In late 2019, three artists and business partners decided to launch a company that would combine three of their favorite things: art, music and large groups of inspired people. Not long after they got off the ground, however, “The world got cancelled,” said Vera Alexander, co-founder of events company and artist collective Dream Machine Design.

Created by Alexander, Lina Hammond and Holly Spahr, Dream Machine Design was originally intended to promote house music events with original artwork and a fully designed events space. The partners lined up a few shows in Tahoe and Reno, but the first Covid-19 lockdowns in early 2020 brought their dream machine to a halt.

“Holly [Spahr], didn’t take the pandemic situation lying down and started this thing called Bummer Summer,” said Alexander. “She got MDF, which is a thin particle board, donated from Verdi Local Distillery, and she had anybody in the community come paint in the park.”

Starting in July, Spahr and local muralist Asa Kennedy hosted the weekly Bummer Summer 2020 Revival Series in Lundsford Park on Riverside Drive. There, passersby picked up the supplied arts materials and made collaborative paintings in a kind of community creative release.

“And, so, the idea just really hit me all at once that we needed something to look forward to—I had needed something to look forward to,” Alexander said. “And, so, we thought if we could continue that energy of community spirit and involvement and have it create something so beautiful, something so small, what could a couple of months of planning do? And you’re standing in it.”

Faced with the prospect of a bleak winter isolated from friends and the kind of creative pursuits they lived for, the Dream Machine team focused on planning their first art show—and they wanted to include as many people as possible. Throughout last fall and winter, they solicited works from dozens of local artists, an also from local teachers and their students, friends and family, even strangers who felt like contributing. The result is A World of Our Own, which opened March 6 at the Potentialist Workshop with over 130 credited artists and volunteers. 

We had everything from people showing up to drop us off food during the build, we had businesses donate local supplies,” Alexander said. “Junkee [Clothing Exchange], which is a big supporter of ours, let us host a craft day before to help us make some of the stuff—cut up the bags and stuff for the community. It’s been a real community effort.”

Inspired by the large-scale pieces by collectives like Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf, A World of Our Own is an immersive art experience spanning a range of themes, mediums and styles. Everything from textile art to sculpture to original music is explored in one of the installation’s five rooms—and all of it is made in some way from used materials. 

“Art supplies are really expensive,” said Alexander, who is also the lead artist of the show. “And especially in a pandemic, most artists are unemployed or underemployed. To ask them to create something for the show—we were conscious of that. So, we asked 50% of stuff you’ve made to be of recycled materials.”

Each room of the exhibit was curated by a different Dream Machine founder, and either Alexander, Spahr or Hammond serve as tour guide for the space depending on the day. Starting with a small atrium space covered in pieces like a field of recycled plastic flowers, paper cranes, old VHS nightlights and painted vinyl records, guests move into a brightly furnished room called “Gaia’s Living Room.”

Here, organic structures and animals made from trash create the illusion of an artificial forest. Upcycled furniture and pillows create a space for patrons to hang out after their tour and absorb the energy of the space—which is literally covered in paintings, both portraits and abstract images, sculptures (like a life sized, rideable wooden rocking horse) and other media intended to engage the senses. Yes, everything you see you can also touch.

From there, patrons move into a large, blacked-out space lit by neon, blacklights and spotlights of every hue. The “Dark Forest” section includes larger-than-life-sculpted mushrooms, “Rock Pillows” for relaxing, interactive art pieces, large sculptures and mannequins wearing original costumes. Even the music playing over the speakers was made by local DJs who have lacked a stage since the lockdowns started.

“The lack of a stage has a lot of musicians wanting to quit,” Alexander said. “And it’s really sad to me that people are giving up their craft. So we made sure that we reached out to local Reno artists to make the music that plays in the exhibit.”

The final section of the A World of Our Own is the Potentialist Workshop’s backyard, where a small sculpture garden is set up in homage to Burning Man or Downtown Reno’s Playa Art Park—a hugely influential piece of Nevada’s art community that was also canceled in the last year.

Every piece in A World of Our Own is for sale, but the show ends this week on March 28. The founders of Dream Machine Design encourage people to come any time during the week while the Potentialist is open, but from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the 26th, visitors are invited to help with the “deinstall” themselves by buying art directly off the walls.

Photos & video: Matt Bieker

A World of Our Own is on view at the Potentialist Workshop, 838 E. 2nd St., Reno, through March 28. Tickets are $20. More info here.

Posted by Matt Bieker

Matt Bieker is an award-winning photojournalist and native of Reno, Nevada. He received his degree in Journalism from the University of Nevada Reno in 2014, and currently covers arts & entertainment and community development in his hometown.