Tonight, the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series continues with a throwback to one of the most memorable nights of Levitt AMP Carson City’s 2019 season. Tune in to enjoy full concert footage of Tribal Celtic powerhouse The Wicked Tinkers delivering an exhilarating performance to more than 3,000 concertgoers from The Change Companies stage at the Brewery Arts Center. The virtual show celebrates Carson City’s communal effort to save a community treasure and transform an underused downtown into a thriving arts destination.
What a difference five years can make
Nestled just minutes from world famous Lake Tahoe, bustling Reno, historic Virginia City and the majestic Sierra Nevada mountain range, Carson City has aptly been described as “the centerpoint of your Nevada experience.” Boasting exciting new opportunities for residents to work, play and connect, it’s no surprise that the city’s population of more than 55,000 is growing larger and more diverse. Five years ago, walking down Main Street in Nevada’s capital city would have felt like a different street altogether. The city had just started work on the last leg of a new freeway linking Reno and Carson City. This new stretch of road would go on to increase regional and national traffic flow, and decrease through-traffic congestion through the heart of downtown Carson City. This pivotal infrastructure change laid the groundwork for Carson City’s historic downtown to become a more visitor and resident-friendly destination. With significant changes underway, the City had also just approved redevelopment plans for the downtown area, but the arts were not yet a part of the revitalization strategy.
Much like the city itself, the Brewery Arts Center (BAC)—the city’s longstanding cultural hub—was beginning its own transformation. In 1975, a group of visionary local artists had raised the funds to purchase the historic Carson Brewing Building—where Nevada’s longest operating brewery was established. True to its founders’ vision to create a gathering space for local artists, the BAC became just that, a two-block nonprofit arts campus offering multi-disciplinary arts programming for residents of all ages. However, over the decades, relevant programming and community engagement began to wane. When these challenges were exacerbated by mission drift and money management problems, the nonprofit’s sustainability came under threat. Fortunately, in 2014—with bankruptcy and permanent closure looming—a group of local arts enthusiasts stepped in once again to secure its future.
The right opportunity at the right time
Spearheading the effort to save the BAC was Gina Lopez—a BAC board member who volunteered to serve as the nonprofit’s interim executive director and managed to take the BAC from bankruptcy to the black in six months. Born and raised in Carson City, Lopez is no stranger to the BAC. She actually made her debut on a BAC stage at the age of 10, dancing in a 1981 production of Oklahoma! After a robust dance career took her across the nation and around the globe, she returned to Nevada, where she took on roles in events management, education, choreography, documentary-making and running a family business—all of which prepared her to accept the position as BAC’s executive director in 2015. Her deep-rooted belief that the arts have the power to strengthen community life inspired her to apply for a Levitt AMP grant in 2014.
Prior to the Levitt AMP Carson City Music Series, Lopez recalls that there were few community activities that fostered connection across generations. Looking around any given Levitt AMP Carson City concert, you can see kids enjoying time with their parents, grandparents and friends, and families, friends and neighbors of all walks of life coming together to dance, picnic and enjoy music under the stars. According to Lopez, Levitt AMP concerts provide a place for all residents to come together to experience “a common adventure.” Regardless of the artist or genre, a concertgoer arrives knowing they’re in for a night of spectacular music and community fun for the whole family. Each night is a new musical experience that draws thousands of people.
It was a leap of faith, but one that’s paid off, explains Lopez. “If you do what’s right for your community, and what people need and want…they will support it.” Each year, the community support has grown, so much that the third year of the Levitt AMP Carson City Music Series attracted The Change Companies as a presenting sponsor, infusing the series with funds to elevate it to an even higher level. “So many people want to be a part of Levitt AMP because of that indescribable feeling,” says Lopez. Their partnership has continued to grow beyond the Levitt AMP series, including free giveaways for service workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year, Sunset Magazine honored Carson City by placing it on a list of five cities that stand out for their support of local arts and entrepreneurship—and included a photo of BAC’s art-covered campus. With a newly secured deed for the street that bisects the arts campus, the team has already enlivened their new stretch of BAC property with “Abbey Road”-style street art—a festive compliment to Bryce Chisholm’s colorful interactive mural. “The mural, the street…none of this would have happened without the attention that Levitt AMP concerts have brought,” explains Lopez. “The Brewery Arts Center has been around since 1975, but we’ve never experienced this kind of outpouring of community engagement.”
In addition to record-breaking concert attendance and a growing list of sponsors, the success of the Levitt AMP Carson City Music Series has demonstrated the connective power of the arts, helping the City to realize the value of the arts in a meaningful redevelopment plan. Over the past five years, downtown Carson City has undergone a stunning and intentional transformation—boasting a multi-year $11.4 million investment in the revitalization of the city’s downtown corridor and with the most local businesses opened per capita across the nation in 2019.
Pivoting in Response to COVID-19
Like arts nonprofits across the globe, the BAC has had to rethink its programs to accommodate the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, they shifted some of their programming online—fostering community engagement through online painting and percussion classes, and streaming past Levitt AMP concert footage. Inspired by a physically-distant mobile concert in a neighboring community, the BAC team decided to launch a weekly Flatbed Concert Series—bringing free, live music out to neighborhoods all across the city. ”I didn’t know if anybody was going to come out, but they did!” exclaims Lopez. Not only are people showing up, many listeners are keeping the fun rolling by following the flatbed throughout the city by foot or bike, creating makeshift (and physically-distant) musical parades. Thanks to a grant from the City’s gas company, young listeners are also treated to free totes filled with art supplies to support creative fun at home. While these concerts are not on the same scale as a Levitt AMP concert, they are providing paid gigs to musicians who would have performed as opening acts as part of the 2020 Levitt AMP Music Series. Lopez explains that, “It felt like a Levitt concert. It had that same powerful feeling of community.” The fun continues this weekend, beginning at a local retirement center, and throughout the summer. And in a couple weeks, the BAC will launch more physically-distant programming with the return of free drive-in movie nights in the campus’s parking lot. Later in the summer, the BAC looks forward to building community through visual art with the launch of a mobile community photo mosaic project, supported by a Levitt Foundation Bridge Grant.
Tune in for Tribal Celtic fun!
Tonight, the “certified loud” members of Tribal Celtic sensation, the Wicked Tinkers, will treat concertgoers to an explosive blend of heart-pounding bagpipes, irresistible tribal drums, mesmerizing Australian didgeridoo and bronze-age Irish horn drones. Recorded during last year’s most well-attended Levitt AMP Carson City concert, this virtual concert will transport viewers back to a much earlier time in Scotland and Ireland with their electrifying interpretations of the greatest hits from the 1700s. Hypnotic, primal, high-energy and humorous, the Wicked Tinkers put on a one-of-a kind show. If you’re not from Carson City, you might recognize this group from their lively appearance on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.
This dynamic show celebrates downtown Carson City at its best—a vibrant community living room that has empowered residents to breathe new life into the BAC and all throughout the downtown area. We hope you enjoy tonight’s virtual show celebrating a cultural asset that has grown into a pillar of community life in Carson City. Visit levittamp.org/virtual at 8pm EDT/5pm PDT!