Josh Gutierrez stands by Promise of the Decade out on the playa, courtesy photo

The Little Sculpture That Could

An emerging artist finds her niche in a supportive makerspace community that helps bring her Burning Man creation to life


When Mike Crabb and his buddy Josh Gutierrez rode off into the swirling dust storm in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, they thought it would be a straightforward journey to find Promise of the Decade. How could they miss an 11-foot-tall wooden pod with whimsical animal cutouts and rainbow film-covered windows?

Ultimately, they got lost. But just before giving up the search, they happened upon the sculpture—which Crabb helped its creator build—entered through its secret door and hunkered down inside to wait out the storm for the next 45 minutes. Later that day they’d blow the dust off its exterior and prepare for a festive party featuring a famous DJ and an art car named Edna the Elephant, built by a Tahoe resident in the same Truckee makerspace as Promise of the Decade.

The timely find amid the dust storm—and the magical evening that followed—marked the culmination of a budding artist’s first Burning Man offering, which came to life with help from good friends and a tight-knit makerspace community that supported her dream.


Promise of the Decade with its creator, Alyssa Oliveira, at the Reno Tahoe International Art Show, photo by Jared Emerson

The Mind Behind the Creation

When Alyssa Oliveira thought up the idea to design and build an art piece to bring to Burning Man, she had already “been there, done that” with the raucous festival and was interested in giving back. After all, the stunning display of art on the playa is what inspired her to pursue her own creation in the first place. 

“You can’t experience art like that anywhere else,” says Oliveira. “You can spend all day long and you still won’t see all the art that is out there … in the middle of the desert. You just point at something so far in the distance and ride your bike closer and closer … and you start realizing it’s not what you thought it was.”

Oliveira, who grew up in California’s Central Valley before making her way to South Lake Tahoe a decade ago, has always been crafty. Six years after moving to Tahoe, she started a catering company offering handmade charcuterie boards that customers could keep as mementos. Around the same time, she relocated to Tahoe’s North Shore and found the Truckee Roundhouse, a nonprofit makerspace with five shops—wood, metal, ceramics, technology and textiles—where community members can take classes, purchase memberships to pursue projects and meet others doing the same.

“I took woodshop and metal classes in high school, so I was familiar with it, but hadn’t been in a proper shop since high school,” says Oliveira. “The Truckee Roundhouse had all the tools. I took a butcher block-making class, and once I made one, I fell in love with it. I started making a bunch of them and doing inlay and epoxy, and then moved into working with glass.”

Oliveira’s butcher block pieces blend the concept of a traditional handcrafted wooden cutting board with unique twists such as a river of clear resin with pressed wildflowers embedded within, or abalone moon-shaped inlays next to a classic checkered wood pattern.

An example of Alyssa Oliveira’s work. This piece is made of black walnut framed with epoxy and an assortment of pressed flowers, courtesy photo

Not only was Oliveira hooked on working with her hands, she found joy in branching out and growing as an artist, including a foray into glass work that led to her full-time business today—The Fractal Florist. Picture: rainbow reflective window hangings of various shapes and sizes filled with pressed flowers contained in neat vintage-inspired metal frames.

But beyond her business and burgeoning hobby, Oliveira credits the Truckee Roundhouse for helping her find her “place” here in Tahoe—a special meeting spot that has forged lasting friendships with like-minded locals.

“I met my people. Finally,” says Oliveira. “I always kind of felt like I didn’t fit in … finding the Roundhouse, I instantly knew that it felt right and it was going to be a part of my life. The place was so welcoming. People were so friendly and nice. Everyone’s your cheerleader.

“It caught me off guard because I’ve never had that kind of community before.”


Born From a Band of Artists

For Oliveira, Burning Man has always been about the art.

After volunteering at various theme camps throughout the years, hosting events and participating as a bartender—yet still feeling like she needed to offer something more—she took to her beloved makerspace to develop a concept for an art piece.

“I thought, ‘I can do this all myself,’ and I quickly realized that I needed help—and I found that at the Roundhouse,” Oliveira says with a laugh.

Recognizing that she was surrounded by a wide range of talented people, she consulted friends she’d met at the Roundhouse, who were happy to lend their time and expertise. In fact, these friends would spend much time together for the next year helping Oliveira realize her goal through the makerspace, where they assumed the moniker Alpine Artists Collective.

From left, Eryn Grill, Karyn Stanley, Alyssa Oliveira, Jessica Robinson, Alissa Aiton, Alex Robb and Mike Crabb with Promise of the Decade at the Reno Tahoe International Art Show, courtesy photo

The collective includes Mike Crabb from the story-opening dust storm—a Roundhouse volunteer and former wood, metal and ceramics instructor who now builds installations for snowboard companies—as well as Alissa Aiton, a seamstress and community manager at the Roundhouse; Jordy Clements, a Nevada City-based graphic designer; and local friends and crafty folks Jessica Robinson, Alex Robb and Pauly Miltner.

The piece began with the concept of the five animal cutouts on the panels, designed with Clements’ help. The shape mimicked a terrarium, and the idea for the piece was to play with light, creating cutout shapes and rainbows as the light poured out of the holes.

“I wanted it to be focused around light, but instead of these cool repetitive geometric patterns I’d seen before, I wanted to do fun animals,” says Oliveira. “How cool would it be if it was like these shadows … something like a funny-looking dog, and as the light passed through it turned into an elongated, goofy giraffe? The theme was animalia, so it was kind of perfect.

“I was also obsessed with prismatic rainbow film,” Oliveira continues, “and once I figured out I could incorporate that, from sunrise to sunset there will always be rainbows inside the piece, which I thought was a really cool bonus. If you find your way inside—because the door was hidden—that was a little treat.”

The first model of the sculpture was a tiny pod small enough to hold in your hands, maybe 4 inches tall. 

Crabb helped Oliveira figure out how to scale and build the full-size version. He had previously worked for Jones Snowboards building installations for trade shows, which needed to be assembled and taken apart quickly—similar to the installation art displayed at Burning Man. 

“I built a pentagonal, five-sided display for snowboards, and the next year it was a hexagon and then a nonagon, so each year I just changed the angle and added more hinges and more panels,” says Crabb. 

He used an angle finder to help figure out the correct angles of the sides and the size of the base, then coached Oliveira through other construction aspects using his professional background.

“I really enjoy teaching people the little tricks I take for granted,” he says, “watching those lights turn on in people’s heads and moving forward to then creating their own pieces. That’s amazing.” 

Crabb recommended using the same hinges as his snowboard installations to attach the sides of Oliveira’s piece together. With his knowledge of the CNC (computer numeric control) machine, he then helped her figure out what bits to buy and how to build the wooden side panels to fit the dimensions of the sculpture.


Creative Space

In addition to the satisfaction of helping a friend, Crabb says working on the project with Oliveira encouraged him to tap into his creative side, which is just one of the benefits of spending time in the Truckee Roundhouse.

Mike Crabb and Alyssa Oliveira work on Promise of the Decade in the Truckee Roundhouse, courtesy photo

“[The Roundhouse] really showed me that I might be able to chase art a little bit more,” he says. “It’s a really fun spot where you get time to interact with strangers, so it builds better and different relationships. You meet these people in different age groups and walks of life, and it’s a great space to be part of the community.

“I don’t think there are many other spaces where you can break those barriers.”

Aiton, who began using the makerspace in 2020 and working there in 2022, agrees. 

“I went into it thinking it was a place to have more space to sew and work on my own projects, but quickly found out that what’s inspiring about it is the community,” says Aiton. “It’s way more than helping just my own ideas come to life; it’s also helping other people.”

Aiton first attended Burning Man in 2018 and, like Oliveira, eventually found herself wanting to give back. She was inspired by the opportunity to help with the piece, but also by watching Oliveira blossom as an artist. Over the years at the Truckee Roundhouse, she enjoyed watching her learn her way around the space and collaborate with Crabb—two artist friends she sees every day. 

“Alyssa is a dedicated and inspiring creator. I think she’s so successful—and will be continuing on her creative mission—because she’s so adaptable to the changes that happen in art and is a great, calm communicator, so it’s easy for her to navigate through all the challenges,” says Aiton.


Promise Comes to Fruition

Out in the dusty Black Rock Desert, watching burners interact with the art piece was a special experience for those who helped create it. Crabb remembers daily treks from camp to visit the sculpture.

Promise of the Decade at Burning Man, courtesy photo

“I would just want to go out and see it and see people interact with it,” he says. “Going by and standing 100 feet away and watching people interact with it really filled my heart up to see somebody enjoying it and creating those memories.”

Aiton remembers its dramatic transition from day to night.

“In the day you were curious about what it was until you found the door, and then at night when it was glowing, everyone called it a spaceship, like it was going to blast off.”

Of the night that followed the dust storm, when Crabb got lost and hid in the pod before emerging for the concert at Edna the Elephant? Oliveira remembers how James Cole, a fellow Tahoe-based artist who’d built the art car at the Truckee Roundhouse, had arranged the once-in-a-lifetime show by Australian DJ What So Not.

“Every person I’ve ever known from Burning Man for 10 years was there celebrating,” she says. “I remember it being such a surreal night, everyone experiencing the piece and having fun. It was one of those moments. I finally was done building things and just there to enjoy it.”


‘Just the Beginning’

After its 2023 debut at Burning Man, Promise of the Decade made appearances that fall at the Reno Tahoe International Art Show, the Same Same But Different Festival in Southern California and a private party in South Lake Tahoe. It made its way to the Lightning in a Bottle festival near Bakersfield in May 2024 and was at the annual Truckee Roundhouse Maker Show fundraiser on June 9. The pod will cross the border into Canada for the Shambhala Festival in August.

Meanwhile, Oliveira has already started working on her next piece, which was awarded an artist grant from Burning Man. She plans to build a chapel-shaped piece three times bigger than the last, with rainbow reflective glass and recycled windows and doors. 

“I feel like this is just the beginning of many more creations,” says Oliveira. “How it’s evolved already, I’m so curious to see how it evolves even more so in the future. Building [my] brand is building more of a community also. I want to grow and find those people at Burning Man and beyond who feel like maybe they don’t fit in, or are not being used to their full potential, and keep collecting those people and growing a stronger artist community.” 

Le’a Gleason is a Truckee-based freelance writer with an interest in all things music, art and culture. She lives minutes from the Truckee Roundhouse and was thrilled for the opportunity to learn more about it through this piece.

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