The Generator opens in Sparks with less Burning Man emphasis

SPARKS, Nev. (AP) — The Generator has a new space and a new mission.

The arts and maker space reopened earlier this month after signing a 10-year lease with Foothill Partners, developer of the much anticipated Oddie District — a 187,000-square-foot mixed use space just east of U.S. 395 in Sparks, next to Goodwill.

The Generator currently takes up about 70,000 square feet, about twice the size of its former home on Icehouse Avenue in industrial Sparks. Eventually, about half the space will be given to another tenant.

“Any time there’s a lot of people in a space making art, it makes us all feel better, right?” Jessi “Sprocket” Janusee, communications director for the Generator, told the Reno Gazette Journal.

Since 2013, the Generator, also lovingly known as The Genny, has been lauded as a headquarters for Burning Man artists. Local and international artists alike have assembled colossal sculptures, from temples to whales to ships, before sending the installations into the desert to burn.

While continuing to be a magnet for Burning Man creations, staff at the Generator say the goals of the space are now more community-driven. Still run by a cast of established Burners, the team is placing a much heavier emphasis on community outreach year-round.

”(Burning Man) is a huge part of where we come from and it’s a huge part of our culture here in Reno,” said the Generator’s education coordinator, Alysia “Dynamik” Crissman. “The downside of (focusing too much on Burning Man) is that the space is underutilized during the rest of the year, and we want to change that.”

Kids play on a train during the Maker Family Meetup at The Generator’s new location at the Oddie District on April 15, 2022. The Maker Family Meetup is a social creative time for families at the Generator.

Welcome to the new Genny

There’s no loss of flair since the Generator’s move to new digs, a warehouse formerly used as a storage space by Renown Regional Medical Center. Before that, it was a Lowe’s home improvement store.

Visitors are greeted with a coal-black train at the entry, a recycled wood library filled with DIY books, and bright murals stretching across the back walls. Nooks and crannies are stuffed with circus art, steel horses and rows of sewing machines. Rainbow ribbons dangle from a cloud that hangs from the ceiling and reads, “Make stuff.”

The building is a little sparse of projects at the moment since actor Jeremy Renner, best known for his role as Hawkeye, and his crew recently wrapped up a filming project. The crew used the Generator to overhaul decommissioned vehicles to be used again by charities. Renner visited the set a handful of times, staff said.

The space is divided into a wood shop, metal shop, textile center and tech lab, among other sections. The maker space will also eventually have a glass blowing area, according to Janusee. Memberships give artists access to all the resources on-site. Monthly memberships costs $50 a month, and annual memberships cost $500.

About 55 studio artists are soon expected to fill the space, but only after the Generator hosts the Reno Punk Rock Flea Market’s fifth year anniversary at month’s end. About seven Burning Man projects also are signed on to build at the site as the nearly 80,000-person arts festival officially returns later this summer after a two-year hiatus.

Staff are looking forward to the sounds of sawing, welding, laughing and blasting music come summer, peak build time for those headed to Black Rock City in August. While artists design their works at home, they often ship the materials to the Generator and gather there a month or two before Burning Man for construction of the pieces.

The mechanical horse, “Wings of Glory,” by New York metal sculptor Adrian Landon is presently stored at The Generator. The mechanical horse actually gallops and was at Burning Man in 2019. Many of the most memorable Burning Man art sculptures were built at the Generator.

“There are lots of times too that you come in and you’d hear four or five different languages. It felt like you were in a hostel,” said Crissman of her experiences in the past.

The music heard during work time is often eclectic. Sometimes you hear punk, other times you hear classic country, and at least once a symphony of loon calls echoed throughout the Generator on Icehouse Avenue.

And, once the space starts to really get going, the air will fill with the perfume of fresh sawdust and hot metal, said Crissman.

Kid-friendly, community-driven

The Generator’s staff used to think their greatest asset as an organization was unparalleled room and resources to build and create.

That all changed when their previous landlord, Tolles Development Co., ended the lease at their previous location and the Generator was left without a long-term home. Then the pandemic hit and isolated everyone. While the staff found a temporary home near downtown Reno, it couldn’t accommodate all the equipment that comes with the Generator.

“Without that, we had to get a little more creative about what we could offer,” said Crissman.

Autumn Cassidy, 7, front, and her sister Melynna Cassidy, 12, work on crafts during the Maker Family Meetup at The Generator’s new location at the Oddie District on April 15, 2022. The Maker Family Meetup is a social creative time for families at the Generator.

The Generator began more efforts to partner with community groups and started creating lessons for K-12 schools and workshops for patrons at local homeless shelters.

The outreach model is taking shape in new ways as the Generator moves into yet another home. It will continue to offer classes to members and non-members. The type of classes will be based on requests from the public and its membership, Crissman said.

Because many of the Generator’s staff are parents, that too has influenced the direction that the arts and maker space is headed in.

“We really believe that if we’re not serving the children of the community, then we’re missing a huge segment of the population, not only the children but the caretakers, primarily women,” said Crissman.

The Generator’s education manager Alysia Dynamik stands at entrance of The Generator’s new location at the Oddie District in Sparks.

The Generator provides a place where artists from around the world collaborate and where community art workshops are offered throughout the year. Some of Burning Man’s most memorable sculptures were built at the Generator.

Every Thursday, the Generator hosts Maker Family Meet-ups, where caretakers and children can create together and the space is also opening up to local children’s groups. Summer camp classes are around the corner too.

In an effort to diversify income, it’s also allowing other organizations to use the facility for events such as fundraisers and weddings.

After spending several years trying to find a permanent home, the Generator still hopes that someday it will be able to find a space that will offer a longer-term lease or an affordable purchase option. There are few places, however, that are affordable and large enough to accommodate the builds at the Generator.

For now, though, the Oddie District feels like a fitting place for a new beginning.

The Truckee Meadows Community College theater also is moving into The Oddie District, as well as an Idaho-based venture called the Innovation Collective.

The Collective helps mentor and incubate promising technology companies while turning smaller communities into hubs for research and development.