The reaction of visitors to the Oats Park Art Center in Fallon is often one of pleasant surprise, especially when they set foot in the stunning Barkley Theatre.
“I wait for it now—there’s a sharp intake of breath, and they say ‘I had no idea,’” says Valerie Serpa, Churchill Arts Council executive director. Tourists are taken aback to find such an elegant, welcoming hub in rural Nevada, but even Fallon residents are still discovering the center, home to all Churchill Arts Council programs and activities.
The center hosts world-class performances, film screenings, author readings, and visual artists in a place where many Fallonites learned the three Rs. Those who fondly remember their school days here worked together with rural artists to save the building and create a top-tier art center. An elementary school designed in 1914 by Frederic J. DeLongchamps, Oats Park operated as such for almost seven decades before it closed in the early 1980s.
Serpa and other Churchill Arts Council members began putting on art exhibits and performances in 1985 in venues as diverse as the livestock sale yard and the convention center. The school district still owned the boarded-up school, which wasn’t being used. “Here’s this beautiful building, and there was a group who was interested in the arts and a group interested in saving the building, and it created this nice synergy between all these people,” Serpa says.