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Burning Man Art Scene

BLACK ROCK CITY, NV -- It all started with the burning of a wooden effigy of man on a beach in 1986. Since then the annual Burning Man phenom has spawned art, activity, and culture that permeates globally and perpetuates throughout the year. Burners gather in the Nevada desert for the ritualistic burning of the man on Labor Day weekend. This includes construction of Black Rock City and a wide variety of spontaneous and planned events.

Opportunities for Art

Burning Man bills itself as “an annual art event.” One of the tenets of the community is radical self expression. This provides unlimited opportunity for artistic endeavors during the annual Black Rock City happening. Each year has a theme. The art theme for 2012 was Fertility 2.0. (as seen in photo 1). Past themes have included Evolution, The Green Man, and The Wheel of Time. Here is a top 10 list of ways to practice art:

  • As part of a theme camp: either yours or someone else’s.
  • Registered, but unfunded, and on display on the Playa.
  • Spontaneously.
  • As a performance art piece.
  • As an Honorarium Installation: A percentage of ticket revenue is used to fund “select art projects that are collaborative, community-oriented, and interactive.”
  • By participating in the creation of a CORE (Circle of Regional Effigies) project. The 2012 circle (around The Man) consisted of 34 wooden effigies created Regional groups. (as seen in photo 2).
  • With a cafe art piece.
  • With a fire art piece.
  • By customizing an art vehicle for the event.
  • Volunteering to participate in the creation of another’s artistic endeavor.

Precompression, Postcompression, Afterburn

The art and culture has become so wide-spread and ingrained that there are continuing art and non-art activities. After (or before, depending on how you look at it) the culminating event, you can extend the experience (or prepare for it):

  • By joining a regional group.
  • Volunteering after the event. Spin-off organizations also accept volunteers. They include the Black Rock Arts Foundation, Burners Without Borders, and Black Rock Solar.
  • Applying to the Black Rock Arts Foundation for a grant. The Foundation looks for art that is “accessible to the public, civic in scope and prompts the viewer to act.” Powered by volunteers, private funding, and a National Endowment for the Arts, they particularly look for art that can be “experienced in more ways than visually – art that is touched, heard or experienced as well as viewed.” (as seen in photo 3).
  • By practicing the ten principles: Radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy.

An estimated 50,000 people attend Burning Man each year. You can join in with art (as seen in photos 4 - 5) or as one of the 2,000 volunteers tasked with constructing and demolishing Black Rock City, guarding the temples, working at Artica, being a Black Rock Ranger or Earth guardian, and other citizenly duties. In the meantime, prepare by studying the art guidelines, fund-raising through Kickstarter, viewing the art from past events, reviewing the 111-page PDF 2012 Burning Man Guide to the Art, or just quietly contemplating next year’s theme.

Photo Credits:

Photos 1 and 3 courtesy of the Burning Man Art Foundation

Photo 2 courtesy of Leori Gill and Burning Man

Photo 4:  Fisherman courtesy of Triana Medina and Burning Man

Photo 5:  Feel the Freedom courtesy of Shayne Skower and Burning Man