Back in 1986, a group of friends in San Francisco decided that they wanted to celebrate their time off together and for free. They organized a gathering during the Summer Solstice which grew with such popularity over the next four years that they had to look for a bigger location to move their annual event to… the Black Rock Desert was chosen, the event was christened “Burning Man” and the rest is history. Now, the end of August every year sees an inhospitable area of the Nevada desert near Reno transformed into an awe-inspiring oasis of freedom, creativity and sharing. An influx of around 60,000 of the most eccentric, creative people from all over the planet converges to celebrate life, love, happiness and art.
Burning Man is one of the largest festivals in the world and also one of the most unique. It is a celebration of freedom and expression and it is organized entirely by its participants. Apart from the “gifting” rule, (once on site, nothing is for sale, everything is shared, gifted or swapped) there are no rules. There is no judgement, no exclusion, no prerequisites, and no conformity. The festival is a platform for the development of community, inclusion, participation, self-expression, self-reliance and de-commodification…and with tickets selling out, sometimes in minutes, it´s an experience people are eager to have.
- Radical Inclusion: Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.
- Gifting: Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift-giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.
- De-commodification: In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.
- Radical Self-reliance: Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.
- Radical Self-expression: Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.
- Communal Effort: Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art and methods of communication that support interaction.
- Civic Responsibility: We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.
- Leaving No Trace: Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.
- Participation: Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.
- Immediacy: Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.
How to get there?
There is a private airport at Burning Man, for those with private planes or helicopters. Everyone else usually flies into the commercial airports at San Francisco or Reno. Personal vehicles can be driven to the location, but must be left in designated parking for the week after arrival. Shuttles run to and from the venue and airports.
Most people bring tents, some invest in yurts and a few come in RVs…it´s up to your budget and what you think you need to feel comfortable, but all must be prepared for the scorching daytime temperatures, heavy dust storms and cool night temperatures. Black Rock City takes up a space which is 2-3km wide, laid out in concentric arcs with avenues connecting the inner rings. Every year the festival carries an overall theme and the street names often reflect this. There are many different themed camps and villages to choose from, from music camps, to chill out camps, camps for those who want to get it on, and spaces for those looking for a more family or educational experience.
The harsh desert conditions are responsible for the evolution of the Burning Man “look” that has developed over the years. Most participants wear goggles or eye wear to protect themselves from the dust and sand. Most go all out and make their desert wear as imaginative as possible. Dressing up is an integral part of the festival and the dress code is usually as whacky as the imagination will allow, ranging from exquisitely designed futuristic costumes which are more like art pieces…to nothing at all… participants are welcome to ditch clothes and choose a nude experience.
From workshops to experimental projects, interactive installations and all night music; dull moments simply do not exist at Burning Man. Pyrotechnics are extremely popular and many will experience what it is like to fire up a flame-breathing dragon or play a flame-fuelled version of Tetris.
Stilt-walkers, bands, magicians and performers can be found everywhere, entertaining random passers by or setting up in designated areas.
There is an open mike jam and performance session every night at the oculus of the camp “Center Camp Café”, which anyone, individual or group is welcome to contribute to. Tutu Tuesday sees everyone dress up in his or her most impressive and outrageous frillies.
Once they have passed the Mutant Vehicle Inspection, “Art Cars” and trucks of every shape and theme roll along the desert canvas, offering passers-by alternative transport, a place to rest, party, eat or just a different perspective. Robotic dragons, rocket ships, mobile desert islands, giant walking spiders, at Burning Man you have to expect the unexpected… excitement and visual stimulation two major factors that participants will be faced with! Art installations are often constructed to offer participants a submersive or interactive experience…pyrotechnics, giant musical instruments to play, giant puppets to maneuver… sensory engagement is the name of the game. Many of the installations are projects funded by Kickstarter or community funding and many of the artists go on to take their works of art on tour internationally after the festival, some are sold to the highest bidder to fund new projects or support other worthy causes.
And of course, then there is the big burn…the “Man”, an enormous wooden effigy which stands in the center of the camp, along with the principle temple, are set alight, usually on the Saturday night. Participants gather en masse to observe, contemplate, offer their messages or items for burning, spin fire or dance around the flames, during the most highlighted and famous event of the festival.
WHAT TO BRING
Everything you will need must be brought in and then no trace of you having been there can be left behind. Enough water and food, medical supplies, fuel, clothes and things to trade must be brought. Apart from a camera or video and a mobile, so you can be contacted… most burners recommend leaving technology behind for the week to fully immerse yourself in the experience without all the usual life trappings and distractions.
Burning Man means something different to each individual, but most would agree it is a highly transformative experience. Many go to heal emotionally or simply to drop the trappings and stresses of every day life and go home feeling renewed. Some go to forge profound new friendships or to step outside their comfort zone and learn something new about themselves.
Many say that during their stay at Burning Man, there is an incredible sense of peace and unity, which participants can´t help bringing back to their homes and communities. Learning how to exist with open hearts and minds many say is a powerful path to positive personal transformation. Whether you just go to party and enjoy yourself or to grow, open, unfold and shine…it is a unique place to do what you love and then continue sharing the BM spirit after you leave. If you want to be inspired or to inspire, to connect and experience what it means to be human, Burning Man is not to be missed.