Reno’s East Fourth Street has long been one of the city’s most disenfranchised neighborhoods, but the inaugural Victory Way Block Party aimed to change the public’s image of the surrounding area. Next City, a national organization focusing on community and economic development, chose the Block Party as the winner of the 2015 Vanguard Conference Big Idea Challenge, winning a $10,000 grant from the city of Reno and other local sponsors. Organizers for the event included EDAWN, Reno Art Works and Next City.
“The goal of the event was to change the perception of Fourth Street and to bring a new awareness to both the brewery district – and even just consider it a brewery district,” said Sara Schuenemann, director of events for Next City. “That was kind of a big thing, to help people see this as a place that's fun and active and changing.”
Volunteers organized a self-guided walking tour of the businesses on Fourth, including a bingo-style map which allowed participants who completed the tour to enter their names into a raffle at the end of the day – with prizes including reserved seats at the Greater Nevada Field, original artwork from local artists and a bottle of The Depot’s own Biggest Little Bourbon.
“From a business perspective, The Depot said they had three to four times the business they would typically have on a day like to today, and Under the Rose said the same,” said Schuenemann. “They both said that it was easily sixty to seventy percent new faces that they hadn't seen before.”
Art for the Masses
The event began with a parade featuring several local art cars and street performers, starting on Lake Street and ending on Elko Street. Live bands performed all day at various open-air stages set up outside of The Depot, Studio on 4th, St. Vincent’s Dining Hall and The Morris Burner Hotel. Event goers lined the sidewalks sampling food, browsing arts and crafts and enjoying performances from local vendors and artists.
One of the highlights was a mural painted by artist Erik Burke, honoring local veterans. Occupying the entire north façade of St. Vincent’s Dining Hall, Burke completed the tribute throughout the day with the help of various volunteers.
“I'm painting a portrait of three local veterans from different fields of the military, that are all still alive, it's not a memorial. It's just a mural to give tribute to the veterans that serve our country,” said Burke.
Burke, who once owned a studio on Fourth Street and whose brother is one of the founders of the Reno Bike Project, is familiar with the neighborhood and felt the number of veterans served by St. Vincent’s and the Volunteers of America Homeless Shelter made the piece a fitting show of support for warriors who might not have any otherwise.
The mural, which is composed of black gloss-paint on black matte-paint, is only visible when viewed at a certain angle, a metaphor that Burke hopes will resonate with the audience.
“From straight on you can't even see the mural ... but the idea is that when you see it from different angles and when the light hits it, the invisible becomes visible. It's to shine some light on their situation,” said Burke.
The block party saw an increase in foot traffic and patronization of local businesses. Funds from the event are slated to create a merchant’s association that will, in turn, put on similar events in the future – an idea that many patrons feel is necessary to continue the street’s momentum.
“I grew up in Reno, so I'm excited to see Fourth Street come back,” said Nettie, a volunteer for the event. “I'm excited to see new growth and good, positive reinforcement for the businesses down here, and bringing people down here, and hopefully they'll do something every month.”
Tony Marek and Karen Cate, two long-time residents of the city, said their experiences with Fourth Street were usually limited to standbys like the ball park or Louis’ Basque Corner but found new favorites in their time spent at the block party.
“We always love Louis’, but without a doubt, Under The Rose. We really like the concept of being able to bring a food truck in the back door,” said Cate. “And good beer!” added Marek.
The two say they intend to come back and visit these businesses again in the future and felt the neighborhood was on the right track to make positive changes – with the block party being an example.
When asked if the event had changed their perception of Fourth Street they said, “Absolutely, without a doubt,” said Cate. “It’s come a long way.”