Behind the neon glitz of the Silver State is a universe of art and artists that is always evolving and reinventing itself.
Kris Vagner, a Reno journalist and veteran arts writer, knows those galaxies. She created an online publication, Double Scoop, that profiles Nevada artists and their work. Vagner and her team keep their fingers on the pulse of art trends. They profile artists and write about art topics from Reno to Las Vegas — and the far-flung rural towns in between.
That’s a tall order, especially when media sites are struggling to survive both in print and in cyberspace. Yet, the 3-year-old arts journal continues to build an audience and has already racked up some statewide writing awards.
Reporting on a shoestring
Double Scoop grew out of Vagner’s graduate-school project at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. As a former arts editor for the Reno News & Review who later wrote an arts blog, she knew there is a vibrant arts community in the state and an audience hungry for arts’ news.
“In 2018, I had a tiny bit of funding, a small audience, and two really good writers, so I started (Double Scoop),” Vagner said. “I’ve been trying like hell to make sure it was something that can last and now, I’m starting to think that can happen.”
The freelance writers are paid, but Vagner works for free. The non-profit journal is kept alive with advertising sales, sponsorships, memberships and grant programs.
“We’ve taken our cue from the arts community, The Generator and the Burning Man community,” Vagner said. “They can usually get things done on a shoestring or no shoestring even. There are enough people who want to be there and make it work.”
Journals enjoy steady growth
Double Scoop has about 1,000 regular readers on its growing email list. About 50 supporters pitch in with donations of “a little or a lot” each month. Another 20 or 30 fans help out with occasional contributions. It’s about reporting, not hype, she said.
“We’re doing journalism; we’re not doing promotion,” Vagner said. “I want there to be independent arts coverage and I want there to be jobs doing that.”
Her goal is to double or triple Double Scoop’s readership over the next two years. The way to do that is to reach people in person, rather than promoting the site on the internet, she said. That hasn’t been easy during the pandemic.
“Anytime I’m out in public at an event, I get a bunch of new readers,” Vagner said. “We had about 10 events I was scheduled to attend in spring and summer of 2020, but then came COVID-19.”
No ‘high-falutin’ stuff’
She said “just being out there in public has been our best circulation booster.” Personal connections matter, she said. “I can see that from an audience point of view. People hear ‘arts site,’ and some think, ‘oh, that’s not for me, that’s some high-falutin’ stuff,’ But it isn’t.”
The idea, Vagner said, is write intelligently about the arts to a broad range of people and “speak in language that makes sense to people.” Part of the idea is to draw people into the art world, not just discuss art exclusively in a vacuum. “How do you convey that to people?” she asked. “That’s hard to do online, but if I’m standing there, drinking a beer at an event, I can convey that very easily.”
Even as Double Scoop fought to grow its audience, Vagner set out on a related venture. This year, she founded Theater Scoop, another online publication covering live theater in and around Reno. The pandemic cancelled schedules at venues, but the curtains are rising again.
“A couple of local businesses pitched in, Pioneer Center was the big one that helped Theater Scoop get started,” she said. “We don’t really have the resources, but we have the know-how and the freelancers… We’re getting a following and I’m applying for grant money, so we’ll see if we can make it last.”
Profiles, listings and issues
The Nov. 10 issue of Theater Scoop has stories about UNR’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” free magic shows scheduled at local libraries and a listing of what’s happening on Northern Nevada stages this month. The latest Double Scoop offers news about art exhibits, profiles of artists and podcasts highlighting the work of artist Richard Jackson and museum curator Vivian Zavataro.
Even if Vagner had an regiment of writers, it still wouldn’t be possible to chronicle Nevada’s arts’ scene in real time. So how does the editor decide what to cover, how and when?
Such choices “get straight to the heart of two important things — my values as an editor and the difficulty a tiny news organization faces in trying to live up to its values,” she said. Those values include representing Nevada artists from all cultures and races, including the ones who are already popular and others who aren’t yet well known.
“And we try to keep on top of the big ongoing conversations in the world, as they relate to Nevada art,” Vagner said, including social justice, racism, politics, gentrification, environmental issues and the COVID-19 pandemic.
A sense of place
“The art of a given place and time is a barometer of all of that stuff, which is probably actually my main driving motivation as an arts writer,” she said. “The arts aren’t fluff. They’re a free-form representation of how people are processing the world around them. That’s why I’ve rearranged my life around trying to report on them.”
That’s still a universe of ideas and issues, especially in the far-flung communities of Nevada. The urban centers of Las Vegas and Reno have a lot going on all the time, but the state’s rural areas also are rich in art and art events. Then there are new topics to follow, including consent in the theater, non-binary visibility in theater, and access to the arts for people with disabilities.
Plus, coverage of arts education, the vibrant Latinx art scene, and coverage of Indigenous artists and their work also are priorities.
“The amount of stuff we don’t cover far outweighs what we do cover. We’re just getting to the tip of the iceberg right now.” – Kris Vagner, editor of Double Scoop and Theater Scoop.
Vagner strives to get the backstory as well. Double Scoops’ stories often focus on the people behind the scenes who keep the art world ticking, and digging into issues that make some folks uncomfortable, such as a piece about how women of color are depicted in art and a column questioning the “neutrality” of museums when it comes to exhibitions that involve social issues.
‘It’s a nail-biter’
“Obviously, our budget doesn’t allow us to cover (our list of goals) comprehensively,” Vagner said. “…In a given week, I have to say no to so many interesting artists, interesting shows, and interesting ideas. And over the last year or so, I’ve spent more of my time on business development than actually reporting.”
Yet, every day, the art beat goes on as Vagner simultaneously works to keep Double Scoop and Theater Scoop relevant – and alive.
“I’m doing everything I can to get this operation stabilized and expanding and get to the whole iceberg. It’s a nail-biter, for sure. I’m not a businessperson at heart, but I care about this with every molecule of my being, so I’m trying my damndest to make it work long-term.” –– Kris Vagner, editor of Double Scoop and Theater Scoop.