Big Real Big

I first learned silkscreen printing when I went to work for a sign company printing billboards back in the 1970s. It was a part time job while I attended the University of Nevada. Today billboards come in a lot of varying sizes and the technology has changed dramatically over the past 40 plus years. Many billboards are now printed digitally (think of a gigantic HP plotter), or even comprised of small LED units to create vivid moving graphic displays. But back in the day, we printed on sheets of paper, 42” x 60”, 12 sheets to a sign. The screens were huge compared to the little screens we had used in art class. The squeegees were big. We mixed up the ink up in 5 gallon buckets. Everything was big.

Checking the registration between the screen and the printing substrate.

When I moved to San Diego after college, I found a job in another screen printing company doing the same thing as before. We still used hand cut paper stencils, adhered to the bottom of the screen, to make our impressions. But this company had an industrial-sized copy camera and a dark room, so we produced a lot of signs using film and photosensitive emulsion coated onto the screens for the stencil. 

I left them and helped to start another printing company (a competitor with several former employees from our previous company—not sure how I feel about that now). 

But those positions and experiences all prepared me for the move to the Really Big  Show. Robert Keith and Company, San Diego was a design and fabrication company specializing in custom made Giant Inflatable Product Replicas, along with inflatable college mascots, logos, scenic props, and advertising. Everything we made was BIG.

When they received an order for multiple copies of twenty foot tall Budweiser cans, the decision was made to create an in-house screen printing department which would augment their hand-painted graphic capabilities.

We created twelve foot long screens to print labels directly on the fabric pieces which would then be sewn together to create the product replicas. We printed for Budweiser, Miller Beer, Corona and Dos Equis, San Miguel and Tecate,  Strohs and Pabst beers, and Pepsi. Bottles and cans, even a giant six-pack created as an inflatable building, were some of the many oversized projects I helped to create.

The company changed hands and names a couple of times thru the years. I got back in touch with them several years ago. I was surprised and more than a little impressed to see they are still in business, making things BIG as http://www.biggerthanlife.com

Oh! Side note here. For years one of my unofficial nicknames has been Hon Real Big. I like it! I think I might have preferred “Slim” or “Speedy,” but none of those quite seem to fit now.

Catching Up

One of the most exciting aspects of reconnecting with friends has been to discover what they are doing now. While Facebook has been a great resource to find and reestablish friendships from years ago, I’ve discovered it’s not the only way to do that.

Recently I found an old college roommate (old as in the sense, from years ago!) while searching online for someone else. Google returned a vast array of individuals with the same name as my search; when I cross-referenced a few of them through LinkedIn I was surprised at who I had found. I wrote about reconnecting and catching up with John last week (here). Since then we’ve done a deeper dive and spoken on the phone, he refreshing my fading memory and sketching in more details of his life now.

Another friend from my time in the service, US Army 83-86, moved back to the Pacific Northwest upon retiring from the Army. I follow him on Instagram and was encouraged to see that he and his wife have started a podcast primarily focused on travel and the adventures of a blended family. More power to them! Just as the internet has allowed for a wider audience for writers, it has also opened up the broadcast medium to more voices speaking from their own experiences. Take a listen here https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/lifetrek/id1553717951

Last year I had plans to join my fellow high school graduates to celebrate our 50th Reunion. While those plans were cancelled due to Covid-19, I was able to reconnect with a number of friends thru the Facebook Group one of them had set up for a previous reunion. Catching up online, looking at pictures of children ( and grandchildren!) was itself a small consolation for missing out. And truthfully, we didn’t get fingerprints all over the photo albums that inevitably get passed around. 

Last year I spent some time searching online for information about a Nevada artist, one of whose paintings my parents used to own. When I came across a photo of his painting on a website devoted to Western artists, I was intrigued. It had been used to illustrate an article, a review of a new book comparing the lives of two prominent Nevada artists, one an author, the other a painter. I found the book on Amazon and ordered it; read it; loved it. The book’s author had moved to Reno, my hometown, so I tracked him down and shot off a letter to him. I was agreeably surprised to receive a reply. Anthony noted that he has a new book to be published this spring on another Western artist from the same time period and that he would alert me as to the date. A nice touchstone with an important part of my distant past.

Filing box with old cards
Paper filing card system.

Last year we had a mobile shredding service come out and destroy dozens of boxes of old business records, files and notes on people, some of whom I know have passed on. But what of the rest? What has become of some of these names in files from decades ago? What of their families, their children? Where are they all now? And what about us, have you gotten in touch with someone from your past? No guarantees but it is nice to see how some stories have turned out years later, when perhaps we had only seen the first chapter.

Long Ago

Last week I went for a walk in the woods behind our house. It had snowed most of the day before but now people were out walking their dogs, sledding down the hill, enjoying the cold air and the opportunity to be outdoors. Much of the trail had already been traveled by the neighbors, deep ruts where sets of footprints overlapped others. I stepped aside from the path in order to walk through the undisturbed snow. After some time I turned around and set back home and was startled to see rather large shoe prints in the snow where I had expected there would be none. Strange. And then it occurred to me that what I was seeing were the familiar waffle patterns made by my own shoes. I was retreading the familiar and seeing it from a new perspective.


Long ago, a very long time ago, I thought I had my future planned out. Through junior high, high school, and on into college I had taken art classes in preparation for a career in “Art.” Still life drawing, life drawing, color wheels and painting, printmaking and sculpture were all classes I loved and excelled in. My fabric sculpture class? Not so much, I dropped out after a week. 

Art history classes each semester, trips to local and regional art museums, and then membership in a co-op art gallery where I was privileged to exhibit my drawings and small watercolors along with other members of the gallery on a monthly basis all helped to confirm my strong desire to make a living in the art world.

Three years after graduating with a degree in fine arts (painting) I moved to San Diego and took what I thought would be a temporary job in a silkscreen production company. And for the next 43 years I created…no art. A variety of jobs ensued, a lifelong career in graphic production, trade show and museum exhibits. But no art.

Retired now, I am slowly returning to my first-avowed vocation. I’ve been greatly encouraged lately by the artwork of a young friend, a businessman actually who really shouldn’t have time to pursue his art, but does. Managing to find time to paint, raise a family, and lead a business, Tyler’s efforts have inspired me to take up again what I thought I had lost years ago. View some of his art online here https://www.tylergeel.com/

Last week while searching online for friends from “the good old days,” I came across a former roommate from college. John had taken a turn in his career too, after college. While I had assumed he would end up in politics or perhaps with a law degree, he eventually ended up as an artist and gallery owner. You can see his work here https://studiojomac.com/

I mention this because at one point in time we each worked for the same company, went to the same university; though at that time we pursued vastly different career goals, yet only one of us ended up with the life I thought I had wanted. Looking back now with the benefit of age, I wonder—was it many small decisions that resulted in such different outcomes? Or was there one defining moment, a fork in the road as it were, and here we are today? Can we retrace our steps, perhaps even find our way back and walk for awhile down the untrod path? Proverbs 16:9 says “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”

Robert Frost has a lovely poem along these lines. 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I Missed It

This past Christmas I drove out to our local Target to pick up a new Christmas CD for the wife. No luck. I drove over to Best Buy, home of everything electronic, and was surprised by how much they had…changed. The vast rows of CDs and DVDs—which, along with the equipment to play them, had once been a major part of the store—were gone. Somehow I had missed a major change in the cultural landscape. 

Though I haven’t  been a big consumer of music on CD, still I feel I’ve done my part to keep the music industry running, often picking up a couple of CDs for the holidays or gifts for birthdays. The same for DVDs, purchasing a few every year. When the collectors edition of Star Wars came out on DVD, I picked up a copy along with The Lord of the Rings (and the Hobbit!). I’ve added to my James Bond collection all of the Daniel Craig movies as they came out. The same with Batman and of course The Avengers. Building my audio video library piece by piece through the years, I was surprised by how much we had when it came time to pack and move to our new place two years ago.

Blockbuster sold DVDs as well as rented them.

On March 31, 1997, digital video disc (DVD) video players were first released for sale in the United States. Remember Netflix and their DVDs in a self return mailer? Netflix began in 1997 mailing out DVDs in a self return mailer based on your list of favorites. Within ten years they had switched to a streaming service. Before we switched to Netflix we would stop by our local Blockbuster and grab a few movies for the weekend. Remember Blockbuster? They filed for bankruptcy in 2010. Culture shift. Movies online, no more standing in line.

Best Buy announced that they would be phasing out all CD sales by July 1, 2018. Target was expected to make a similar move, selling CDs only on consignment. The digital disc was destined to be sold in only a few holdouts such as Walmart, smaller record shops, and of course Amazon. I missed this announcement. https://www.digitaltrends.com/features/the-history-of-the-cds-rise-and-fall/

At the same time as the introduction of the CD and DVD, in October 2001 Apple unleashed a little MP3 player known as the iPod. Twenty years later players can be found in many sizes, shapes, and configurations. Best Products lists their top ten players here. With entries from Sony, FiiO, Sandisc, and of course Apple, these little go-anywhere devices offer incredible sound quality, music on demand where and when you want to hear it. They replaced the big boom boxes from my younger days.

Pandora, the internet music streaming service which began in January 2000, has lost ground to an array of new services: Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, SiriusXM, Tidal, and YouTube Music (which replaced Google Play Music) all offer a selection of add-supported or subscription-based music systems that you can stream to your phone, MP3 player, computer or automobile.

So where does that leave us, those folks who are left holding on to boxes full of movies and music CDs from the past couple of decades? What do we do with the remnants of older technology, not quite obsolete but “quaint,” in the same way that my desktop computer was replaced with a smaller, faster laptop? Do we finally adapt and adopt?

Was there a memo? If so, I think I missed it. 

Big Picture

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about outdoor murals and the Big Box Data Centers out here in Loudoun County. You can read that post here. The data centers have been here for years and no doubt more of them are on the way. While the discussion was enlightening, it had me thinking back to other examples of very large scale art projects.

Raphael’s fresco, “The School of Athens” is huge: painted in 1511, it measures 16′ 5″ x 25′ 3”. Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch,” painted in 1642, is 11′ 11″ x 14′ 4”. And one of my favorite images, Pablo Picasso’s moving “Guernica” is 11′ 6″ x 25′ 6″. Clearly, overly-large works of art are hardly new to us.

Recently a new outdoor mural was installed in Springfield in conjunction with a refresh of a local neighborhood shopping plaza. Undoubtedly intentional, the cardinal in the graphic brings to mind the name of the plaza, Cardinal Forest.

Bank of America mural in Springfield VA, by Refract Studio.

In 1974, as a senior in the Fine Arts Department at the University of Nevada Reno, I had the opportunity to paint one of several billboards around town that spring. The billboard locations had been donated by Donrey for a month to advertise that year’s Spring Arts Festival at UNR. 

Billboard art, UNR Arts Festival

I had been working part time at a local billboard company. Outdoor Posters, (now Midtown Art and Photo) was a silkscreen printer specializing in the large billboards one can see through out many of the cities and towns across the US..

The Billboard Marketing Industry https://www.bmediagroup.com/news/which-state-has-the-most-billboards/ notes that there are now almost 400,000 billboards in America. Four states have no billboards (Maine, Vermont, Alaska, and Hawaii). The federal government tracks the number of billboards through each state as part of the Highway Beautification Act (HBA) of 1965. 

Florida, Georgia, California, and New Jersey are the top four states with billboards. According to Statista.com, there are approximately 343 thousand displays in the U.S. in 2020 with nearly  9.6 thousand were digital billboards. Considering that digital billboards were introduced in 2005, I would have thought that there would be far more of them by now.

What has happened is the proliferation of digital media in places like cinemas, shopping malls, airports, bus shelters, and of course stadiums. Digital media have virtually popped up everywhere, in all the obvious spaces. But we have also seen a proliferation of large-scale digital images in many unlikely places.

Video screen at Christian Fellowship Church, Ashburn VA

Churches, for instance, have really embraced the large format LED video walls. With their brilliant saturated colors and use of text, the modern video walls in today’s churches seemingly replicate the function of gothic stained glass windows, both as decorative elements and as tools of instruction. In the best cases, their use can enhance the mood and lyrics of a song or a speaker’s message. In the worst case, they can become expensive screen savers and a distraction to the message.

One of my favorite movies begins with a scene that was prescient for it’s time. Ridley Scott’s classic film, “Blade Runner” opens with a view of building-sized video screens. Startling at the time, they are now commonplace in many cities, for instance New York’s Times Square. And home TVs and video screens? Always bigger because, well, we just love the Big Picture.

Blade Runner, 1982


Slow Down

I’ve been doing a lot of walking lately. There are many reasons for this, one of which would be a desire to lose these COVID pounds that I’ve put on over the past several months. Another one is certainly a goal of better health. I don’t have a bicycle and I don’t particularly like to swim, both of which have been suggested to me by my doctor. So walking it is.

As I continue to recover from knee surgery, I’m finding that my steps are shorter than before. I’m hoping to get back to my old gait and I would eventually like to measure my distance in miles, not steps. 10,000 steps a day is a goal still beyond my grasp but we are getting there. 

In truth, there are far more steps behind me now than those ahead. It’s something I wrestle with but haven’t lost sleep over. “The mind of a person plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16.

One thing I’ve found while walking is that I still have a bad habit of constantly looking down. (Yes, I have run into a sign post and more than once.) I can end up focusing on what’s right in front of me and miss the bigger picture. I found this to be a problem when mowing the lawn, for instance. Focusing on long term goals but only looking at short term gains can quickly run you into the weeds. 

A group of us recently went through a study in the New Testament book of James. A key verse which stood out to me then is now just making itself more profitable. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Don’t we so often have this turned around? We are too quick to become angry, we find it hard to listen, and we are always ready to speak. Slowing down before we speak, or in my case before I post on social media, could just save us from unintended consequences. Not always, but it’s a beginning. 

A dear friend recently lifted my spirits by reaffirming something our pastor had just spoken about regarding what it is we are to be doing while we are walking through this life. Memes found on the internet are hardly the place to go for advice. I post it here for your consideration. Much can be made of the phrase “act justly,” or the one that follows “love mercy.” But what caught my attention was the concluding phrase, “walk humbly with your God.” 

It’s the invitation, not just how we are to walk (in humility) but with whom we are to walk that catches my breath here. When our granddaughter was small she and I would walk hand in hand, her small steps leading the way, often pulling me along the path. At times she would run ahead but always waiting for me to catch up; I guess I was slow even then. 

Her trust in the one she was walking with was evident. I’m hoping that as I slow down, giving greater attention to listening, I will develop a heart and attitude of humility. I know we are called to do justly, that is, to be people who love and uphold justice. And we are to love mercy or be merciful—but what are these qualities if they aren’t found in combination with humility? Aren’t they just another opportunity for us to showcase our pride? I’m hoping, expecting even, that by slowing down I will grow in humility, mercy, and a love of justice because of the One with whom I am walking. Baby steps, in one continuous direction.

Encourage One Another

Everyone is under encouraged. Everyone. 

I’m quoting from a former pastor who in truth probably quoted his favorite teacher. But it’s a truth whose veracity we don’t need to go far to ascertain. Whether from personal history or from our studies, we know how much a word of encouragement can mean to people. The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament says, “Encourage one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” He may have had a more significant day in view, but tomorrow approaches, well, every day. 

But why the admonishment? What is it about our lives that would make a biblical command necessary? And if we are asked, directed or commanded as it were to encourage others, then how are we to go about it? 

Earlier in the book (Hebrews 3:13) the author gives us a little more insight. “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

In today’s vernacular we might put it like this, “encourage one another because life is hard and it just gets harder.” 


Before our move to our townhome, we had lived in the same house for 22 years. In that time I learned the first name of only ten neighbors. Only ten from a neighborhood of over 200 homes. I resolved to do better in our new location. 

At first I would wave to our new neighbors whenever I passed them on my walk to get the mail. Nothing. While the weather was still warm I would sit out on our porch and drink my morning coffee; again I would wave to the neighbors as they left for a walk or their commute to work. We might exchange a quick hello, other than that, nothing.

And then for Thanksgiving my wife had a great idea. Remembering the small Whitman’s sampler chocolates we used to get in our Christmas stockings, we decided to get a few and put them in small bags to hang on the doors of our neighbors. Nothing extravagant, just a note letting them know we were thankful for them this year.

The response was a bit overwhelming. From handmade thank you cards to gifts in kind (who doesn’t like to receive chocolate?), our neighbors began to stop by and leave small gift bags on our doorstep, always signed with their house number. Earlier in the year I had let our own small group Bible study know that one of my goals for 2020 had been to learn the names of my neighbors, and how poorly that was going. Now the names seemed to be pouring in!

From small gift giving, to conversations on the sidewalk, we have been getting to know our neighbors. We haven’t had to wait for another Snowmageddon to bring the community together in a massive one-time shoveling event. Even now we are considering how we might continue to encourage one another. I’m hoping for something along the lines of a 4th of July children’s parade and hotdogs, only perhaps a little sooner than July.

With our erratic weather we could still be in for a big snow storm in the new year. But at least when it arrives, I can call my neighbors by name. And that might just be the encouragement we need during these difficult times.

White Christmas

This year maybe, just maybe, we will have a white Christmas. Weather dot gov has our current forecast for Christmas Eve as rain showers likely before 1am, then rain and snow showers likely between 1am and 3am, then snow showers likely after 3am. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 28. Breezy. Chance of precipitation is 70%. Christmas Day should be partly sunny with a high near 33 degrees.

Listening to Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas,” more than once this holiday season had me thinking about all those Christmases past we enjoyed the snow. Growing up in Reno, I’m sure we saw lots of snow, snow upon snow, heaps and piles of snow.

But strangely enough, my memory seems to be playing tricks on me again. According to Shane Snyder, Meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Reno. “It has snowed 7 times on Christmas Day, with a dozen times there’s been snow on the ground on Christmas Day out of 120 years.” That means about 10% of Christmases in Reno are white. In 1910, one inch of snow fell. In 1921, five inches of snow fell. In 1965 it was 2.7 inches. Christmas Day 1968, we saw almost three inches of the white stuff. In 1972, 14.9 inches of snow fell.  (Read more here)

Here in Northern Virginia I wouldn’t expect to see snow on Christmas, though one can always hope. According to the National Weather Service, from 1884 to 2016,  there were only nine times where measurable snow fell on Christmas Day. From 1888 to 2016, there have been 19 times where measurable snow has been on the ground on Christmas Day. (From White Christmases and us: The history of white Christmases in the D.C. area)

December 25, 2009

It has been 11 years since the last time we had a White Christmas (December 25, 2009). The odds of a white Christmas in D.C. are usually not in our favor. For a true white Christmas, there must be at least 1 inch of snow on the ground. It does not have to snow Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  On average, only about 10% of Christmases in D.C. have 1 inch or more of snow on the ground. The last year with snow on the ground in D.C. was 11 years ago in 2009 with leftover snow we received from our blizzard on the 19th – 20th. Even more rare in recent years, it hasn’t snowed on Christmas Day in D.C. since 2002, 18 years ago. (WUSA9.com)

Several years ago we celebrated our anniversary at a cabin in the woods. Our anniversary falls in the first week of January and you honestly never know what the weather is going to be like when you book a reservation several months in advance. So it was with utter amazement and delight that we woke up on the second day of our trip with snow on the ground. Lots of snow. Northwestern Maryland will often get snow in the mountains when Northern Virginia only gets rain. But a surprise snowfall and I feel like a ten-year-old boy again.

The way 2020 has gone, I would welcome a little snow. Maybe just enough to shovel but certainly more than the dusting we have grown accustomed to. I’m not talking another Snowmageddon-2010 situation, maybe just a little Currier & Ives snow that brings out the best in the cardinals we see in our trees out back. But with all the talk of snow recently, I’ve actually got my eye on another Christmas destination, hopefully not too far off in the future. One that includes a sunny beach, maybe palm trees, and definitely a tropical beverage. Let’s go!

Caribbean poster from Ebay

It’s Been a Year

43 posts, more than 2,000 views, scads of comments. When I started my blog last year I honestly didn’t think I would be still writing after a month, let alone a year. What I had thought might be a fun repository of recipes, pictures of the garden, and travel memories has turned into my own little online magazine. It’s the Story of Me and You, written every few weeks or so. 

My Top Ten

Writing about everything from my knee replacement surgery (my most-viewed post) to my latest article on the data centers out here in our new neighborhood has given me a greater respect for writers and the process of writing. Words are easy; getting them to say something is a lot harder. 

In high school I was an assistant editor on our school newspaper. It was my first taste of journalism and writing for an audience beyond a teacher’s assignments. I didn’t pursue writing as a career, my college degree was in Fine Arts, but I’ve tried to keep my hand in the word making business. From an Army topographic engineer in the edit squad, on to my years as Director of Communications at a local church, I’ve enjoyed the process of stringing words together. 

In this journey I’m hoping that we both arrive at the end together, perhaps a bit more informed if not entertained. And there will always be a recipe or photo of the irises in my garden to enjoy, that is if the deer haven’t already devoured them. I don’t have a cute puppy to write about (still holding out hope!) but we have wineries to visit, stories of family left to explore, and I finally got a truck so I think we are in good shape.

I’m looking forward to more of this. I took a bruising on Facebook recently for a political post, but that’s just the give and take we can all expect when we open up the discussion. Thanks for participating— more to come in the new year, as soon as we can finish off 2020. 


If you are just joining us, below is My Top Ten List

“Vintage Typewriter” by pietroizzo is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Go Big

Driving out to the Ashburn Home Depot along Loudoun County Parkway, I was struck recently by the sheer size of all the data centers going in. I did some online searching and was surprised to learn that our area now is home to 70 data centers with more planned for the future. When I lived here during the 1990s the area was still very rural. AOL was expanding their footprint but for the most part, turf farms seemed to be the major development. All that has changed now and there are homes and retail establishments from Ashburn to Brambleton, from Route 28 on up to Belmont Ridge Road. 

With more than 70% of the world’s internet traffic passing through our area, it isn’t a surprise to expect even more development in the coming years. Trying to find a careful balance between residential growth and commercial development has been a difficult challenge. The data centers have brought much needed employment opportunities to our local economy, and added to county revenues.

Data Center Frontier’s Rich Miller reports that the ongoing rush to build more data centers has resulted in the county receiving “fast-track applications” for seven new data center projects that will result in 3 million square feet of new data center space in the region. In addition, last month Data Center Dynamics reported that Amazon is planning construction of a new 1.75 million square foot data center facility in the area as well.

My concern isn’t so much in the number of data centers that we host as it is in the visual effect they have on our community. Our wide roads are beautifully landscaped and well maintained. Yet, the enormous size of the newer developments seems to be softened only with the addition of low berms, landscaping and small trees. Perhaps in 20 years all that landscaping will have grown into effective visual barriers. Right now, not so much.

In an article from the December 26, 2019 Loudountimes.com newspaper, Nathaniel Cline wrote that “In the coming year, Loudoun County’s Department of Economic Development will conduct a branding review of the data center cluster in Loudoun and explore potential branding and signage campaigns as directed by the county’s Board of Supervisors on Dec. 17.”

He also added that “Included in the Board of Supervisors’ direction is for county staff to consider a roadside sign or monument to support the branding efforts. Areas for signage could include major thoroughfares such as Route 28, Route 7, Waxpool Road and Loudoun County Parkway.” 

So my question is more in the range of a suggestion and an example.

My home town of Reno, Nevada has continued a years-long effort to “rebrand” the city from that of a gambling and tourism-only focus to one that has greater appeal  to residents and visitors alike. One of the steps they have taken is to make the city more “art friendly,” specifically public art friendly, by encouraging (and in some cases helping finance) public sculptures and large scale murals. Reno is a city that had one mural when I was growing up there (“Harolds Club or Bust!”) and now boasts more than 100 murals, with tours available! https://travelnevada.com/arts-culture/through-the-lens-midtown-mural-tour/

When I reached out to Reno City Government recently, Megan Berner the Acting Manager of Arts, Culture, and Events, City of Reno emailed me back. She said that much of the growth and interest in public art came after the establishment of a Public Arts Commission in 1990.

Quoting Megan “The mural movement itself in Reno was very organic and mostly driven by individual artists (like Erik Burke) and private business owners–most of our murals are on private property. The murals on private property are privately funded for the most part. The City helped fund the large mural behind the red flower in the image you attached–it is on a public building owned by the County. 

We also have fairly relaxed rules about painting murals on private property. The only real guidelines/rules we have is that murals cannot be signs/advertisements for the business. They need to be art or comply with our signs laws.”

I contacted Loudoun County Supervisor Mike Turner with the question: what can we do to encourage the owners of these big box, concrete buildings to consider enriching their buildings and our community with outdoor art? His gracious response was welcoming.

The concept Reno developed of turning that vast wall space into art is fantastic. It sounds like Buddy Rizer, the Director of Economic Development, is already looking at that as a possible improvement. Clearly that whole section of Ashburn has been aesthetically impacted by these massive buildings, and I should warn you that, as horizontal real estate has begun to reach its practical limit, the data centers are starting to talk about vertical development. They own the land, so there’s not much we can do about that.

Supervisor Turner concluded, “The challenge we face is that Ashburn, VA is now exactly like the oil boom towns of the late 19thcentury, except Ashburn is a global boom town. “Data Center Alley” in Ashburn is literally the iconic center of the data world. They are extraordinarily good community partners supporting many local nonprofits and educational programs, and they represent an enormous slice of county tax revenue. That plays a major role in enabling us to keep property taxes in line. I’m also working with them to move them onto sustainable energy sources for the great amounts of power they use. I promise you we are aware of the issue and are looking at any way to mitigate the visual impact they are having.

We have a challenge in front of us; I don’t expect that suddenly we will see sculptures and murals and other forms of public art appearing around every corner. I do hope, however, that as we continue to build out our environment with massive concrete boxes, we might give more than a nod to how the region is going to look in five or ten years. Will we continue to be Data Center Alley, or can we hope for something along the lines of a High Tech Gateway enriched by artwork of a scale to capture our imaginations and the explosive power of the internet? Let’s hope so.


Photos from two of Reno artist Erik Burke’s murals in Reno, NV. View more of his largescale work on his website https://eriktburke.com/