Artown is an annual monthlong festival of the arts held in Reno every July. The celebration includes hundreds of performances of music, dance, and theater, visual arts exhibitions, films, and activities for children and families. The Artown organization, a nonprofit entity, books most of the larger national touring acts, but over 90 percent of the presenters are local organizations using local artists. Artown feels that this is the best way to promote local talent, and to introduce residents, including children, to the wealth of performing and visual artists in the region. Sixty percent of the events and activities are free.
Artown was initially a project of C.I.T.Y. 2000 (now the Reno Arts & Culture Commission), a city initiative to promote downtown arts and culture. In 1996 the event, originally called Uptown Downtown Artown, ran for three weeks in July and had a total attendance of 30,000. It was managed and funded by the city until 1999, when Artown became an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit so they could raise outside funds. The city is still their major funder, and government support is crucial to their success. They also raise funds from local businesses, individuals, and foundations, and earn revenue from the sale of tickets. Many of the participating organizations in the monthlong celebration receive city funding as well.
In 2008, total festival attendance was 350,000, and there were over 400 events scheduled for the July 2009 Artown. For the first time, in 2009, Artown also presented several major performances outside the traditional July calendar, to take advantage of artists touring at other times of the year, and to promote the arts year-round and bring in needed revenue. Artown venues include Wingfield Park and Amphitheater on the Truckee River, the Pioneer Center, the McKinley Arts & Culture Center, the University of Nevada, Truckee Meadows Community College, the Nevada Museum of Art, local casinos, churches, museums, the airport, the Hawkins Amphitheater, the National Automobile Museum, schools, libraries, parks, and numerous local businesses, galleries, and nonprofit arts facilities.
Artown says that over one hundred other organizations are involved in their activities as presenters, sponsors, and funders. These include local arts organizations and facilities, public funders such as the City of Reno, the Nevada Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts, local banks, casinos, media organizations, tourism organizations, utilities, educational institutions, and foundations. They depend on collaboration to produce such a large event, and rely on donated goods and services such as performance space and hotel rooms for visiting artists, and a variety of in-kind support. Such matching income also helps keep tickets affordable.
Cultural diversity and connecting communities in the region have been focal points of Artown from its inception. Representatives of local ethnic arts groups such as Basque and Mexican American dancers, Native American drum groups, and gospel singers participate, as well as outside groups such as New Orleans jazz bands, and Japanese American taiko groups.
Groups wishing to participate in Artown must go through an approval process with the organization, and those who are accepted benefit from the mass marketing Artown produces and distributes. This includes a printed brochure highlighting the large acts and crediting sponsors, a pocket-size schedule of all events, advertising in all media, and a website.
Artown has a small staff and is governed by a board of directors made up of various community leaders. The organization's mission is to "strengthen Reno's arts industry, enhance our civic identity and national image, thereby creating a climate for the cultural and economic rebirth of our region." Artown has received numerous awards for marketing and promotion, photography, best special event/festival, community service, city livability, and a Nevada Governor's Arts Award for Service to the Arts.