The Holland Project, Reno's all-ages arts nonprofit, found a home
Right now, there’s a large, plastic sailboat suspended from the ceiling at the Holland Project. It’s the kind of plastic that’s clear enough to see through to the other side, but not clear enough to tell what’s there. Poems hang on the walls, wrapped with the same milky film that skins the boat. Everything looks like it was caught halfway through the act of disappearing.
The exhibit—a debut from University of Nevada, Reno Bachelor of Fine Arts student Häsler R. Gómez titled The University of the Waves—is bound up in hazy metaphor and personal symbolism, the kind you see everywhere you look, the kind that makes you believe you’re in charge of your own ship.
It’s a message that means something to Holland’s target audience—a combination of teens, young adults and just-adults who relate to the feelings of wonder, insecurity and empowerment that come with the passage of growing up.
But the metaphor extends to Holland itself, an organization that has navigated its share of uncertain waters. From completely volunteer-run beginnings to a string of temporary residences that have included a giant warehouse, garages, restaurants, schools, the university, and a tiny duplex on Cheney Street, you could say that Holland has been in flux for awhile now.
That’s why it was particularly hard when—due to the effects of gentrification—Holland found out that its rent was set to double on the Vesta Street building they have called home for the last four years. It was an increase that would “effectively price us out of the game,” according to co-founder and director Britt Curtis.
“Organizations like this don’t tend to make it past the … 10-year mark if they don’t own their building,” said board president Clint Neuerburg, in a recent phone interview. “Being someone who had been around since the beginning and seeing how hard a toll it had taken on the organization to move as many times as we had, I wasn’t confident that the organization could survive another move. We’d been nomadic for so long.”
The property cost $600,000, a figure that was 20 times any amount Holland had ever raised in the past. But after a handful of major investors, including funders like the Redfield and Keyser Foundations, came in with 90 percent of the goal, Holland rallied the general public to raise the last $60,000 in a social media-driven campaign called “Grounded For Life” that lasted only two months.
It’s an impressive effort for any organization, but given the 100-plus partnerships that Holland has been part of in its lifetime, it’s hardly surprising that the community would show up in droves when the nonprofit needed a permanent home.
“All we knew then and all we know now is that we only exist if we exist with our community,” said Curtis. “We never wanted to recreate the wheel, we don’t want to do things that people are already doing. We wanted to fill some voids, and then we wanted to support the cool things that were already happening.”Building trust
Though the purchase of the building gives Holland the kind of staying power you can buy, it doesn't mean that the organization is going to change overnight, or at all.
“I don’t think the Holland Project needs to grow and become this always bigger and better thing,” said Neuerburg. “What it needs to do is maintain this status as an incubator and springboard of sorts for young artists and young musicians, and be an open door to a larger world.”
This means business as usual for the already busy nonprofit.
On the music side, Holland is still providing a much-needed venue for all-ages concerts, booking established bands to inspire the new kids, and letting emerging musicians make mistakes in front of an audience.
The same stage that has hosted local favorites like Who Cares, Cobra Skulls and the Mark Sexton Band is also a learning ground for up-and-comers.
“This is the first place they’re playing, and they’re learning how to play with a sound system, how to play with a crowd, how to react to a crowd, really just learning to play live for the first time,” said Fil Corbitt, an early Holland supporter and sometime Holland performer.
Encouraging young musicians also gives the benefit of a show and the benefit of the doubt to the under-21 crowd who, according to Corbitt, “might not get into a bar because they either can’t play there or it’s really hard to get your foot in with somebody who’s 30 when you’re 18.”
The art half of Holland continues to keep gallery director Alisha Funkhouser busy as she books youth-oriented annual shows like Young Bloods, The Stranger Show and The Scholastic Art Awards, plus a handful of one-time exhibits that give emerging and established artists a showcase for their work. Besides getting a show in a nice-looking gallery, newcomers also receive a primer in the business of being an artist.
“It’s really hard being a young artist, especially if you’re just new on the scene and you don’t know a lot of the key players, you’re not really sure how to do things,” said Funkhouser. “We can show them the ropes a little bit, bring them up through the ranks, and kind of give them the space to be creative on their own and start to figure those things out.”
After helping emerging artists for the past eight years, Holland is at a point where some of their first audiences are returning rather than aging out.
“They’re in their early 20s and still coming to Holland things and helping out much more now, really getting involved—especially the artists,” said Funkhouser. “We’ve seen a lot of kids come through our Young Bloods program who have shown work and are now old enough and experienced enough to have their own shows.”
No longer a kid, 23-year-old Denali Lowder was 17 and “not exactly on the school path” when she started coming to Holland. She attended shows, served on the youth corps board committee, and finally showed her own work in the gallery.
“When you’re 17, 18, 19 and you’re not going to art school because you don’t know that that’s what you want, I think having 20-26 year olds, older young people helping you out is super important,” said Lowder.
Now she is in art school on a full-ride scholarship to Sierra Nevada College and still involved in the organization that helped her find her way. She’s making sure showprints happen—limited edition lino-cut prints that gallery goers can collect each month. Showprint production has been spotty in years past, but with an ever-expanding volunteer force, there was bound to be someone handy with a printing press at some point.
“I kind of see it as something that I can give back now,” said Lowder. “I still feel a connection with teenagers because that was really only, like, four years ago.”
The hanging ship will soon finish its job of disappearing in the gallery. If you can catch it, you definitely should. But if you miss it, Holland will be around indefinitely.