The Generator has played a large role in Reno’s art community since its establishment in 2013. As a non-profit organization, people pay for residencies to make art or contribute their own skills to volunteer projects. However, the Generator recently came under fire after some involved were accused of sexual assault and harassment. When accusations were made public on Facebook, their development director Aric Shapiro resigned, but some feel the response to other accusations remains inadequate.
Jaimie Crush is an artist who previously worked in the Reno arts community and frequented
The Generator. On Tuesday, March 12, Crush took to Facebook to describe her account of being raped by Shapiro two years before Shapiro was hired as development director by The Generator. The post describes one morning when Shapiro was sleeping over and Crush was still a student at Truckee Meadows Community College.
“The night of February 23rd, early morning of February 24th 2015 I was raped by Aric Shapiro (can’t tag him because he blocked me) I was 20 years old,” Crush said in her post.
Shapiro has been a central figure of Reno’s evolving art scene, as a founder of the Reno Sculpture Fest, and co-founder of the Reno Arts Works and Potentialist Workshop. He was also in a band which features other prominent Reno artists.
Crush says she reported the incident to police within 24 hours and completed a rape kit. A recent article by the Reno Gazette-Journal included parts of the police report indicating Crush said she was victimized while she was asleep. When she recently found out the case had been closed with no charges, she said she decided to go public.
In Shapiro’s Facebook response, which he said was partly to “clarify the public record,” Shapiro stated that he believed the situation had been entirely consensual.
“We went to sleep in her bed at her invitation,” he said in his post. “We spooned throughout the night. While these actions alone did not give me consent, she engaged in sexual conduct I reasonably believed indicated she was a willing participant — consciously or not.”
According to Brie Bertges, a victim advocate with the Reno Police Department, 364 reports of sexual assault were made in Reno in 2018, with only 49 arrests and even fewer convictions. Meaning only 13 percent of sexual assault reports in Reno last year ended in arrests. Bertges also emphasized a significant amount go unreported.
Crush said it was difficult to come forward on Facebook after she saw many of her peers hanging out with Shapiro, even though she told them what happened.
“They’d either say [Shapiro is] too big to go down, or you need to stop going to art shows for your safety,” she said. “And I’m just sitting here like, ‘That means I can’t be an artist anymore, cause he’s at every single show.’’”
Overall, Crush said the Reno art community was tainted for her, so she withdrew from most shows and events — especially ones Shapiro might be at.
The Generator announced Shapiro’s resignation as development director on a Facebook post on March 14. According to Jerry Snyder, board president of The Generator and a lawyer, The Generator doesn’t have a procedure in place to deal with sexual assault issues.
“We don’t have [a procedure], and we’ve never needed to,” Snyder added. “There’s been a couple claims sort of in the ballpark in the realm of sexual harassment that we have looked at and really found that we didn’t think it was appropriate to take any action on […] developing a policy around because it’s never been a huge front burner item.”
Others expressed feeling unsafe at The Generator. One artist, X, volunteered to help build the Space Whale in 2016, now located in the Reno City Plaza. This person chose to remain anonymous.
X described the details of a complaint they filed with The Generator in 2016. According to X, while working on the Space Whale they broke up with a romantic partner because they no longer felt comfortable around them. X says that person began showing up to work on the Space Whale a short while later and was hostile to X. X said they brought up their concerns to Matthew Schultz, The Generator’s executive director, who was in charge of the project.
“Matt Schultz was like, basically tough shit, they didn’t have a certified welder on the team […] So they would rather kind of get rid of me at that point. […] And that’s when I started feeling unsafe.”
Schultz denied being told directly about X’s complaints. He said he had no control over a “consenting relationship” that occurred outside of The Generator and felt uncomfortable addressing it with X.
This was later brought to the attention of Snyder. In an email exchange between them, X detailed the reasons why they felt uncomfortable around their former partner, who took photos of them without their consent during sex.
Snyder didn’t find the accusations enough to remove the person from The Generator, according to his email response. “This type of conflict falls well within the scope of interpersonal interactions that The Generator has neither the responsibility nor the organizational ability to control,” Snyder wrote in his response. “As such, we will not be taking specific action.”
Initiatives have since been made to address Crush’s accusations against Shapiro. Kelsey Sweet, an Arts in Wellness program coordinator for the UNR School of Medicine, organized a forum called Sex in the Art Scene. It took place with Sweet and sex education professionals on April 18, at the Pioneer Center. Topics included rehabilitating rapists, accepting your kinks and how to allow perpetrators back into the community.
Discussions like the forum propose questions of who should be held accountable in sexual assault cases. In Crush’s case, she has received messages filled with love and words of kindness in addition to other survivors stories of sexual assault related to The Generator. However, many others still don’t believe her or other survivors, causing a divide in Reno’s art community.
Carla Suggs and Lucia Starbuck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.