Arts center leader’s life and career come full circle in Carson City.
Gina Lopez Hill smiles wistfully as she recalls the first time she danced on the stage of Carson City’s Brewery Arts Center. It was in a production of Oklahoma! in 1981. She was 10 years old.
Thirty-eight years later, she finds herself center stage again, this time as the esteemed executive director of the newly energized, bustling BAC, having previously spearheaded the hard-fought battle to bring the organization back from the brink of bankruptcy.
In those intervening years, unbeknownst to Hill at the time, she was preparing herself for that exact job.
Throughout her childhood, Hill performed in many Carson theater productions and danced in weekend floor shows at a local Mexican restaurant.
After graduating from Carson High, she earned a bachelor of fine arts in dance from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She went on to study with noted dance companies in Chicago and New York and danced with a touring company in Japan and Korea.
Returning to Carson City in her mid-20s, Hill took on a variety of jobs, including planning special events; writing grants; teaching dance and choreography; writing, editing, and filming a documentary; and running a charter school and a family business with husband Ian Hill.
And, amid all that, she was raising the couple’s three children — perhaps the best training for handling the crazy schedule she now maintains.
“It turns out that my life experiences were the perfect mix for doing what I have to do to run the Brewery Arts Center,” Hill says.
In 2014, Hill was on its board of directors when the BAC’s bankruptcy loomed. Hoping to save it, she volunteered to serve as director, salary free. Within six months, Hill had managed to bring BAC into the black. In 2015, she was formally hired as executive director.
Since that time, Hill has written and procured grants totaling more than $100,000 a year to fund a plethora of arts and cultural programs. Under her tireless leadership, the BAC has become a vibrant community resource and artistic epicenter, offering live theater, movies, music, and dance programs, and a myriad of classes and artist services.
Making art palatable
Recognizing that cominging food and art can be an appealing draw, Hill added the BAC’s Expresso Yourself, a combination artisan shop and café. The venue sells creations by hometown artists, along with locally roasted coffee and handmade gourmet chocolates and pastries.
Hill also launched the acclaimed program Art in the Park, now in its fifth year. In collaboration with Food for Thought, an organization providing free weekday lunches for children during summer months, the BAC offers artistic activities for the children at the same time.
Many other innovations were initiated by Hill, such as the Harmony Sculpture Park and TEDx presentations, but she considers Levitt AMP Carson City her crowning achievement. This popular series of free outdoor concerts is offered every Saturday evening throughout the summer on the BAC campus.
In addition to great live music, the event provides a host of family friendly activities, including games, a bounce house, mural painting, and free popcorn for the kids. Food trucks and bars also are on site. The event draws close to 2,000 attendees each week.
Surprisingly, Hill is the only full-time staff member. She accomplishes all this with just six part-time employees and an army of loyal volunteers. It’s no wonder that, in 2018, Hill was named one of Northern Nevada Business Weekly’s 40 finalists for its Sierra Nevada Top-20 Powerful Women awards.
Three generations of women make tamales together. From left, Kathy Shaw; her daughter-in-law Gina Lopez-Hill; and Gina’s daughters, Nia, 16, and Nadia, 15
Between family obligations that include three school-aged children and a professional schedule that often involves working evenings and weekends, Hill concedes that cooking is not a top priority. Understandably, she prefers quick and easy recipes, particularly ones that reflect her Mexican heritage.
“I confess I’m not a good cook,” Hill says. “But I’ve done a really good job of surrounding myself with people who are. My mom, my brothers, my daughters, and my husband are all great, so I don’t feel bad about not carrying on the family cooking tradition.”
There’s one exception, however. She admits to enjoying the tamale making, when family members come together at the home of Hill’s mother, Kathy Shaw, to create hundreds of tamales.
“Everything is laid out like an assembly line; Mexican music is playing, everyone’s talking and laughing,” Hill says. “And we’re drinking margaritas. I don’t care what time of the morning it is!”
Later that evening, the house abounds with people enjoying the tamales, the music, the camaraderie — and, yes, the margaritas.
“I have a really big, diverse family,” Hill says. “I have two siblings. My parents each have four siblings. And they all have families, so there are lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins. It’s a bit crazy when we all get together.”
For Hill, it’s just one more tangible reminder that she’s exactly where she should be, doing exactly what she was meant to do.
For details about the events offered by the Brewery Arts Center, visit Breweryarts.org.
Writer Barbara Twitchell often attends plays and ballets at the BAC but was excited to learn of the many other activities it offers. She looks forward to enjoying the summer concert series with her family.
(courtesy of Kathy Shaw in Carson City. Makes 20 to 24 tamales)
Kathy Shaw’s tamale recipe includes filling dried corn husks with a mixture of masa harina,
cheeses, green chiles, corn kernels, and salsa, then rolling the tamales and steaming them
Health-conscious Shaw has created a delicious, vegetarian, lard-free adaptation of this traditional Mexican favorite.
1 package dried corn husks
4 cups masa harina
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 cups vegetable stock
1⅓ cups olive oil
Seasonings (e.g. oregano, garlic salt, cumin) can be added to masa, to taste (optional)
1, 27-ounce can mild, fire-roasted, whole green chiles, drained and chopped
1, 8-ounce package frozen, organic corn kernels
1 cup El Pato hot tomato sauce, or any salsa you choose
¾ pound Cheddar cheese, cut into ½-inch-thick strips
¾ pound Monterey Jack cheese, cut into ½ -inch-thick strips
Soak corn husks in hot water for 30 minutes. Drain, pat dry, and set aside. Meanwhile, combine masa, salt, baking powder, oil, seasonings, and stock. Mix until smooth and well blended.
In separate bowl, combine chiles, corn, and enough salsa to flavor filling. Don’t over-wet.
Spread ¼ cup masa on smooth side of husk, in a rectangle large enough to enclose filling. Spread about 1 tablespoon of filling down center of masa. Add 2 to 3 strips of cheese. Fold in and overlap long sides of husk. Fold skinny end up to enclose bottom of tamale. Pinch other end closed.
Place tamales vertically, folded end down, in rack of steamer or stockpot. Fill area below rack with water. Steam for about 1 to 2 hours or until masa is firm. Remove from rack, and let rest for 15 minutes. Serve immediately or tightly seal in plastic bag and refrigerate or freeze.
Kathy Shaw’s tamale recipe includes filling dried corn husks with a mixture of masa harina, cheeses, green chiles, corn kernels, and salsa, then rolling the tamales and steaming them