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.



Welcome to Burning Man’s Temple… A Spiritual Place

Early morning photo of the Temple of Grace at Burning Man 2014. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Outlined by early morning sunlight, the 2014 Temple of Grace (designed by David Best) adds an element of tranquility and spirituality to Burning Man.

Black Rock City does an annual census that is chock-full of interesting information, including the spiritual beliefs of Burners. I was going to write about the overall census results today, but decided to wait for the final 2014 data. That means this will be my last post for the season on Burning Man.

Census form being filled out at Burning Man 2014. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Burning Man takes its annual census seriously. Here a Burner fills out his form while his friend checks out the entertainment at the Center Camp Cafe.

It seems appropriate that I conclude with the Temple. I consider it to be Burning Man’s most unique structure. And yes, this includes the Man. The Temple is a spiritual place. Thousands of Burners leave messages to friends and loved ones who have passed on, including pets. They also leave messages of thanks and love to people who are still very much with us. By Saturday, it is challenging to find a reachable space that hasn’t been written on. When the Temple burns on Sunday evening, all of these messages are sent skyward, with a prayer, if you will.

Burning of 2102 Temple of Juno designed by David Best. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

While Peggy and I left before the burning of the 2014 Temple, we were able to stay for the burning of 2012 Temple, which was also built by David Best.

This does not mean that Burners are religious. In fact, only 7% of Burners define themselves as belonging to a particular religion according to the 2013 Census. Half of all Burners consider themselves spiritual, however. And most of these folks, including me, think of the Temple as sacred space. The thousands of messages of grief and deeply felt love make it impossible to think otherwise.

Messages written on the walls of the Temple of Grace at Burning Man 2014. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

So many messages are written on the walls of the Temple that no space is left, as this photo illustrates. I was amused by the upper left message that stated, “Goodbye to who I thought I was. Yes!” Warning: Going to Burning Man may impact your concept of reality.

A memorial to Robin Williams at the 2014 Temple of Grace at Burning Man 2014.  Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

There was also a memorial to Robin Williams. “Thank you Robin for the laughs.”

View of Temple of Grace at Burning Man 2014. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

I like this photo because of the perspective it provides on how intricately the walls of the Temple were carved.

Center piece at Temple of Grace, Burning Man 2014.

This view of the Temple’s centerpiece also demonstrates the intricate carving as well as the open feeling of the Temple. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Top of Temple of Grace at Burning Man 2014.

Peggy caught this early morning photo of the Temples top. The specks you see up in the sky, BTW, are skydivers. Hundreds of jumps are made during the week. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Gateway to Temple of Grace at Burning Man 2014. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

One of the main gateways into the Temple of Grace.

Gateway pillar at Temple of Grace, Burning Man 2014. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

I liked the contrast with this gateway pillar and the morning sky.

Photo of early morning clouds taken from Temple of Grace at Burning Man 2014. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Looking over the wall that surrounds the Temple of Grace, I took this photograph of clouds caught at dawn.

A view of the 2014 Burning Man Temple of Grace at night. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A view of the Temple of Grace at night.

A view of the Temple's centerpiece at night. (Photo by Don Green.)

The Temple’s centerpiece at night. (Photo by Don Green.)

Temple of Grace at night during Burning Man 2014. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A final view of the Temple of Grace.

NEXT BLOGS: I am beginning a new series on North America’s fabulous Northwest. I will start with a week-long sea kayak trip Peggy and I took this summer off the coast of northern Vancouver Island looking for Orcas. I will then move inland for a look at Washington’s beautiful Mt. Rainier National Park where Peggy and I hiked with our son Tony in August. I will finish up with a road trip down the Oregon coast, which I am on right now. It may even include portions of Washington and California’s Coast. Who knows where I might end up. I don’t.

The Temple at Black Rock City… Burning Man 2012

The 2012 Temple at Burning Man captured in the early morning light by my friend Tom Lovering. The courtyard and Temple are already filled with visitors.

My first trip to Burning Man in 2004 became a quest. A neighbor of mine, a veteran Burner, suggested I would enjoy the event. He was a strange fellow. I guess he thought I was too.

His description of Black Rock City reminded me of the Mos Eisley on the planet Tatooine, the Spaceport where Luke Skywalker began his journey to the outer worlds. Strange creatures resided there. Adventure beckoned.

Most quests involve a similar location, a jumping off place between the world you know and wherever it is you are headed. Your challenge, if you accept it, is to go out into the beyond, do battle with the bad guys, and come back with something good for your community.

I didn’t find any bad guys at Black Rock City but I did have a wonderful time. And the journey expanded my perception of reality, which is always a good thing. I returned to Sacramento and immediately begin recruiting friends to go with me the next year. Today I regard my treks to Burning Man as exotic, art-filled vacations with a dash of pilgrimage thrown in.

The pilgrimage part involves visiting the Man and the Temple. Today’s blog will feature the Temple, Burning Man’s spiritual center. It is the place on the Playa where Burners go to say goodbye to loved ones who have passed on or to simply give thanks. Visiting is a moving experience that I believe people of all faiths, or none, can relate to.

The 2012 Temple at Burning Man was exceptionally beautiful. Reflecting an oriental theme, its spire reached for the sky while its large courtyard opened to the desert and welcomed visitors. Intricately carved wood invited thousands of messages and photos about parents, friends, lovers, children, husbands, wives, other relatives and even cherished pets.

Normally raucous Burners become quiet when they enter the Temple Grounds. While it isn’t a place of formal worship, it is a place of quiet meditation, reverence and respect. People sit quietly, post messages, or wander around and read what has been written.

The following photo essay is designed to capture the essence and beauty of the Temple in a way that words can’t. My friend and fellow Horse-Bone Camp member, Tom Lovering of Davis California, got up at 5:30 AM on Wednesday to catch the sunrise pictures. My wife Peggy and I took the day, night and burn photos.

The sun greets a new day at Black Rock City and gently bathes the courtyard of the 2012 Temple. (Photo by Tom Lovering.)

Early morning sunlight provides a golden glow and captures the intricate woodwork inside the 2012 Temple at Burning Man. (Photo by Tom Lovering)

Music is found everywhere at Burning Man, including the Temple. I love the obvious joy of these performers caught on camera by Tom Lovering. I also think this photo provides a good perspective on the size of the 2012 Temple’s courtyard.

This daytime photo provides an overview of the 2012 Temple at Burning Man and the courtyard, which extends an equal distance on the other side. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Peggy captured a fun perspective here of the 2012 Temple at Black Rock City. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

I took this photo of the 2012 Temple at Burning Man to show the intricate wood work. Much to my delight, the light shining through created a sense of eyes creating a cat-like face.

Speaking of kitties, the people owned by this cat memorialized her in the Temple with this picture. Thousands of Burners use the Temple to say goodbye to relatives, friends and pets who have passed on with messages of love and gratitude.

I took this photo to provide an idea of the number of messages Burners leave for loved ones. Previous photos have shown the size of the 2012 Temple of Burning Man and its courtyard. By Sunday, when the Temple was burned, close to every inch of reachable space on the inside and outside of the Temple plus structures in the courtyard had been covered with messages.

The 2012 Burning Man Temple at night.

A night-time view from the inside of Burning Man’s 2012 Temple.

Things burn at Burning Man including the Man and numerous works of art. Impermanence, deconstruction and celebration are all involved. The Temple has these elements, but it also includes the burning of the thousands of messages,  sending them skyward, or Heavenward if you prefer, and providing closure to those left behind.

Silence accompanies the burning of the Temple. No mutant vehicles spout fire, no music is played, no Burners dance. Only the sound of crying or the shouted “I’ll miss you,” breaks the stillness. We too have honored those who have passed on. This year we remembered my sister’s Mother-in-Law Betty, a woman full of life who had adopted us all as family and who had passed away shortly before Burning Man 2012 began. Go in peace, Betty.

Eventually, all that is left of the Temple and the courtyard is the structure… and then, it too collapses, returning to ash and dust. A very special thanks to David Best from Petaluma California, the architect and builder of the 2012 Temple at Burning Man, and to the Temple Crew that devoted thousands of hours to putting the magnificent building together.