Reno’s Generator… What Happens at Burning Man, Doesn’t Necessarily Stay There

A beautifully carved and shaped piece of wood at the Generator in Reno, Nevada.

I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking at, but I liked it. And I had the feeling it was looking back. To me it represented the artistic creativity that flourishes in the huge warehouse in Sparks/Reno, Nevada known as the Generator.

The Burning Man series I just completed focused on creativity. For one week in late August/early September, tens of thousands of people gather in a remote area of the northern Nevada desert to celebrate art in its numerous forms including sculpture, architecture, photography, mutant vehicles, painting, costumes and performance art.

While Burning Man’s vibrant creativity is what brings me back to Black Rock City year after year, the event is about more than art. A huge party, alternative life-styles, desert survival, focus on participation, community building, social responsibility, environmental awareness, personal growth, and a very long list of etceteras are all part of the equation that makes the event succeed.

Over the past two years, I have found my interest growing in what goes on before and after Burning Man— both in terms of preparation for the event and, more interestingly, the back story on the people and groups who participate. What brings them to Burning Man, how do they influence the event, what do they bring home, and how, in turn, does this impact their lives and the communities where they live?

Today, I am going to feature a 34,000 sq. ft. warehouse in Reno/Sparks, Nevada that is known as the Generator and has been responsible for some of the most striking monumental art to grace Black Rock City in the last few years including Pier 2 (a large pirate ship sunk partially in the desert), and Embrace. A few weeks ago I dropped by unannounced at the Generator and asked permission to wander around and take photos. “Sure,” one of the artists who was working on a project, told me. It wasn’t quite official, but it was enough. Off I went. I am going to share what I found.

Embrace sculpture built by the Pier Group at the Generator warehouse in Reno, Nevada and featured at Burning Man in 2015.

Even from a distance, the size of this 72 foot sculpture built by the Pier Group at the Generator is obvious.

Pirate ship at Burning Man built by the Pier Group at the Generator in Reno, Nevada.

This pirate ship partially sunk in the sand was another major project the Pier Group took on.

Logo of the Generator warehouse in Reno Nevada.


First, however, I want to mention an event that took place in Londonderry, Northern Ireland in March. I’ve blogged several times about Burning Man’s Temples. Several of these were designed and built by David Best with a large crew of dedicated volunteers. This spring, David was invited to build a similar structure in Londonderry that would be burned, as each Burning Man Temple is. Not everyone in Londonderry thought it was a good idea. The Northern Ireland feud between the Protestants and Catholics has been tearing the city apart for what seems like forever, or at least since 1688 and things that burned were often related to fire bombs. As was noted in a New York Times article, “Burning a 75-foot-tall pagan temple in a Republican Catholic enclave on the loyalist Protestant side of town to ‘bring people together’ seemed, well, mad.” This could have proven to be, well, a gigantic understatement. But it wasn’t.

What happened was that the event turned out to be a powerful force of reconciliation, including bringing people together who had been dedicated enemies all of their lives. 60,000 people (half of the city’s population) came to the temple and left messages for loved ones who had passed on and 15,000 Protestants and Catholics joined in watching the Temple burn. The event is a powerful example of what I am talking about in terms of Burning Man’s impact outside of its home in the Black Rock Desert. I highly recommend reading the NY Times article.

A Burning Man Temple built by David Best and volunteers.

A Burning Man Temple built by David Best and volunteers.

I view the Generator as another example. Matt Schultz and his band of merry followers, the Pier Group, are the visionary force behind the Generator. “We’re an inclusive art space for anyone who wants to make art and be part of a creative community,” the Generator’s Internet site declares. While numerous Burning Man Projects are conceived and built at the Generator, the facility has no direct affiliation with the event, and many non-Burning Man art projects are also produced at the warehouse. Non-Burners as well as Burners are invited to become members. The process is incredibly easy. Just show up with a specific art project or dream of an art project. Discuss it with Matt or one of his cohorts, obtain approval, and sign a waiver. Welcome aboard.

Flower sculpture outside of the Generator warehouse in Reno, Nevada.

We drove around Sparks looking for the Generator. When we found this flower sculpture, we knew we had arrived. It is very Burning Man like. The small structure on the right is a tiny house that Matt is building for himself but hopes will become a model for other small houses in Reno.

There are no membership fees and no charges for using the facility. Members have access to an incredible array of tools ranging from large industrial tools to smaller hand tools. There is even a laser printer. The Generator houses a wood shop, a metal shop and a tech shop. There is also a sewing room, a stage, a lounge, a library filled with how-to books— and a small green house! More importantly, there is a warehouse full of creative types who inspire creativity and are more than willing to offer a helping hand when asked.

Strange book shelf arrangement at the Generator art warehouse in Reno, Nevada.

As you might imagine, even the library of how-to books takes on a different look at the Generator.

A variety of tools are available for use at the Generator including this saw. Anyone who wants to use tools like this one are checked out first to make sure they know how to use them. Safety is heavily emphasized.

A variety of tools are available for use at the Generator. Anyone who wants to use industrial sized tools like this one are checked out first to make sure they know how to use them. Safety is heavily emphasized.

A wide range of hand tools are available.

A selection of the hand tools that are available.

A mini-garden located at the Generator in Reno, Nevada.

I confess I was surprised to find a mini-garden growing.

The readiness to contribute is an underlying principle of the Generator. “We are looking for people willing to share their time, skills and resources to help build a greater community together.” Such sharing might come in terms of offering a workshop in an area of expertise, loaning out a tool, or even doing heavy lifting when heavy lifting is called for. There are also more nitty-gritty expectations such as keeping personal workspaces clean and helping to maintain common areas such as the bathroom and kitchen. I was somewhat amused to find that the Generator has an official “No Asshole Policy.” Members are expected “to be kind, honest and direct with each other.” “Hey birdbrain, why don’t you clean up your pigsty,” might meet the directness criteria but it fails on kindness.

There was nothing subtle about the sign on the refrigerator.

There was nothing subtle about the sign on the refrigerator.

While perusing the Generator’s website, I came across one of my favorite all-time quotes:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

The website proclaims: “Our goal is to foster a community that spends more time pursuing creative endeavors of the mind and heart, inventing and building, and spending a bit more time enjoying the beautiful world we live in. By encouraging more thoughtful, creative interactions we believe everyone has the power to change the world! We are here to share knowledge, build our greatest dreams and laugh the entire time.”

I am a big fan of laughing.

Matt’s vision encompasses the surrounding community as well as the Generator. He is presently working with Reno’s City Council on finding a larger site nearer the center of town. His plans include building a community garden, creating small residential spaces for up to 25 artists, involving and revitalizing the surrounding community, and moving the Generator (expanding its size to 50,000 square feet). All of this, he states, will be done utilizing the latest in environmentally sound building techniques.

The most ambitious element of the plan is to utilize the pirate ship and Embrace, as the start of what would become a world-class sculpture garden on par with those of London, New York and Paris. All of this might seem a little naïve, perhaps a little pie in the sky… until you think about what Matt and the Pier Group have already accomplished.

As I wandered around in the Generator, I became a believer.

One of the fist things I noticed was this rock 'path' working its way along the back wall.

One of the fist things I noticed was this rock ‘path’ working its way along the back wall.

Rock art in Generator art warehouse in Reno, Nevada.

Checking closer, I found numerous little faces staring at me.

Painting at Generator ware house in Reno, Nevada.

The next thing that captured my attention was a work of modern art. Watch out Jackson Pollock.

Painter's art studio at the Generator in Reno, Nevada.

There was no doubt where the painting was created. Even the floor demanded attention.

I suspect this acrobatic woman spent time in the art studio. In fact, she may have been at least partially responsible for the decorated floor.

I suspect this acrobatic woman spent time in the art studio. In fact, she may have been at least partially responsible for the decorated floor and walls.

Je suis Charlie sign at the Generator warehouse in Reno, Nevada.

Located among the paintings was a poignant reminder.

Paintings of horses at the Generator warehouse in Reno, Nevada.

I was impressed with how the artist, Paula Rie Bonham, rendered the movement of these horses.

Miniature house being built at the Generator warehouse in Reno, Nevada.

Someone was having fun creating this miniature house. It reflected the diversity of the projects being undertaken in the Generator. It also looked like something my wife Peggy would love to tackle.

Art car in production at the Generator warehouse in Reno, Nevada.

My guess is that this is an art car or mutant vehicle in production that will eventually make its way to Black Rock City.

I wondered if this buggy eyed creature would be added to the art car.

I’ll conclude with this buggy eyed creature. I wondered if it was destined to be attached to the art car. NEXT BLOG: Spring has sprung in southern Oregon. I’ll introduce you to some of the wildlife that considers our five acres home. Love is in the air.



25 thoughts on “Reno’s Generator… What Happens at Burning Man, Doesn’t Necessarily Stay There

  1. Can’t believe you got inside the Generator and shared the pics with us! Fascinating stuff, all right. Love that 72-foot sculpture of the man and woman.
    And this last buggy-eyed creature. So glad we could experience Burning Man through your eyes. Now, bring on those Oregon flowers!

  2. I love that there are no membership fees or charges. Allows anyone a chance to be creative and strut their stuff. Thanks for continuing to introduce us to this strange but wonderful place.

  3. Very interesting. Thanks for giving us this insight into the Generator. My sister and her kids attended the burning of the temple in Northern Ireland and said it was a very powerful experience.

    • I had a hard time picking what to feature for photos. The place was packed with art and ongoing projects everywhere I looked. It must be a kick to work there.

      As for the Temple burn in Londonderry, I wasn’t too surprised at the result. I’ve seen the impact over and over at Burning Man.

      It does inspire me to want to travel to Ireland this summer and visit Londonderry. (I also have a lot of genealogical research to do in the area.) –Curt

      • Well, with any luck you have more that will feature in your new book – a lot to look forward to.
        If you do make it across the pond, can’t promise you’ll understand all you hear but they’re a great group of people and you may get attuned. If you make it that far then do come stay with us – we’re based near Narbonne, FR.

      • I travelled through Scotland a few years ago and loved it. I was a brief ferry trip away from Northern Ireland, but didn’t have the time. I have wandered through southern Ireland… and loved it.

        As for your offer, what a special experience that would be. –Curt

    • First, I hope to blog a lot more about the production side, Alison. Now my Africa book is out, my next goal is to write a book exploring the Burning Man phenomena.

      These guys are masters as piecing together various funding streams ranging from Burning Man grants, to cloud source funding, to direct appeals and fundraisers, to local government support. Reno, for one, realizes what a bonus Burning Man adds to the local economy. Think of having the pirate ship where people can see it from one of America’s major cross country freeways? –Curt

      • Brilliant, just brilliant! In every way.
        Despite all the apparent ‘darkness’ of the world things like BM, the entire reach of it, deepen my faith in humankind.

      • I see a lot out there to be hopeful about out there Alison. There is an undercurrent of change taking place reflected in things like Burning Man, the Farm to Table movement, etc. that reflect individual commitment to positive change. -Curt

  4. A fabulous post, I could smell the sawdust and paint. I particularly like the object being made in the first photo.
    You might like to know that I am well on my way with The Bush Devil Ate My Sam and very much enjoying it. It beats quite a number of my recent reads!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post on the Generator Hillary. I am not surprised that the Generator appeals to your artistic nature. I am even more glad that you are enjoying the Bush Devil Ate Sam. 🙂 –Curt

  5. Applaud to the Pier Group for bringing their vision to reality, what a fabulous gathering place for artist. I’d love to pick up a brush and join in the creative mess of the art studio! – Ginette

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s