Making a change
The Reno Generator’s lease to expire
Last week, the Reno Generator arts and makers’ space announced to its members and the public that the lease on its large warehouse space in Sparks is being terminated. Over the last seven years, artists have used the 35,000-square-foot warehouse space to teach workshops, host events and turn out large-scale artworks, including some 75 Burning Man projects. Now, the community that gathers and works at the Generator is looking for solutions.
A press release sent to the media on March 5 said, “This news throws the organization into an exploratory process as they are now looking for a temporary space for large art construction. The last day of residency for the Generator at 1240 Icehouse Avenue will be as early as May 31, 2020.”
According to Jerry Snyder, president of the board of directors for the Reno Generator, the possibility of lease termination has been a known factor since the organization signed a new lease last year, with the caveat that the building would remain up for sale—but that the Generator would not be removed from the space between June and September.
“It was a bit of a surprise because we thought we would be at least safe for this year,” Snyder said. “And, you know, the agreement says what it says. We were taking a little bit of a gamble. But, you know, yeah, it was not expected.”
Snyder said looking for another space—even a temporary one—is among the possible solutions the organization is exploring. But seeking a temporary solution through the company that owns the building, Tolles Development Company—which Snyder said has happily leased the space to the Generator at well below market rate—may also be the outcome.
“We’re working with the existing owner to try to figure something out—and they have expressed a willingness to work with us,” he said. “They’re trying to figure what their limitations are and where they can work with us and where they’re not able to work with us. I really do want to emphasize that they’ve been more than helpful in the process. They’ve always been willing to work with us. They’re sort of the antithesis of the big, bad developer, in my mind. They’re very community minded. And they’ve always been happy to support us.”
Snyder said the organization has also signed a letter of interest on a possible warehouse space within the McCarran loop, but said he couldn’t provide further details on it. In the meantime, building time for this year’s Burning Man is right around the corner, but Snyder said the group had yet to approve projects to build in its space.
“We haven’t told anyone that they can build here yet, because we want to wait for honoraria [art grants given by the Burning Man organization] to issue—because, just as a general rule, we don’t want to tell projects they have space reserved and then find out that they don’t have funding, and we have to fill it or we turned away someone,” he said.
But Burning Man art isn’t the only thing produced at the Generator. It’s also home to several artists who make their livings running businesses out of the space—people like Andy Tibbetts.
“Andy is great because he runs a pretty successful fabrication business out of there,” Snyder said. “He is a very nice man. He’s very generous with this time. … And the idea that someone would do something in any way that wasn’t perfect is just sort of foreign to him.”
Tibbetts was among a handful of people working at the Generator early last Saturday morning. He’s been running his business out of the space since 2016 and has been a professional, full-time artist since 2012. He and his spouse moved to Reno from Portland specifically for the Generator. And he worries what will happen to the community there if a solution is not found.
“Some people are going to end up working out of their garages again,” he said. “Some people are going to be doing it wherever. … I could find another, you know, smaller warehouse space to move into—but so many of the resources available here go away. And I don’t want to sound presumptuous, but I feel like a lot of the other people here use resources that I bring, and they’ll lose that. The things I’ll lose are probably smaller compared to that. … Four of five people a day will ask me how to do a thing with metal, or can I help with this or explain that. Part of my background is structural engineering.”
But the loss of the community, he said, would hit him hard—a sentiment that others there echoed as well.
“I think we already have this community and this family, and we have to find a home for it,” said Jessi “Sprocket” Janusee, director of communications at the Generator. “That’s really important. I hope we can find something that will fit our price range, so we don’t have to split up. It’s just a home base that we all really rely on, I think, for not just our art making, but for our mental health and support and all of that stuff. … And this is such an awesome, constructive, uplifting space. I wouldn’t have ever believed I could make the things I’ve made if it wasn’t for having this community and these resources and support.”
One of the artists there on Saturday who’s been planning a new project for this year’s Burning Man was a women who goes by Tamz. Since news of the lease termination broke, she’s been wondering if she’ll be able to complete it.
“This would be my third project to build here,” she said. “I was going to build a project called ’The Watcher.’ And it’s actually a morphing of a project from 2018 and a new project. So, it’s kind of keeping that ethos of not wasting things. … And without the Generator, I don’t see how art can really sustain in Reno. There’s one other spot, but it’s not set up like this. I mean, they’re set up to have things but not be a teaching and a building, makers’ area.”
The Generator, she said, is “not just a place where Burners can come build. It’s a place where anyone in the community can come and build.” It’s also a space from which many different types of classes, from screen printing to sewing to fabrication, are taught. According to Janusee, the organization will continue teaching such classes in the coming months.
“At the end of March, the Girl Scouts will be here making their Pine Derby cars and earning their woodworking badges,” she said. “Since we’ll definitely be here until May, we’re trying to still do as many workshops and events and keep it all going.”
In its March 5 press release, the organization announced that it “is asking the community to volunteer short-term suggestions should they have any. Leads can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.”