About This Festival
Burning Man conjures up all kinds of outrageous images for the uninitiated. Yes, the Playa (the desert stage location where the Man, the temple and much of the art is) is a culturally curious place, one part hedonistic, one part idealistic. But, amidst the hippies and Silicon Valley CEOs that populate this pop-up town, the common thread is an appreciation of the life-affirming nature of the artistic spirit.
First Burning Man
As the founding legend is told, in 1986 Larry Harvey and a dozen friends burned an effigy of a man on San Francisco's Baker Beach in a cathartic act of spontaneous creativity. This experience of reconciliation and rebirth quickly grew into an annual ritual with hundreds of people, leading Harvey to move his Burning Man experience to U.S. government land in northern Nevada’s remote Black Rock desert. Today, this is where 70,000 people gather the week leading up the Labor Day, transforming one of the least hospitable pieces of land on Earth into a loving, hospitable temporary village called Black Rock City.
At its heart, Burning Man is a celebration of artistic self-expression for those who have a utopian vision of the world. For some it’s about creating a spiritual sense of oneness in an intentional community based upon 10 principles. For others, it’s about all-night parties and dancing, riding around naked on bikes and participating in the Slut Olympics (yes, this is one of hundreds of events). But no matter what archetype defines you and your experience, anyone who has done the pilgrimage to the desert is known as a Burner, and this may truly alter the course of your life. (Learn more about what a Burner is by reading this blog post).
Art at Its Heart
It’s ironic that Burning Man falls on Labor Day weekend, because the amount of sweat and elbow grease that goes into creating the temporary art displays is staggering. The result is the world’s largest interactive display of art, set in a lunar landscape that gives an otherworldly flavor to the whole experience. You’ll see art cars that look like magic carpets, mechanical fire-breathing dragons trolling the desert and maybe a life-size replica of an 18th-century shipwreck. At night, this Mad Max-meets-Alice in Wonderland experience turns into a visual spectacle so surreal you’ll think you’ve regressed to being a 4-year-old experiencing the Main Street Electrical Parade at Disneyland for the first time. Of course, there’s the elaborately designed temple, which burns on Sunday night in a solemn ceremony after the tribal, primal burning of the Man on Saturday night. Be prepared for lots of fire, including roaming bands of tribal majorettes tossing flaming batons in the air.
Theme camps are the cultural cul-de-sacs that populate Black Rock City. Depending on the year’s theme, these camps—which often have as many as a few hundred participants in their tents, hexa-yurts and RVs—help create the festival’s homegrown flavor. Ideally, if you’re coming for the first time, there may be a set of Burners you can join. Otherwise, you can reach out to a theme camp to see if you can be part of their village. Note that Burning Man is not a place for spectators, so prepare to wear costumes and participate in creating the camp.
Burning Man is also about discovery, so it’s fitting that approximately a third of attendees each year are festival virgins. For those who want to learn, there are more than 2,000 free classes, workshops and events offered each year during the festival. Everything from Understanding Personality Types and a Vegan Coconut Ice Cream Social to a Human Carcass Wash (particularly valuable as you’ll have desert dust in every crevice) and How to Drive a Vulva is on offer. Given all the informative and irreverent workshops and events, you’ll need to either plan ahead or leave it to chance. While we recommend the latter, you can prep yourself by checking out Rockstar Librarian’s annual guide for music.
Learn The 10 Principles
Understanding the culture and ethos of this temporary city brings you closer to the spirit of the event.
- 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.
- Decommodification: 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 such 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 innerselves, 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.
Burning Man is simultaneously simple and complex, an adult summer camp where both time and money are figments of the imagination. You may find great solace in this communal experience, which gives hope that we can burn and bury our baggage and allow fresh ideas, ways of living and new heroes to emerge.