after that — perhaps by the spring of 2015. This is an excellent example of urban design that takes time to be fully realized and just improves through the process. When you are making 100-year decisions, you want to take the time to get it right.

Q: How do you feel the day a public art piece is installed?

A: It truly is like giving birth to a baby — all of the time and anguish and difficulties and challenges are immediately erased when you see it in all its glory.

Originally written for and published by the Reno Gazette Journal.

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