Down in the valley

Valley Arts Research Facility

Eric Brooks and Shawn Carney are two of the founders of the Valley Arts Research Facility.

Eric Brooks and Shawn Carney are two of the founders of the Valley Arts Research Facility.

Photo By Ashley Hennefer

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Artists Shawn Carney, Eric Brooks and Ryan Fassbender see potential for a new artistic movement in a downtown building with more than 70 years of history—but they first must peel away the crumbling layers before they can create it.

The three men are the founders of the Valley Arts Research Facility, a new artist co-op housed in 420 Valley Road, the former home of Valley Print and Mail. Valley Arts was conceptualized in fall 2011—the research aspect of the project came later, almost as a joke, but now refers to the exchange of knowledge and creativity that they hope will happen in the space.

Carney, Brooks and Fassbender discussed the idea for a collective prior to finding a location, but then pitched the idea to the building’s owner, who agreed that a collective would be a good fit for the space. They’re in the process of establishing the project as a non-profit and running it as a co-op, offering rentable space for artists to set up shop and improve their abilities.

“We want people here to not already be working artists,” Carney says. “We’re not curating the best of the region. We want this to be a place for people to hone their skills.”

They’ve made it a priority to maintain the building’s historical features such as the hardwood floors—buried for years under carpet and linoleum—and a boxcar, left over from the days when the train tracks ran right up to the building.

“It’s a renovation, not a remodel,” says Brooks.

Carney says that it’s an important place for Reno’s past and future. “It’s part of the block known as ’the block that built Reno,’” he says.

The building’s 11,500 square feet are separated into two floors. The bottom floor will have a stage, a lending library and studio space. A room with a one-way mirror, which currently serves as a band practice space, is designated for performance art. The second floor will feature a gallery space, a lounge, a kitchen, some administrative offices and eventually, an artists’ loft. As of now, 18 artists are using the space. The founders want to focus on supporting local artists, but eventually want to build a partnership with artists in San Francisco to “bring Reno outside, and bring artists to Reno,” Carney says.

Brooks, who spent many years as an artist in the Bay area and abroad, believes that downtown Reno is on the verge of change. He and Carney agree that within the next couple of years, more creative projects will fill the empty buildings on Fourth Street.

“So much is possible here,” says Brooks.

Carney also hopes that the collective’s presence downtown will draw attention to the city’s homeless population. He’s been talking to other local organizations about hosting food drives or skill-trade programs. Part of this, he says, is tapping into Reno’s youth and getting them involved.

Although the facility is not yet officially open to the public, concerts and art shows have been open on an invite-only basis. The founders are hoping for an official opening in late summer, but there’s still quite a bit of work to be done on the building.

“The next few months are going to have some surprises,” notes Brooks. “I’m pretty sure our true nature will be defined.”

For Carney, it’s all part of a bigger goal. He envisions offering workshops on food availability, energy sustainability and artistic collaboration.

“One of the long-term goals is social recovery and wellness,” he says. “We want there to be this side that’s encouraging and self-sustaining.”

This also means that the founders don’t intend to be the only curators—they want to offer the space as an open community forum.

“The sharing of creative processes is what we’re most excited about,” says Brooks. “It will be other people having a place to come to give them a sense of family.”