Carson City Arts & Culture Coordinator Mark Salinas shows off a portrait of Mattie Ross, heroine of the 1968 Charles Portis novel True Grit, created by Maureen Conlin of Genoa.
Carson City Arts & Culture Coordinator Mark Salinas shows off a portrait of Mattie Ross, heroine of the 1968 Charles Portis novel True Grit, created by Maureen Conlin of Genoa.

“Art is more than a framed picture on the wall,” said Mark Salinas. He’s the Arts & Culture Coordinator for Carson City, and his tiny office inside the Adams Hub co-working space is slowly filling up with artworks as people drop them off for a competition.

Salinas collected canceled playing cards from Carson City’s casinos and offered them to anyone who wanted to use them as materials to make a piece for exhibition.

“Most responses were from Carson and Reno,” he said. “There were some recognized artists that asked for decks—Joe C. Rock, Joan Arrizabalaga, Zoe Bray, Carol Brown.” Entries also came from artists in Winnemucca and Henderson—plus a few from out of state. Some of the artists are professionals. Some are hobbyists. The artworks take many forms, including collages, a series of tiny watercolors and a functioning, 3-D, Japanese-style lantern.

“There is a lot of the general public just interested in testing their hands and making something,” Salinas said.

Attracting such a wide range of participants was precisely the idea. The exhibition, titled True Grit, kicks off a month-long, citywide event called the Big Read, during which the entire community is encouraged to read the 1968 Charles Portis novel True Grit.

Salinas—a New York City transplant with a history of getting arts professionals and community members together as the founder of a Queens-based mural organization—has been preparing for the Big Read for over a year. That’s been long enough to brainstorm about how to involve local businesses and organizations in the literary and visual arts in some of the usual ways—screenings of both the 1969 and 2010 movie versions of True Grit, a drawing and quilting session at the Children’s Museum of Nevada—and some less conventional ways.

The novel, set in the 1870s, is about a 14-year-old girl, Mattie Ross, who hires Rooster Cogburn, a comically cranky U.S. Marshal, to lead her into Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, to find the man who’d killed her father over a game of cards and avenge his death. That explains the decks of cards as art material—and as an easy connection to the casinos, which will send representatives to judge the art competition. And the story’s themes make for direct links to some of the things that are already on the minds of various non-art groups in Carson City, too. Big Read events include tours of the Nevada State Museum’s Firearms Gallery and the Capitol City Gun Club Memorial Shoot.

“Our local brewery is making a True Grit beer,” said Salinas. “We also have rattlesnake identification classes with the Department of Wildlife.” And a cold call to U.S. Marshal Christopher Hoye of Las Vegas resulted in him ending up on the event schedule—twice. He has a meet-and-greet at the Boys & Girls Club of Western Nevada, and, as a keynote speaker, he’s expected to compare modern law enforcement duties with those of Rooster Cogburn.

Salinas figures that all of these events—plus the distribution of 300 free copies of the novel—should allow gallery and museum-goers and other groups access to some shared cultural experiences. But he hasn’t lost track of the gallery crowd. He thinks the playing-card art exhibition is likely to become an annual, free-standing Carson City tradition.

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