Oats Park Arts Center

The Oats Park Arts Center is a performing and visual arts venue in Fallon that hosts exhibitions by regional artists and presents concerts featuring an eclectic range of musical acts.

The arts center is housed in the 1914 Oats Park School, designed by Frederick DeLongchamps, a prominent Reno architect who was best known for his county courthouses and downtown Reno civic buildings. In 1919, two additional wings were added to the school to accommodate first through twelfth graders in the growing town. Later, as new schools were built, the Oats Park School was used as an elementary school. It closed in 1954. After suffering minor structural damage and extensive cosmetic damage from an earthquake, the school was condemned and boarded up.

The Fallon landmark sat empty for three decades, overlooking the playground and green lawn of Oats Park. In 1986, The Churchill Arts Council, founded by a group of Churchill County art supporters, was seeking a venue for its expanding performance series. Board member Pat Getto, inspired by a torpedo-factory-turned-arts-center in Washington, D.C., suggested renovating an existing building rather than constructing a new one. The arts council raised $10 million to transform the school from a crumbling relic into a state-of-the-art facility with three art galleries, a 350-seat theater, and an Old-West-meets-urban-café-style bar. The council hired Southern California architect John von Szeliski to design the renovations, which began in the early 1990s.

The idea of revitalizing a historic building, one that sparked decades-old memories of third-grade arithmetic, resonated with people in the community. The old school and its new purpose attracted a diverse group to the project in addition to the art lovers who initiated it. After a ten-year fundraising and renovation effort, the Churchill Arts Council opened its Oats Park Arts Center with back-to-back concerts on Valentine's Day weekend, 2003. Country-western singer Heather Miles and Chicago jazz singer Patricia Barber each packed the house.

In the Oats Park Arts Center's three museum-style galleries, rotating exhibits include paintings, photographs, and sculpture by artists from Nevada and neighboring states. The art center's Art Bar is marked by an assertive design strategy: a long, vintage bar and antique-store relics such as faded glass bottles meld into a museum-café atmosphere. The Barkley Theater, with small balconies and deep-red stage curtains, is lavish but comfortable. Musicians from as far away as Mali and Romania have performed there. A given season might include folk, gospel, rock and zydeco concerts, and the occasional comedy act.

While a small city such as Fallon may bring to mind Old-West charm before it conjures thoughts of a polished arts venue, the center has established a reputation that draws audiences from Reno, Carson City, and Northern California. One of the center's approaches to building and retaining audiences is to invite visiting artists to help demystify the sometimes complex realm of visual art during talks and question/answer sessions. Musicians often present workshops the afternoon before a performance and are likely to interact with audience members after evening performances, when the bar is open.

Further Reading

Churchill Arts Council. http://www.churchillarts.org.

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