Rock ’n’ roll high school

Holland Show Space Rainshadow

Holland Project director Brittany Curtis at the organization’s headquarters.

Holland Project director Brittany Curtis at the organization’s headquarters.


Rainshadow Community Charter High School is located at 121 Vesta St. For more information, visit and

In 1503, Niccolò Machiavelli, an Italian statesman associated with totalitarianism, hired Leonardo da Vinci to carry out his plan to change the course of the Arno River. The collaboration was unlikely, given da Vinci’s reputation as an artist whose radical methods for seeking new ideas seemed in direct contrast to Machiavelli’s selfish political views. Although ultimately fruitless, the collaboration was a hallmark of the Italian Renaissance: Unlikely bedfellows coming together to change the course of more than just rivers.

Although the goal of creating an all-ages music venue wouldn’t seem outrageous by comparison, it was a constant struggle for the Holland Project, the art and music initiative created by and for local youth that produces more than 60 all-ages events annually in Reno. Since its founding in 2007, the group has called several places home, including a spot on Keystone Avenue, the Studio on 4th and its current gallery space at 30 Cheney Ave. But in terms of ideal music venues that could host attendees of all ages numbering occasionally up to 200, nothing seemed to work.

“It was hard to find a space that was not only safe for all-ages activities but also up to code and official,” says Brittany Curtis, Holland’s director and co-founder.

Fortunately, another Holland co-founder, Joe Ferguson, a teacher at Rainshadow Community Charter High School, saw possibilities in a partnership. The school had recently relocated to the old Café Bella Sera building on Vesta—an unlikely choice in and of itself, although Ferguson thinks it’s just right for Rainshadow’s population, which generally includes “students that are creative and don’t typically fit the mold of traditional schools.”

Ferguson brokered the deal between Holland and Rainshadow, which took about a year; regular programming began in 2010.

“We built a stage, put up a curtain and sound booth,” says Curtis, adding that its being up to code, ADA-compliant and complete with designated parking, certainly helped. Plus, the converted bar atmosphere doesn’t feel like you’re watching a show in a school gymnasium. Holland staffers and volunteers refer to the venue as Holland Show Space Rainshadow, or H.S.S. Rainshadow for short.

But what of the perception of Holland as “punk rock,” promoting a kind of rebellion against authority? Does that clash with the ideals of an educational institution?

“Rainshadow is so different,” says Curtis. “It doesn’t feel like a school in a lot of ways. But we have worried about that—would people come if it’s in a school, and would it keep people away? ”

But the touring bands and artists performing there often don’t realize it’s a school—they just “adore the space and think it’s weird, but in a cool way,” according to Curtis.

The spirit of collaboration is deeply ingrained in both organizations. Rainshadow’s partnerships enable it to provide students with various community-learning and service experiences. Holland Project came into being alongside two other grassroots, community-minded organizations, Reno Bike Project and Great Basin Food Co-op. The three work together to write grants, host meetings and promote events. And partnerships with contrasting, “mainstream,” organizations, like the Nevada Museum of Art, have been valuable for Holland.

The principles of community service, the fusion of art with education and the cooperation among artists of different sorts—all traits of Renaissance thinking—are alive and well in both organizations, making this partnership, in Joe Ferguson’s opinion, a perfect marriage.

“We’re both trying to give students something different that’s real-life, engaging, empowering, and that makes a difference in the community and the world,” he says. “Both groups are putting stuff together to make things happen for a demo that’s often pushed aside by society.