The next generation

The Generator is a place for big art and big ideas

Volunteers paint the interior of the Generator. Each section will feature a different color.

Volunteers paint the interior of the Generator. Each section will feature a different color.

Photo By Ashley Hennefer

The Generator is holding a fundraiser on May 4 at Jub Jub's Thirst Parlor, 71 S. Wells Ave., to benefit the Ichthyosaur Puppet Project. For more about the Generator, visit

In the middle of the Generator's 35,000-square-foot warehouse in Sparks, a 50-foot reptile puppet is being erected.

It will be a giant marionette version of the Ichthyosaur, Nevada’s most famous fossil. Upon completion, it will take its rightful place out on the playa at Burning Man. It doesn’t look like much yet, just some large pieces of wood that resemble skeletal parts. But it’s a fitting first project for the collaborative artistic space that is the Generator—resurrecting something old, perhaps even primal, but changing the way it functions by pulling the strings and making it dance. For the early members, the “old” means forming a tribe based on the value of collaboration and trade; the “new” means inhabiting a new physical space.

The warehouse is huge, but on a Sunday just two weeks after getting the keys to the place, people have congregated in the center of the warehouse, and it’s already bustling with activity. The sound of power tools and the smell of paint signify that creativity is in progress. Still mostly empty, the acoustics amplify the noise, and it’s very loud—but that doesn’t stop people from shouting friendly conversations. Kids are running around, playing in the warehouse’s as-of-now empty rooms. It’s either idyllic or dystopic—like Burning Man, perhaps it’s a bit of both. Either way, big things are being created here.

The latest in a line of local collaborative ventures centered on the cultivation of a local “share culture,” the Generator’s space is also the biggest. Share culture is multifaceted—it includes the co-opting and reclaiming of unused public and private spaces (“Space, the final frontier,” Feature Story, Jan. 17) and the exchange of goods, resources and knowledge outside of a structured market. It has its roots in nearly every industry, including manufacturing, education, art, technology and agriculture.

While it’s not even officially open to the public yet, it has a small crew of members who see potential in open spaces, who want to bring Burning Man’s philosophies out of the desert. According to member Kris Vagner (a former RN&R contributor), in the spirit of share culture, the Generator adapted Burning Man’s ethics, which include “radical inclusion … gifting … decommodification … radical self-reliance … radical self-expression … communal effort … civic responsibility … leaving no trace … participation … [and] immediacy.” Artists are encouraged to open themselves up to collaboration and opportunity, but the ethics require a level of personal responsibility (“Your mom doesn’t work here. You’re responsible for your own stuff and your own good time.”)

Everyone at the Generator is excited about making their mark, and there’s plenty of room to do so. The creative use of traditionally utilitarian, industrial space seems to have become Northern Nevada’s new niche. And it’s a mission synonymous with the West.

But with an influx of new space, are there enough new ideas in Northern Nevada to fill it?

Renaissance man

Matt Schultz, executive director of the Generator, certainly thinks so.

“Reno is in the midst of a renaissance,” he says. “It’s really intrinsically important. There’s this maker and DIY [do-it-yourself] movement in Reno.”

Schultz, whose spent many years building installations for Burning Man with the Pier Group, isn’t the first to iterate this sentiment about Reno. Many want to help improve the region’s reputation through homegrown movements. Northern Nevada has its quirk going for it, and Burning Man shows that it’s a region edgier than Silicon Valley’s shiny start-up scene, and still a bit grittier than Austin’s or Portland’s transition into youth utopias. Taking a leaf out of other successful organizations—Schultz cites Reno Art Works, the Salvagery and Bridgewire Makerspace as important local endeavors—Schultz hopes the Generator will be another aspect of the burgeoning art and technology movement in Northern Nevada by offering space, time and tools.

“We want to be able to explore large-scale art,” he says. “It’s really hard to find the space to do that without monetary support.”

This year, he predicts that 70 percent of the Generator’s projects will be for Burning Man. Eventually, though, he wants to move beyond that. For him, decommodification reigns supreme. Money is another tool, not an endgame. Money is treated almost as if it’s toxic to creativity: Yes, it’s needed to handle logistics, but much can be done without it.

The Generator functions as a non-profit. Many of the founding board members are longtime Burners. Donors from the Bay Area funded the space for two years, including the salaries of some of the board members.

While there is some overlap with what the Generator offers and what other makerspaces provide, large-scale projects will be the Generator’s strength. Schultz acknowledges that Reno’s scenes can be quite incestuous. But he doesn’t want the Generator to compete with other local art and technology-centric projects. Like everything else he envisions, he wants to see a community-wide collaboration take root in Reno.

“We want to work with everyone,” he says. He hopes each place will offer something unique to fill a niche. The Generator is big enough to house other organizations who already have their own spaces, and there’s already moves in the works.

Time and place

With funding secured, customizing the place is a priority. Although the Generator has only been at its Sparks location for a couple of Volunteersweeks, there are already “stations” established, including the woodworking area where the Icky is being built. Right now, the space functions mostly on donated equipment, including a CNC machine, tools and materials. Schultz says he hopes others step up to donate resources, such as bronzemaking supplies.

Each artistic medium will have a designated space. “It’s split up via docks,” he says, based on art medium—wood, ceramic, metal and more. A kitchen and bar are in the works, and he hopes this common area will encourage “less division among the groups.”

A performance area, complete with a stage and mirrors lining the walls, will soon be built. Downstairs, an art gallery will be set up, but “nothing will be sold,” he says. “We want people to make stuff, show it and celebrate it.”

The warehouse has two levels—the upstairs rooms will become a lounge (“Where people can come and escape the build”) and a computer lab with a 3-D printer, laser etcher, soldering equipment and other electronic items.

And adding some murals and plants, Schultz hopes, will ultimately “make these places look less warehouses.”

Structured workshops and classes are a possibility for the future, but Schultz hopes that learning will happen organically. Exchange of knowledge is part of the philosophy—it requires people willing to learn and willing to teach.

“That’s our idea at the moment,” says Schultz. “We don’t have formal classes. We want it to be accessible. … It’s meant solely for the community to build.”

Schultz is looking for artists to take residency at the Generator, and while he strives for inclusiveness, he wants to ensure that no one tries to disrupt the friendly and creative vibe. There is a level of selection he wants to uphold. “No people who are overly intense. And it’s not just a burner space, but open to everyone.”

The Generator will be open to the public later this month. So far, Schultz is pleased with the responses and suggestions for the new place. It’s all part of the big picture.

“It’s a proletariat art renaissance,” he says. “It’s not about communism—it’s about, you come in, and you make it. You are what you make it.”