Black Rock City and Beyond

To combat some dismaying behavioral trends in Black Rock City culture, we launched a cross-departmental effort in 2017 called Project Citizenship. As an obvious result of its creative liberty, Burning Man culture is constantly evolving, and at the same time it’s growing, with new people flowing in all the time. Preserving the cultural kernels of Burning Man in the face of this dynamism is a challenge we’re committed to overcoming.

As an official reinvestment of our organization’s time and energy, Project Citizenship kicked off at the 2017 Global Leadership Conference. We used many channels to get key messaging out to participants: videos that discuss Matter Out Of Place (MOOP)/Leaving No Trace, best practices for getting into and out of the city safely and sanely, and information about the realities of providing emergency services in a city as wild as Black Rock City. We sent targeted emails addressing big themes like “Be kind to yourself and others,” and “Be prepared”, we gave out sassy and informative acculturation handouts on Burner Express Bus and Air, and more. While we have many communications channels to reach participants, we are also leaning on the community (particularly theme camp/mutant vehicle leads, Regional Contacts, and other leaders) to step it up, be good citizens, and bring their team members into the fold.

In April and May, Placement collaborated with Playa Restoration to call and email camp leadership of the 37 camps with the worst MOOP score from 2016 (ranked on total number of non-green square feet as well as camps who were >75% red). The team from Placement and Resto shared Leaving No Trace strategies with the camps, discussed specific camp issues, and collaborated on concrete plans for how they could improve in 2017. They made fantastic improvements: In 2016, the worst MOOP camps were on average 30% red, 25% yellow, and 45% green. In 2017 these same camps were on average 7% red, 8% yellow, and 85% green! Only three of the 37 camps substantially worsened in 2017. Ninety-two percent improved. Placement continued working with camps who need additional support and cultural education to be more interactive, public, and inviting.

Building BRC Through the Eyes of John Curley

John Curley has become the de facto leading lens through which our community sees how Black Rock City is built and then torn down. In 2017, Curley celebrated his tenth year documenting the dusty men and women of DPW. Though he insists he’s just a lucky guy in the background while people do amazing things in front of him, the truth is he’s part of the Burning Man family — or maybe more accurately, part of many Burning Man families. He’s earned the hard-won trust of the many teams comprising DPW — they love having him around — and he’s sort of Media Mecca’s reporter-in-residence (and Quesadilla Commander in Chief). John is the all-time leader in Burning Man Journal posts — even topping the generic catch-all bylines — with over 275 posts on the board going into the 2018 season. Huge thanks to John for a decade of BRC words and pictures!

As for the art on playa in 2017, it was extraordinary. An enchanting favorite was Euterpe, a giant marionette of a teenage girl who walked, talked, learned and taught. The piece was formally titled “Step Forward,” and it was built by Miguel Angel Martin Bordera of Alicante, Spain. It was part of an ongoing cultural and skills exchange with artists from Las Fallas, a centuries-old community fire art event in Spain. Euterpe will return in 2018, this time with her grandfather at her side.

In 2017, we made an important change to our Temple grant process: We will now select each Temple more than a year before the event at which it will be built. This advance notice will give teams enough time to complete the work and fundraising necessary for this awesome task.

2017 brought new improvements to the design and construction of the Man. We returned to the aesthetic known as the “classic man” and adapted the structure to include the four chakras along the torso. For the first time since 2000, the Man was once again raised by people using ropes and pulleys. The heroic effort took us back to a previous time and simultaneously set the tone for the theme, Radical Ritual. On Friday night of the event, a public gathering was held to prepare the burlap for the Man in preparation for the burn. This return to — and reinvention of — the old ways of doing things brought the principle of Participation back into the spiritual and literal center of Black Rock City.

The 2017 event was indelibly affected by the death of Aaron Joel Mitchell, a first-time Burning Man participant who ran into the fire during the Man Burn, evading the perimeter personnel who tried to stop him. The incident shook our community. The outpouring of compassion for Joel and his friends and family, and gratitude for the Black Rock City Emergency Services Department and emergency response personnel who tried to save him, helped to initiate the healing process right away.

The Temple Burn, a perfect ritual for representing that healing, was carried out the following night. It took compromise and negotiations with government officials to even allow the burn to go forward, and the compromise resulted in a heroic effort by BRC personnel to build a perimeter fence in a matter of hours. The Fire Art Safety Team’s resounding call for 300 perimeter volunteers in the wake of the tragedy was answered by more than 700 people. The gorgeously minimalist Temple by Marisha Farnsworth, Steve Brummond, Mark Sinclair and crew could not have been a more poignant symbol of loss and renewal.

Black Rock City is the geographical center of Burning Man, and a core part of our global work. People come there from everywhere, and they bring the power of their experiences back to where they came from. Moreover, the eyes of the world are on Black Rock City each year for the week of its existence, so it’s a critical time for representing the essence of Burning Man to the whole world. This year, as hard a year as it was, we passed with flying colors.