When the new Truckee Tahoe Airport building was constructed in 2009, local artist Carole Sesko envisioned more than an updated hub for air traffic coming to and going from the region. In her mind’s eye, she saw naked walls that could serve as a blank canvas full of possibilities for artists to display their talents.

“Airports are the new museums,” Sesko told Moonshine Ink on a recent walk-through of the airport nestled between Highway 267 and Interstate 80.

She proposed the idea of exhibiting works of art on the walls of the new facility. The concept was well-received by general manager Kevin Smith, who came to Truckee from Salt Lake City’s airport, which itself has a robust art-in-airport program.

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“I tell people that arts and art is a huge industry in aviation,” Smith shared with Moonshine Ink during a previous interview. “When a new terminal is built at a large-hub airport, they’ll set aside [1%] or 2% of the overall project budget for public art, and that art enhances the transportation experience.”

SEEING RED: You can check out Coakley’s photograph, Cuban Red, through April 19 at the Truckee Tahoe Airport. “It seemed [the car was] parked there under all those red tree blossoms as if it were staged for a photo,” Coakley said of the image he captured during a trip to Cuba. It was too perfect for him to pass up.
Having spent now nearly a decade as curator of the Truckee airport’s art program, Sesko finds it rewarding to give a boost to artists while also sharing their pieces with those who pass through the terminal. To date, close to 120 artists have exhibited at Truckee airport. While most have hailed from throughout the region — defined by Sesko as Tahoe/Truckee, but also extending within about a 100-mile radius to include Nevada City, Reno, and the Great Basin — there have been exhibitors from Berkeley and other parts of the Bay Area as well, and even as far as Boston.

“Basically what I try to do is pick three artists who are really diverse, so none of them are competing with each other, and that have something to say about our area or aviation,” Sesko commented. “I think that it’s important for people to see art that’s from out of our area as well as what’s in [the area].”

It all comes down to whom the audience comprises. Sesko said that aside from the airport employees, who look forward to the various exhibits throughout the year, there are three main types of people who pass through the airport on a regular basis.

“The first,” she explained, “is the visitors who are here to learn about our area. The second are the people who live here and work here and frequent the Red Truck restaurant. For them, it’s a chance to see what art is available and also [to see] art from out of the area. The third visitor is — right now, not so much, during Covid — but normally this building has state of the art conference rooms [where] a lot of boards hold their meetings besides the Truckee Tahoe airport board.”

While Sesko will reach out to artists she thinks might be a good fit for exhibits, more often than not the artists themselves inquire about displaying their work. There are four three-month shows a year, with a high- and low-traffic season during each period so the talent in all exhibits has equal representation. Due to space and safety constraints, the pieces typically are two-dimensional, meaning visitors are not likely to see sculptures and other more tangible kinds of work. All of the items selected are suitable for guests of all ages.

In an airport setting, Sesko explained, there are typically two types of viewers: the one who’s running to catch a flight and will only get a momentary impression; the other, the traveler with time to kill who takes it all in.

“This is a movement that’s going on all around the country, and before this, airports were a lot like bus stations,” she said. “They were devoid of personality, kind of barren spaces. You could be in any airport or bus station and it [was] hard to tell where you were. So, airports around the country, and actually around the world, started turning to art as a way to say something about their region and their culture.”

The movement has gained such momentum that the American Association of Airport Executives holds an annual conference on airport art for all of the curators. Smith said that each year the Truckee airport sends Sesko to the conference and she comes back with a full report on all the “latest and greatest things that are happening in airport art.”

Tahoe Vista-based photographer Ted Coakley III is part of the current exhibit, which runs through April 19. An aerospace engineering major who changed course in college to study film and photography, Coakley finds the marriage between the airport and art to be a good fit.

“I have always had a love for anything aviation and travel and air travel,” he said. “I mean, whether it’s cloudscapes out the window of a plane, the aesthetic beauty of the design of airplanes, even the most industrial airplanes.”

Coming on the tail end of pandemic restrictions, Coakley chose to focus his show pieces on the theme near and far, largely because he believes that at present, folks are craving travel or at least just sights and sounds from afar. With photos from right here at home in Tahoe to his travels the world over — the Himalayan mountains, Denmark, Cuba, and San Diego — he’s hoping to foster an appreciation in people for travel and the diversity of the world while spurring, even satiating, their desire to see other parts of the globe.

UP IN THE AIR: Coakley has long been drawn to aerospace and aviation and is known to highlight both in photographic compositions.

“I hope they get a little peace and serenity out of it, maybe a little excitement out of a couple of the pictures,” Coakley said. “Whatever they see in it, I hope they enjoy it.”

In his own travels, Coakley has long appreciated seeing works of art in the various airports through which he’s passed. He thinks that at this point in time, people have almost come to expect art in airports.

“As they’re traveling, sometimes people are tired and it’s just nice to see something that sparks some positive emotion in their mind or, even if they’re not tired, it just maybe will heighten their enthusiasm for whatever [reason] it is they’re traveling,” he commented. “So, I think it’s a good fit because lots of people see it, some people expect it, and it will improve their state of mind while they’re traveling.”

Another upside to having artists’ works grace the walls of the terminal, said Sesko, is that people coming into the terminal can get a sense of what the Tahoe/Truckee community is all about. They’re given an opportunity to see a diverse sampling of the various styles of art that is being generated throughout the region.

In addition to Coakley’s photography, there are currently items by two other artists, both painters, each with her own very unique style. Recent Pennsylvania-to-Tahoe transplant Christine Brown’s abstract sky-scape and landscape paintings are inspired by nature, places she’s traveled, tie dye, clouds, the sky, sunsets, and sunrises. Colorado native Kaley Santille, who also now lives in the Tahoe region, inherited her artistic ability from her mother. She combines her passion for art with her love of snow sports, turning old skis, snowboards, and the likes into blank canvases so they don’t end up in landfills.

“The part that I enjoy most is taking a bunch of diverse elements and making some sense out of it. That’s really fun for me,” Sesko said. “That’s what I really enjoy about my end of the job.” 

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