If there’s a place where Reno’s full potential takes on bigger and better dimensions, with mind expanding creations by artists reclaiming their hold on how to live in our biggest little city, it could well be in a gritty, paint splattered street level space filled with works both in progress and completed, a trippy, clean, gallery, a topsy-turvy sculpture yard, a velvety theater, a music jammed basement, and a smashed front window turned into art with murals outside all around.
That would be one way to describe the Potentialist Workshop on 836 E. 2nd street.
“I’ve never named a spot the Potentialist before, and that’s what I am,” art director Pan Pantoja explains in between feeding a bottle to his infant son and adding items to an already busy fall calendar. “This is where I create my work. And sometimes my works involve a lot of people. 257 people are using this space almost daily. In some form or another we collaborate on greater projects. We encourage our people here to be multi-disciplinary and to have multi-potentialities.”
Pan often recites his foundational spoken word poem when asked what exactly a potentialist can be. It begins like this: “I am a Potentialist and I want to take it too far. I want to leap off the edge of the energy I put out…”
Turning Buildings Into Art Spaces
A Butte, Montana, native, who sold his first painting when he was 6, Pan has had a habit of turning buildings into collective art spaces or what he calls his sculptures. Rising rents and new projects have kept him moving, including in Reno, but he seems set on continuing this project, at least right now. Shoes he used in previous work are part of an art piece he keeps near the front door.
From Criminology to Puppeteering
Pan has degrees in criminology, sociology and counseling. He’s a teacher, filmmaker, monument maker, muralist, student project leader, sculptor, actor, playwright, puppeteer, author, painter, poet, the list goes on. He also gets invited to “Reimagine Reno” type get-togethers.
Our Town Reno wanted to get insight about where the city might be headed generally and in terms of art as nowhere it seems are the #keeprenorad, #keeprenoartsy, #keeprenoweird hashtags we use on our Instagram feed, more put forward than in this Potentialist space.
What do you tell people who have thought of becoming an artist?
“You’ll probably barely get by. You’re either an artist or you’re not. You’re either bat shit insane or you’re not. Everyone can do art and it’s good for everyone. But artists they cannot do anything else. I’ve been doing this my whole life… But I’ll say this …. what the world needs is more healers, and more artists, and more creators and a lot less billionaires. Trump, Kardashian, get real. That needs to end now. That needs to be the most uncool thing, not the most cool thing.”
It seems something exciting might be happening in Reno right now though, in terms of arts and artists. Do you agree?
“This is the wild west. Here, anything you can dream of, you can do. If you have the drive, you can do it. It’s getting set, don’t get me wrong, but there is not a set way here yet. To some of us, that’s very exciting. I think eventually, they’ll write about Reno like they did about Seattle in the 1990s. I think what we’re doing now, when America looks at us, I think we’ll change America. Me and my friends are taking over whole city blocks growing food, living off the grid, putting up our own solar panels. Those things they say are impossible, we’re doing it and have been doing for years. We can point to it. We don’t need to do things a certain way.”
On the flip side, while there is talk about a Reno rebrand, or a reimagining of Reno, it seems we are seeing people displaced, empty lots, old motels to be demolished and not replaced, a lack of affordable spaces. Is that a concern for the future?
“As an artist, I get invited, for whatever reason, to these meetings with these suits. I can only assume it’s because they have no imagination. The way they do things, I can’t even see, it makes no sense to me whatsoever. Sometimes we yell at each other, but they keep inviting me back. We need to punish those who would let a place rot in order to make money. They shouldn’t be getting a break and get more money. They should be punished. They need to be taxed. And that tax money can go to beautification until they fill those buildings. For a company to let blight sit there is ridiculous. I’ve already been run off two streets that I helped fix in this city. It’s getting more and more gentrified.”
Weighing some of this, should more people join the art world then?
“They’ve made it so it’s the same risk. All of you might as well go be artists. Quit your jobs. Quit helping these people. Let them tank and do your own thing. I can’t stress that to everyone enough.”
Art shows are held evenings at the Potentialist in the four pm to midnight range Thursdays to Sundays, with at least one never before seen production a month, with additional participatory art throughout the week, including spoken word and improv comedy. There’s also a full recording studio in the basement, a band practice room, artist studio spaces, and a sculpture yard for those interested in making their own creations.
Interview and photos at the Potentialist Workshop, August 2016. Note: Some of the questions were rearranged and answers trimmed for clarity.