Partnering With Government

In November, Burning Man Project and the City of San Jose, California, launched a three-year-long initiative called “Playa to Paseo,” which brings installation art and interactive events and gatherings to downtown San Jose, thanks to the help of the South Bay Burners Regional Group and other local artists and designers.

The initiative launched with the installation of Sonic Runway by Rob Jensen and Warren Trezevant at San Jose’s City Hall. Originally installed in Black Rock City and then reconstructed overseas for a dazzling display in Chengdu, China, it was a pitch-perfect example of interactive public art. Burning Man co-founder Crimson Rose spoke to the crowd at the opening. Sonic Runway dazzled San Jose just like it did Black Rock City, and the installation was so successful that the city extended it beyond its initial run. Throughout the run, there were 13 different Thursday evening live performances by an eclectic roster of musicians, whose performances manipulated the sound-sensitive lights of the piece.

Washoe County Art Trail and Gateway Project

In July, Washoe County received a $75,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to create a 200-mile interactive art trail winding from Reno/Sparks, up to Pyramid Lake and into Gerlach, a route Black Rock City participants know intimately. Burning Man Project is one of several regional nonprofit and municipal partners on the project, and we put out a call to artists to create two installations on the trail that evoke a sense of home. The art trail will be completed in 2019.

Reno, the big city in Washoe County, has always been a glittering gateway on the way to Burning Man, but the city is really taking it to the next level now. The County’s Gateway Project features a Playa Art Park, which was coordinated by Burning Man artist advocate Maria Partridge, funded by Burning Man Project Global Arts Grants, and adorned with Black Rock City art installations, including Pan’s Perch (Ryan Jackson), the Ichthyosaur Puppet (Jerry Snyder), and Garden of Eden (Kate Raudenbush). The Pier Group’s beloved 2016 installation, the Space Whale, is also installed at a prime downtown Reno location, attracting the love and attention of residents and visitors daily.

Black Rock City’s beloved bears made of pennies, Ursa Mater by Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson, were installed in Paseo de San Antonio near the Fairmont Hotel and will be on display through May 2018.

Through this partnership, San Jose hopes to bring its artists out into the community and to enliven the city’s 180-square-mile territory with interactive art in public spaces. That works pretty well for us! Burning Man Project staff held a grant workshop in San Jose to teach local artists how to apply for funding from us, whether for Black Rock City or global projects. Other workshops taught hands-on skills like the science of sound, working with steel, LED programming, and more.

Playa to Paseo is a dynamic example of how the civic values we’ve learned in Black Rock City can lead to more thriving urban life in any city. Not only are we able to share some of the beautiful art and experience Burners have already created, we can transmit skills and ideas to the locals, so they can keep the fires going in their own communities. Going forward, we see the civic and cultural life of cities as central to Burning Man Project’s work. We may not have realized it at the time, but we were becoming experts in cities for 30 years, and recently, even the U.S. Conference of Mayors has recognized us for that. It’s time to share what we have learned.