Truckee’s Kindred Art and Folk Institute community art center constructs enormous art installation to showcase at Burning Man 2017 | SierraSun.com

Truckee’s Kindred Art and Folk Institute community art center constructs enormous art installation to showcase at Burning Man 2017

Cassandra Walker | cwalker@sierrasun.com | @snow1cass

The Burning Man Festival is a weeklong celebration of art and music held in Gerlach, Nev., that draws crowds in the tens of thousands to camp, see art structures and vehicles, catch live performances around the clock, and see what life is like and how the human condition improves without the hustle and bustle of a standard nine-to-five day.

One local art group will be among creative people from around the world, putting their work on display for people to connect with during their time on the playa.

Nicole Ashton Martin is the founder and creative director of Kindred Art and Folk Institute, and said creating a community art center was a long time coming.

Martin attended the California Institute of the Arts where she was able to teach and give back to different areas in need.

"I adored my time there. The budget was limited, so I was coming up with stuff on the fly and was really good at it. I had a blast and was just so attached to the kids," she said.

From her work with disadvantaged youths, she carried a love for the arts and for working with youngsters. She earned her degree in graphic design and a masters in marketing; made her way working with firms and in television, but always went back to the community element of everything that interested her.

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Once she moved to Reno, Nev., from Los Angeles she said she experienced a level of culture shock and knew she needed to get involved in the arts community.

She became the creative director with the Sierra Arts Foundation and worked with Artown before the economy downfall in 2009 when she voluntarily left the role to make room for more senior colleagues.

"I decided at that time to move exactly where I wanted to live and then … figure it out," she said.

Martin made her way to Truckee and worked in marketing and advertising around town, always making time for family, and friends and special art hikes with her son.

"We would hike with friends and family, and do little random art installations, collecting materials from the area we were at," she explained.

"One day, there were other people on the trail and they asked how to sign up for this 'class'. I told her it was just us friends and not a class, but that she was welcome to join us."

That exchange ignited a passion Martin had since long ago, and she picked back up some old plans she had started, developing her idea of creating a community artist space in Truckee.

That night, she finished her plans.

The Kindred Institute is now a 5-year-old nonprofit, which has a strong following and offers regular classes in various art mediums; specializing in working with kids on projects.

The project most top of mind is their current piece, entitled, "Transcendent Souls"

Martin came to create the piece for Burning Man in a rather roundabout way, and it all started with a special nomination, recognizing her work enriching the community.

She was nominated by the Cal Arts partnership she had worked with years ago, honoring artists who do positive things for the community.

"I was completely blown away and shocked," she said.

She was able to submit a project with her nomination and recalls having a dream the night before, envisioning a piece that she sketched on paper once she woke up.

The design was for trees with hands coming up; originally she drew them holding a firefly. The concept kept growing and a friend suggested she submit the piece to Burning Man for inclusion in this year's festival.

Martin took the opportunity, not entirely thinking it would go through and what would happen afterward.

"I pulled some girls from an empowerment class to learn about the submission process for their own creative empowerment, and I thought they needed to be part of the process of developing a review of the piece, materials list, all of that," she said.

They created a formal package, submitted it to Burning Man and made it through. The next phase was to create a model of the project that could handle transport.

Martin and her team welded a model of their installation: a huge swing suspended from tree trunks which stretch upward in the shape of hands holding a heart powered by solar lights.

At the burn, people will be invited to pick up a piece of crystal or glow rocks and place it in a grid at the base of the installation, between large crystals outlining the front circumference of the display.

"The crystals were another interactivity piece we really wanted going out there. I'm sure a lot of crystals will travel somewhere else with people, but the idea is for everyone to have a piece to put into it," Martin said.

Martin said the children of Kindred in Truckee have been a huge driving force of the project as well as a huge source of inspiration.

"Their fingerprints are in the modeling clay that we have over the weld, they're all over it, they play with it all the time," she said, fondly.

Martin uses every situation including building this art installation, as a teaching moment for the children she mentors, saying that she wants to empower them to not be hindered by society's expectations or opinions.

"Society thinks you should do this or that, or do what you're doing another way. This piece is about unconditional love and being able to follow your dreams and your visions, and everything you want to do and not being hindered by everything that society thinks you should do," she said.

"This is a big thing for the kids — to not lose sight of that magic they have right now. As grown ups we lose it, and it's really hard for a lot of people to get it back."

The design of the enormous installation was intended to welcome people to interact with the work.

"I was trying to think of whatever [the art piece] needed and I was looking at the kids and thinking, 'We need a swing! We need a big swing.' I told them, 'We need one big enough so all of you can sit on it at the same time," she said.

The children have been inspiring Martin since the start of her artistic career and their inspiration is taking her all the way to Burning Man with an art piece constructed in their honor for strangers from all around the world to connect.

Six other families from the Kindred Institute will be at the festival and will bring their children.

"There will be a few Kindred kids out there and they'll be the first to see it," Martin said.

The Kindred Art and Folk Institute generates donation dollars to support their art education efforts and has many people to thank for all that they've been able to accomplish; teaching fine art, industrial art, environmental-based art, everything from creative writing to movement to music for a multi-age group of people.

"It's been beautiful to watch the process. We just keep doing more and more every year and it's not by an individual effort by any means. For this piece we couldn't do it without the Truckee Tahoe Lumber Company, Linchpin Structural Engineering, Burgess-Martin Painting, the Goddard family and the Buchanan family," Martin said.

For now, the "Transcendent Souls" structure is in pieces making their way to Reno where the final touches will be done for optimum transportation to Gerlach, and an attempt to make assembly easier on the playa.

Once they arrive to Burning Man with early entry, they will piece together their swing and tree trunk installation between A and B roads, near Center Camp.

"After the burn, we don't know yet where it will live. In my heart of hearts I would love to see it be the first major piece in Truckee so all the kids can enjoy it and hang out with it. The other part of my mind is saying to sell it to put into an endowment for our organization because we don't have anything like that," she explained.

The Kindred Art and Folk Institute community art center has a Go Fund Me page setup for support in their Burning Man installation, and is grateful for any donations.

Cassandra Walker is a features and entertainment reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at cwalker@sierrasun.com, 530-550-2654 or @snow1cass.

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The Kindred Art and Folk Institute provide the skills and knowledge necessary for an empowered life through arts, natural history, environmental and contemporary strategies for sustainable living with a focus on at-risk individuals.

To learn more and help them support the Tahoe-Truckee community visit http://www.kindredtruckee.org.