Take a right off of Icehouse Avenue into a parking lot, and visitors will be greeted by a two-story replica of a human head pieced together with strips of wood. Even to the hard-to-impress eye, it’s pretty intriguing. The building itself isn’t that impressive, but after walking through the front doors it’s a completely different story. Each human sense is instantly brought to life. There are vibrant colors, patterns, shapes and sculptures. Classic rock music battles the sound of nail guns and wood saws. Sawdust and fresh paint flood through the nose. A man’s head peaks out from behind a large painting several feet away. He pushes his long mess of hair to the side and walks forward reaching for a hug, careless of the fact he was about to embrace a stranger.
His name is Matt Schultz, and he is the executive director and founder of The Generator, a public art facility located in Sparks, Nevada. He started the warehouse for the purpose of providing a free space for artists of all levels to put their creative ideas into action.
“It’s a place whose main mission is to take a great artist and make him great, a decent artist and make him good, and expose everyone else to the joy of creativity,” Schultz said. “It’s a safe place for people to come and just be themselves and create together.”
The Generator has only been open a little over a year, but it’s a facility that Schultz has wanted to open for a while. After leaving his career of filming documentaries, he took action
“I wanted an open place where people could make something and be people,” Schultz said. “But I really wanted a place that I could do it myself, too.”
The whole idea of “being yourself” plays a large role in the philosophy of The Generator. In its 34,000 square-foot entirety, the main goal of the building is to inspire artists to bring their ideas to life while being able to practice their skills freely.
“That allows people to build the world they want to see and actually participate in the world they live in,” Schultz said. “That’s just about reflecting joy, creating a sense of being a part of a community and showing people that it’s okay to be themselves. They don’t have to conform, and it’s totally okay to be a little strange. When that happens in an environment like this, it gives them the courage to create things that don’t exist, and they can find some pride in that.”
Many artists come to the facility for those exact reasons. Dani Duncan, a Bay-area resident, came across this place during a short trip to Reno and quickly fell in love. She’s a baker and a chef, and she came to Reno on a weekend trip in the end of April and ended up finding something completely unexpected. Now in May, she has yet to end her “weekend” trip. She was so drawn to the place that she even decided to move to the Reno area in the near future.
“This is one of those places that you just don’t expect to be in a place like Reno, at least from an outsider’s perspective,” Duncan said. “There’s just so much being done here. It’s definitely a different feel than anything I’ve ever experienced.”
He may be the founder of The Generator, but Schultz doesn’t take credit for the idea behind it all. According to him, the concept of a place where people can collectively come together to create art dates back centuries, even back to Da Vinci’s time.
However, The Generator brings a spark that most art facilities don’t.
“The idea that is unique with this place is that we are trying to figure out a way to do it all without charging people money,” Schultz said. “We do that by asking people to give back how they want to, whether it’s in terms of money, tools or time.”
Quite a bit of that philosophy comes from the Burning Man festival that occurs once a year in Nevada. The festival consists of a temporary “city” consisting of various art structures and camps where the people are encouraged to express themselves as freely as possible.
Although the festival itself only lasts a week, Schultz wanted to carry on that environment into The Generator.
“There’s all this really amazing stuff that people build and bring to Burning Man,” Schultz said. “I wanted to capture that spirit in the real world. If we can imagine a city like Sparks being as prolific as the populace of Burning Man, it would be absolutely stunning. Then magnify that idea to a population of cities like Reno or San Francisco, and suddenly we’d have a really, really interesting and creative ecosystem.”
Even the visiting artists have the same idea.
“It’s interesting to see the community coming together like this,” Duncan said. “Everybody is feeding off of one another’s ideas and it all comes together to make magnificent things.”
To go along with the creative feel of the festival, Schultz also wanted to bring forth the philosophies and principles that the temporary city is based off of.
“We wanted to see if we could capture a bit of the magic that happens out there and bring it to the real world,” Schultz said. “People don’t want to hold too tightly onto any principles. De-commodification, for example, is a principle I think everybody these days struggles with. The point of de-commodification here is to force people to stop thinking in traditional economic terms. Not everything needs to be an exchange of money.
“It’s like going home to your house. When your mom cooks you dinner, you’re not thinking that now you have to cook her something. You’re thinking that your mom made you dinner, and that was a wonderful thing.”
The fact that it’s free of monetary trade isn’t what exactly draws the artists to come here. It’s the fact that it’s the trade of other things.
“Yeah, we don’t have to pay a thing,” said David Mensing, a retired BLM worker who is currently building a steampunk art-car. “Paying is a much different thing than contributing. Anyone can contribute, whether it’s tools, ideas or even a beer. It’s a fresh concept for many, but it’s definitely a good one.”
Even though the facility doesn’t charge for entry or use, Schultz has no problem keeping it open. Based solely on the donations they receive on a regular basis, rent of the warehouse is easily covered. Quite a bit of this comes from the philosophies that the artists experience while being there.
The establishment isn’t solely built on the Burning Man principles, but he does use the ideas to form a free-spirited environment to be more focused on practicing skill and passion.
“It’s definitely less about the principles and more about the framework, so people can be people,” Schultz said. “It helps people get away from the idea that they always need to be ahead. That allows people to use each other and learn and be themselves.”
The Generator’s different environment is a large part of what draws in artists to work on their ideas.
“It’s definitely not what I expected when I heard about this place,” Mensing said. “I spend just about every single day here. It’s such an open place. There are a lot of great artists and projects here in Reno, and this is a good place to see everything being created while also getting perspective and ideas on my own projects.”
Many amazing works of art have come out of The Generator throughout the single year that it has been open. Large-scale projects such as a giant ichthyosaur puppet and a Dawn Patrol hot-air balloon float have been created here, as well as small-scale projects such as fine arts, sewing, and furniture making.
One of the latest projects is a 72-foot wooden sculpture called “Embrace” that will be debuted at Burning Man this August. An idea that has been in the works for over two years, the sculpture consists of two people embracing in a hug.
Schultz and the rest of the crew are bringing the vision of the sculpture to life several days a week for many hours. The free-spirit of the facility mixed with the meaning behind the idea of the sculpture fuels the workers’ passion and makes the idea come alive.
“Embrace is our dedication to relationships,” Schultz said. “It’s meant to speak of this idea that right now, in this moment, there are relationships that we share with people, whether it’s a partner, your family, or just someone you’re having a conversation with. Whatever relationships you have defines this moment. We wanted to create something that makes people mindful of that moment and the relationships.”
The many projects that are born in The Generator, such as “Embrace,” are a clear representation of everything the facility stands for, and that’s exactly what Schultz wanted when he created the space.
“I love the concept of a bunch of unskilled people creating small projects together or giant structures in the middle of nowhere,” Schultz said. “When a bunch of normal people can come together and build something stunningly fantastic, that shows that, in fact, the sky is the limit…with really anything in life. If you really think about it, that’s a pretty incredible thing.”