It's impossible to ignore the impact that art activist Geralda Miller has had on Reno's urbanscape. Largely due to the work of Miller and her business partner Eric Brooks at Art Spot Reno and their cadre of muralists, Reno has come alive with colorful murals dotting buildings from Midtown to downtown. Many of these murals are now being commissioned and not just allowed.
It's that interjection of beauty, art, color and whimsey to our region that has inspired so many to become more engaged with their neighborhoods and to take more civic pride in community art projects, that makes Miller's contribution so distinctive. Art leadership like this takes vision and the persistent action undertaken by Miller has helped propel Reno's emerging public art scene to new heights.
Here in part 2 of our feature on art activist Geralda Miller, I look at her early career with the Associated Press; touch on her work at Burning Man doing art tours and we talk about her vision for the future of Reno's art scene.
Oliver X: What was your first job with the Associated Press?
Geralda Miller: My first job was as an Editorial Assistant.
Oliver X: What does that title mean exactly?
Geralda Miller: That means I was going in there on weekends and evenings and they allowed me to file things like the grain report. Or I could file certain stories like high school sports stories on Friday nights as Editorial Assistant.
Oliver X: With a byline?
Geralda Miller: No, I didn't get a byline until I became an intern. And oh my gosh. They have an internship program for minorities which is fabulous, and I got that. This internship program is a summer program. The wonderful thing about it is that if you pass the program, you're guaranteed a position with the AP. They ask you the 10 cities that you'd love to live in and the 10 cities that you would never ever want to live in. OK, so I completed that and you know of course my 10 cities that I wanted to live in were like New York, LA, San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago...I had all these great cities that I wanted to live in. My number 10 city that I said I would live in was Detroit. And that's where they sent me after my internship program. My internship program was fabulous.
Oliver X: What factors made it so?
Geralda Miller: It was the beautiful experiences I got to have. First of all as an intern you're tested every week. You're tested on AP Style, on writing different stories...Everything possible to make you a strong writer and strong newswoman. All of the foundational things you had to know and be good at. I passed all of my tests. But then you're required to write a sports story; you're required to write a business story; a feature story...You're required to write all of these stories, as an intern.
Oliver X: To make you well-rounded, so no doors would be closed to you...
Geralda Miller: You had to be well-rounded to be a newswoman with the Associated Press. So, I went to my very first baseball game. I went to see the Texas Rangers.
Oliver X: So you interned in Dallas, Texas?
Geralda Miller: Yes! The Assistant Bureau Chief, Rod Richardson, is a wonderful man who pretty much became my mentor...Mastering the fundamentals was what I got from the AP. And doing a sports story was part of that process and training.
Covering the Rangers game was completely new to me. I mean I had to sit up there...I don't know from baseball! [Laughter].
Oliver X: [Laughter]. Were you in the press box?
Geralda Miller: Yes! And I had no idea what any of this was – and I had to write a story on the game. I don't know this game.
Oliver X: [Laugher]. You had no idea about baseball?
Geralda Miller: No idea! [Laugher]. And then, after the game, I had to go down in the locker room! My first time in a pro locker room. And, luckily, one of the other female newswomen gave me some advice that I always remembered and used. She said, 'Geralda, don't look down. Keep your head up. And if you do that, they'll respect you. You can ask them all the questions you want. Just don't look down.' So I said, 'Okay!' And I went into the locker room and got the quotes I needed about a story I really didn't understand much about.
Oliver X: And you got to experience the sights and smells of a men's pro locker room! [Laugher].
Geralda Miller: But I gotta tell you from going into that locker room and talking to them, I became friendlier with two of the Texas Rangers players: Pudge Rodriguez and Alex Gonzalez.
Oliver X: What?!? Oh my God!
Geralda Miller: They became good friends, and I ended writing another story, a business story, about people of color in sports advertising that went national! All that came from me going into that locker room as an intern.
Oliver X: That national story was placed with the AP?
Geralda Miller: Yes, with the AP. So that was a great step. Talk about lessons learned.
Another wonderful story I have from that time was inspired by Oprah Winfrey. She had been in Texas because of her lawsuit with the beef industry. She had to be in Texas during the court proceedings, so she was taping her show in Texas. She interviewed a guy from Dallas who was this multimillionaire who was looking for a wife. I said to myself, You know what, I'm going to do a follow-up story on this guy. And here I am an intern, but I said to myself, I'm gonna find this millionaire in Dallas and I'm going to find out if this guy found his wife.
Oliver X: He was a simply a guest on Oprah's show when she was taping in Dallas and she had him on the show?
Geralda Miller: Yes, she had him on the show. And I vowed that I was going to find this man. So being the reporter that I am, I set out to find him-and I found him! I contacted him and said, 'I'm Geralda Miller with the Associated Press and I'd like to do a follow-up story on you.' He said, 'Sure, come on over.' So I went to his mansion. Huge, huge place. Lives on the same street as Mary Kay, you know.
We had a nice talk and he had still not found his wife. I said, 'Let me learn about you.' The next day he took me on his helicopter to his ranch up there where George W. Bush lives.
Oliver X: McAllen, Texas?
Geralda Miller: Yes, that's it. This guy's sprawling ranch was spectacular. He had llamas and all kinds of wild animals. I am doing this interview and all these things as an intern! Pinch me now... The property was up near the hill country in a beautifully wooded area.
When I saw this spread, I got to understand this man's wealth. I'm thinking, Why isn't this man married? Why hasn't he found a wife yet? And then he told me that he'd already bought the engagement ring. So I said to myself, I gotta see the ring. He goes into his vault and pulls out this 10-carat diamond. I got our photographer to get a shot of the ring and I published the story. I wrote this story and it ended up going international. It blew up! We started getting letters from women from around the world. We had bags and bags of letters for this man. And I'm still just a little intern.
Oliver X: But you got a byline?
Geralda Miller: Oh yes, I got a byline. It was my first great big, global byline. Hello! [Laughter]. It was wonderful. What a great experience to have. I knew I had made the right career choice.
I took a position as a newswoman with the AP in Dallas, until I got placed in Detroit.
Oliver X: How long did it take you to get placed?
Geralda Miller: It took a few months.
Oliver X: That's pretty fast!
Geralda Miller: Well, it took a total of about five months because the internship was 13 weeks.
Oliver X: What other stories did you work on?
Geralda Miller: I'll never forget when I was working the broadcast desk one Sunday morning in Dallas. I'm writing text for broadcast for radio and television and I get a phone call from a guy in east Texas. He says, 'Something strange has just happened here. I don't know what yet, but I'm hearing some interesting stories. I will keep you posted. Stay close to the phone.' I'm thinking, What in the word is happening? Soon after that he calls me again and says, 'They're finding body parts on a dirt road of a man. We don't know what it is yet, but I'll keep you posted.' Within the next half hour he says, 'A black man in Jasper, Texas...'
Oliver X: You basically broke that story?
Geralda Miller: I was on the broadcast desk, so I had to write it up...It was in 1997 I think...
Oliver X: I was in Jasper on an 11-city Texas tour with the Latin rock/ska band Los Mocosos in 1999. They had the radio hit “Brown and Proud” and that was a year after the incident...
Geralda Miller: That was one of my first experiences with a devastating news story. Here I had had this wonderful story with this Texas mega-millionaire. I go from that to a story like this.
I was in tears. But I had to write. I had to get it in the news and on the wire. It was a huge story. A black man named James Byrd had been dragged from behind a truck by his neck...Soon after that the KKK came to Jasper and they wanted to do a rally. I wanted to go to that. But Rod would not let me go.
Oliver X: Your mentor...
Geralda Miller: My mentor Rob, the associate, said, 'No Geralda, I don't think this is where you want to be.' And he's probably right. Part of me being the newswoman that I am wanted to be there.
Oliver X: The Ida B. Wells in you? [Laughter]
Geralda Miller: [Laughter]. I wanted to be there and write about this and observe this. But he said no so I wasn't allowed to go. And that was one of those initial experiences that really moved me. That kind of set me and prepared me for what was to come in my journalism career.
Oliver X: Did you seek out stories or did people bring things to your desk?
Geralda Miller: People brought things to me and I also sought things out.