Sierra Arts Foundation (SAF) is the local nonprofit arts agency for Reno and the rest of Washoe County, and also serves other communities within a one-hundred-mile radius in northern Nevada. It was founded in 1971 and was run as an all-volunteer organization until 1977, when the first professional staff was hired. Sierra Arts' mission is "to develop and support local artists who are committed to our community, by providing funding, education for all ages, and by developing spaces and places for artists to display or perform their work—especially places that benefit from art 'beautification' and economic development and revitalization."
Sierra Arts' education program places artists in Washoe County elementary schools for one-month residencies, to provide students with in-depth exposure to and experience with visual, performing, and literary arts. They host about twenty-five residencies each year, reaching 5,000 students. The Arts Alternatives program, begun in 1990, allows at-risk youth the same arts experiences, placing artists in juvenile detention facilities, an alternative high school, and schools for physically and emotionally disabled youth. SAF also sponsors SIETA, the Sierra Institute for Educating for the Arts, a summer professional development program for K-6 teachers illustrating how the arts are a gateway to cognitive development for children.
The Elder Care Concert Series provides free musical performances by local artists to seniors in nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, and memory care units. A specialized Musician at the Bedside program provides individual performances for long-term patients in oncology, skilled nursing, and pediatric wards.
Sierra Arts sees their role as an information resource as central to their mission and their service to the community. Sierra Arts Magazine, their monthly publication, includes a comprehensive monthly calendar of arts events in the region, articles on exhibits, performances, and workshops, and listings of other resources for artists and the general public. They also maintain registries of artists, arts organizations, and exhibit and performances spaces, a website, and a statewide electronic master arts calendar, arts4nevada (www.arts4nevada.org), in cooperation with the Nevada Arts Council and the City of Reno.
The organization manages several galleries in the Reno-Sparks area. They have exhibitions in their own galleries, selected by a panel of SAF board members and local artists. SAF also manages galleries in the Northwest Reno Library, the South Valleys Library, and the University of Phoenix's Northern Nevada Campus. Each of these exhibition spaces has its own selection panel. SAF also works with local businesses to provide exhibition space for local artists.
SAF's Endowment Fund Grants support local artists with unrestricted funding to pursue their work. The annual application process awards a total of $20,000-$28,000 to both professional and student artists in all disciplines. Sierra Arts also offers its services as a fiscal agent to fledgling arts organizations who are in the process of getting their nonprofit tax exempt status, and helps manage their grants until the organizations receive their 501(c)(3) approval.
SAF's most ambitious project to date was the renovation of the historic Riverside Hotel into the Riverside Artist Lofts. The six-story brick hotel was designed by noted Nevada architect Frederick J. DeLongchamps and opened in 1927 on the banks of the Truckee River at Virginia Street. The hotel was a favorite residence of women seeking divorces under Nevada's liberal laws. The hotel eventually closed in 1987 and sat vacant for many years until Sierra Arts, in cooperation with Artspace, a Minneapolis-based organization that renovates historic buildings as artist live/work spaces, negotiated the purchase of the Riverside. With the help of the City of Reno Arts & Culture Commission, the building was renovated into thirty-five affordable apartments for artists on the second through sixth floors, and opened in late 2000. The ground floor is now used as offices and gallery space for Sierra Arts and also houses a bar, a restaurant, and a retail business.
Sierra Arts has a small staff of full- and part-time employees, and a board of directors. They also have official liaisons with the cities of Reno and Sparks, Washoe County, and the county school district and library district.