Kindred Art engages community in Burning Man project

Nicole Aston Martin at Kindred with her resident parrot, Matisse. | Kayla Anderson

In a classroom in the Truckee Community Art Center on Church Street, Nicole Ashton Martin, the founder of Kindred Art and Folk Institute, is catching up on work with her 4-year-old parrot, a Conure, perched on her shoulder. It is named Matisse after the famous painter. There is a heavenly smell of banana bread baking in a small oven and artwork is scattered around colorfully in every nook and cranny.

On Martin’s desk is a medium-sized clay model of “Transcendent Souls,” a sculpture that is being built for this year’s Burning Man. “Transcendent Souls” is meant to tell the story of human existence through the seven stages of an evolutionary map, a visual representation of enlightenment and unconditional love. With Kindred Art students and a lot of the Truckee community involved, they are starting to build the structure and looking for additional funding to fully complete its vision.

Martin’s resume is impressive. She spent time at California Institute of the Arts Community Arts Partnership. She has an educational background in fine arts, graphic design and marketing. She worked in Reno, Nev., doing graphic design for television and the Sierra Arts Foundation.

“This is a huge community effort between all the families coming to Kindred, the local businesses involved, local artists. It’s cool to see this project bigger than just us.” -Nicole Ashton Martin

She moved to Truckee with her husband and young son, Ethan John Martin, and when she wasn’t working at Tahoe Forest Hospital, Martin was taking local kids out on hikes, building small art installations on the trails. She eventually picked up a following; when a family asked how to sign up for her class, Martin realized that there was potential to turn her art hikes into a legitimate organization.

Courtesy Kayla Anderson

“It was an aha moment,” Martin says.

With the help of her mentors at Fractured Atlas, a technology nonprofit that empowers artists to succeed as entrepreneurs, Martin developed a business plan, found space and launched Kindred Art and Folk Institute.

In the summer of 2016, Martin was nominated through California Institute of the Arts as a person who made a positive difference in her community. A little bit of funding came her way and Martin had the idea to create “Transcendent Souls,” a permanent piece grandiose in scale.

“I’ve worked on a lot of public art pieces with groups, but I’ve never done anything from inception to finish,” she says.

Martin sketched out her idea of creating an artwork 20 feet tall with a 16-foot circumference, constructed from steel base plates, wood, connectors, solar lighting and other materials.

“We partnered with UNR [University of Nevada, Reno] for the 3-D work and I got a crash course in engineering,” says Martin.

Truckee’s Lynchpin Structural Engineering, Inc., Artech of Reno and the Truckee-Tahoe Lumber Company are also donating materials and have been involved in the concept, design and planning.

“Ryan [Adams, CEO] at Artech suggested taking it to The Playa because that’s the true test. If it makes it out there, it can survive anything,” she says.

Courtesy Kindred Art and Folk Institute

Earlier this year, Martin submitted the plans to Burning Man and recently heard back that the Kindred public art piece was approved and will be displayed near the center of the action. While Kindred is off to a good start, money is needed for the rest of the structural materials.

“We’re small, but mighty. We’ve got a couple of students who’ve fallen in love with this piece,” she says.

So far, at least 50 local families and others are all involved in the process, including Andrew, a 7-year-old who donated $7 of his birthday money.

“If everyone who is friends with us on our Facebook page donated $30 each, then we would have more than enough money to fund this project,” she says.

Money received will be used to fund the more expensive parts of the project such as the copper hands, dense foam filling and casting.

“This is a huge community effort between all the families coming to Kindred, the local businesses involved, local artists,” Martin says. “It’s cool to see this project bigger than just us. I’m kind of overwhelmed that this can be out there and seen on an international scale.”

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