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Brewery Arts Center director breathes new life into Carson City arts community

By Ronni Hannaman
Brewery Arts Center Executive Director Gina Lopez stands in front of the Bryce Chisholm mural commissioned by the Downtown Business Association.
Courtesy

The Brewery Arts Center has been around since 1976, and it was the hope of then-arts activist Betty Block (Brogaån) and other artists who needed a special and permanent space to showcase their diverse talents that the BAC would serve as the very heart of the local arts community bringing the arts under one roof.

Much time and effort went into the purchasing and revitalization of the former Carson Brewing Company/Nevada Appeal building unveiled July 4,1976, to honor the Bicentennial Celebration of the United States.

Throughout the years, the long-dreamed of arts center lost its way, found its way and then lost it again as executive directors came and went through what seemed to be a revolving door and debt mounted.

Today, the BAC has found its stride once again under the creative direction of executive director Gina Lopez and the newly appointed director of operations Mikey Wiencek. Both have a clear vision of what it will take to breathe new life into the arts community at a time when it is needed the most. Both believe in creating magic to lift community spirit. As Lopez commented, “the BAC was looking for direction and vision.”

In deep debt when she took over the reins in 2014, Lopez today is confident of the center’s financial future. Because of her expertise in grant writing and her gregarious nature allowing her to easily meet and convince major donors of the importance of the center’s mission, the bank account is now healthy, allowing her to make long-neglected repairs to the two historic buildings comprising the arts campus. At present, a much-needed new roof is being replaced on the performance hall thanks to a gracious donor. A generous grant from the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) is being used to make the historic buildings more energy efficient. And expect to see more interesting artwork on the buildings.

As a dancer, Lopez has been very connected to the Northern Nevada arts community and the BAC since she was 8 years old dancing her way through shows put on by the Proscenium Players. She then danced her way through Carson High School and was admitted to UNLV’s College of Fine Arts on a dance scholarship, earning a BA degree in dance.

Her list of qualifications for this job are impressive. She served as the dance captain and business manager for many road shows in which she performed after graduation. While on an extended contract in Japan, she served as company manager balancing the books, booking venues, and attending to all the needed logistics associated with putting on shows. Her jobs at the Peppermill and El Dorado as VIP guest relations manager and event planner and later operating her own nonprofit Performing Arts Center at the Park Lane Mall in Reno well prepared her for her current position, allowing her to juggle all that needs to be done to run a vibrant and profitable arts center while being the mother of two daughters and a son.

In 2013, Lopez joined the BAC volunteer board at a time when the organization was in such debt that, in 2014, the only option was release the staff, disband the board and close the doors. But Lopez volunteered to keep the doors open stating, “I took over the wreck and with the help of dedicated volunteers such as Mikey, we kept the doors open, wrote grants and brought programs to the community to show them we were still operating.”

The dollars started flowing in from donors who believed in the mission of the BAC and Lopez. Even with the then lack of dollars, she was able to book concerts and events, splitting revenues with the various artists, a practice still in force today. Within six months, the BAC became debt-free.

In 2016, she applied for a Levitt Amp Concert Series $25,000 matching grant. She needed to find donors to match the grant and soon learned there were many who loved the BAC and willingly gave. That first grant cemented the reputation of the “new BAC,” and today the Levitt Amp Concerts have become part of the fabric of the summer arts offerings.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions this summer, the much-anticipated summer concerts morphed from stage to a flatbed truck. Bill Miles donated the flatbed trucks and the Flatbed Concert Series was born bringing music to Carson’s many neighborhoods and lifting the spirits of both artist and listener. She credits sound engineer Kelly Dodge with helping to make the concerts professional.

The combined minds of Lopez and Wiencek are like the mind of da Vinci – always thinking about the next project and future projects not yet quite formulated. At present, there is a Relief Album in the works to showcase local artists with all profits to be split among them to provide needed financial relief.

The next big project yet to be announced is a series of murals to be placed on the performance hall that will involve engaging 9,000 locals who will be able to proudly proclaim they “are a part of something great.” Details are soon to be announced.

As the whimsical Bryce Chisholm mural on the side of the BAC depicts, Lopez, the BAC board and her dedicated volunteers are indeed blowing art seeds into our city engaging the entire community and attracting regional visitors to the concerts. As the arts continue to grow and prosper, summers in our city will bring many visitors who just want to be a part of the arts action.

We think the visionaries whose dream it was in 1976 to create a vibrant arts culture under the umbrella of the Brewery Arts Center would be pleased with what is happening on the expanded campus today.

Ronni Hannaman is the executive director of the Carson City Chamber of Commerce and enjoys writing about the many unique personalities that create the Carson City of today.