Arts and Culture

Meet The Carnies Running This Bay Area Art Party

Updated: Sep 14, 2023 10:36
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Photos by Jolene Engo and Julie Lanyi

Sentient Engine’s beginnings are two intertwining love stories, and one of them was with an air cannon. Sentient Engine, a DIY maker space in a West Oakland warehouse that opened in fall 2020, has one mission according to co-proprietor Zane Zazzmatazz: “Build cool shit, do cool shit.” 

A membership based space, the warehouse is outfitted with a sewing bay, leather crafting station, woodworking bay, metalworking bay, and multimedia bay — ideal for experienced craftspeople and newcomers alike. Partner of Zazzmatazz, Faye the Final Authority, elaborates that the mission is about being a community anchor.“I like being there for the community and really [focusing on] reuse stuff; that’s important to me.”  

Since its opening, Engine has grown to include artists and misfits alike, encouraging community interaction in the form of events and open houses, a weekly fight night featuring archery; nerf guns; and sword fighting, and the creation of carnival games as part of Caution Tape Carnival

Engine attracts a little bit of everything, from mechanics to taxidermists to artists who work with found objects and litter to make miniatures. They host occasional clothing swaps and there’s future plans for more regular events and artist collaborations. “[I want] to help facilitate other people building cool shit and doing cool shit because that helps me do cool things too,” Zazzmatazz says about his goals for Engine’s local contributions. A longtime carny who cannot say “no” to a free motorcycle, Zazzmatazz is the mastermind and lead designer for Caution Tape Carnival, which operates at Oakland’s First Fridays and other local touring events. 

“It started when I was living in Portland two blocks from the illicit street fair,” he said. “I started taking games there to hustle up rent money.” Zazzmatazz developed props with the Wanderlust Circus.  of the props he built for that show was an air cannon, which he  started setting off in his living room before realizing it could be a carnival game. 

The rest was history. A non-linear, chaotic, explosive history with a huge portion of “fuck around, find out.” Zazzmatazz went on to meet Faye as part of the Wasteland Weekend festival in Edwards, California. The two fell in love, and the two took the carnival on the road. 

Faye’s appreciation for what she and Zazzmatazz have built is the goal of helping people out, a former traveling nurse operating in the peak of the Covid pandemic, Sentient Engine allows for Faye to provide a different kind of care opportunity. “I’d like for it to be for people who can’t necessarily afford the tools to come in, and be more of an outreach for the community itself. Helping low income people is important to me.” 

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Faye continues, “There’s been so many times where I couldn’t fix something because I didn’t have the tools or the space for the tools or the money for the tools. For the price of a membership you could get a shitty version of one of the tools at a store.” 

For musicians and touring performers who have performed at Engine, there’s laundry and shower space for them to refresh and continue on with their tours. Sentient Engine is always looking for members, for more people to come to events, and for people to rent out the space for their own events and projects. Granted, it’s likely Zazzmatazz’s parting words to you will be “wanna buy a motorcycle?” Once a carnie, always a carnie.

A guy.

Artists and carnies of every stripe are welcomed at Sentient Engine.

Sentient Engine can be found at 2630 Union St, Oakland, CA 94607.

Lauren Parker is a writer and mixed media artist in Oakland, CA. She’s the author of the chapbook We Are Now the Thing in the Woods with Bottlecap Press, and has written for the Toast, Strange Horizons, The Racket, Xtra Magazine, Catapult, and Autostraddle. Find her on Instagram @fuckyeahlaurenparker. 

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