Global Leadership for a world of amateurs

DW5A0153I’ve crashed about half of the Burning Man Global Leadership Conferences (including back when it was the “Regional Network Conferences) and can not think of any higher praise than this: as a person who frequently tries to come up with new things to say about Burning Man, I always leave thinking “Wow, there’s so much to talk about.”

But sitting in on a few (just a few) of the presentations and round-tables the other weekend, I was often less struck by what was said than by the way it was said.

For all that Burners are in no way lacking in aesthetic and technical know-how, the GLC is about as far away from a TED conference as you can get: it’s so far from slick it’s dusty. Presentations frequently have all the sophistication of colored markers on white paper, and the state of the discourse is often basic compared to what’s out there.

I meant all this in a good way.

One of the smartest things I think I ever wrote about Burning Man is that it is “for amateurs” – that Burning Man is so amazing in large part because it is full of ordinary people trying to push their capacities to do new things, rather than a professional class of “producers” and “entertainers” doing what they know how to do over and over and over again. It is this fact, this eternal amateurism in the best sense, that keeps Burning Man an engine of possibility rather than a slickly produced Vegas show.

Attending the panel on community outreach through art highlighted this distinction for me. There was plenty there worth writing about for on its own terms (which I hope to get around to later), but for the moment I’m going to highlight just a small piece of it to make a point: (more…)

Burners Without Borders to Become Program of Burning Man Project

Burners Without BordersSan Francisco, Calif., April 13, 2015 — Burning Man announced today that Burners Without Borders — a grassroots group that supports community organizing and disaster relief worldwide — will transition June 1 to become the cornerstone of Burning Man’s Civic Engagement initiatives.

“We’re very excited to bring Burners Without Borders into the Burning Man fold,” said Burning Man co-founder Harley Dubois. “This incredible group has an outstanding track record of facilitating grassroots volunteerism that truly represents what Burning Man is all about. This functional reorganization allows Burning Man culture to flourish through the civic efforts of Burners everywhere, in their local communities.”

BWB came into being after Hurricane Katrina when Burning Man participants left the event to help with the disaster cleanup effort. The organization has a 10-year history of supporting disaster relief and local grassroots volunteer initiatives around the world through its annual grants program and direct on-the-ground assistance. It’s expected this transition will have no major immediate effect on existing projects, grants or grant applications. “We want to thank the community for its unwavering support of BWB over the past decade — we are continually inspired by the impact this community makes every day,” said Carmen Mauk, Burners Without Borders’ Executive Director. “I am looking forward to the future where we can continue to grow and thrive.”

BWB’s international projects include relief efforts in Pisco, Peru after that city was hit by a magnitude 8.0 earthquake in 2007, relief efforts in the remote Tohoku Prefecture of Japan following the Fukushima disaster, delivering relief supplies to Haiti, supporting communities in the Philippines after Typhoon Yolanda, and providing relief to New Jersey communities not receiving adequate assistance following Hurricane Sandy.

About Burning Man
Burning Man Project is a 501(c)3 public benefit corporation whose mission is to facilitate and extend the culture that has issued from the Burning Man event into the larger world. Black Rock City is the seminal manifestation of the 10 Principles-based culture known as Burning Man. The gathering, which last year included participants from all 50 states and 40 countries around the world, happens the last week of August in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. For more information, visit www.burningman.org.

About Burners Without Borders
Burners Without Borders (BWB) was born in Biloxi, Mississippi during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster relief effort where Burning Man participants had instinctively gathered to fill in where government relief efforts were falling short. Since then, BWB has emerged as a grassroots, volunteer-driven, community leadership organization whose goal is to unlock the creativity of local communities to solve problems that bring about meaningful change. Supporting volunteers from around the world in innovative disaster relief solutions and community resiliency projects, BWB is known for the unbridled creativity they bring to every civic project they do. To get involved, visit the Burners Without Borders website.

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New Burning Man Laser Policy

Pew pew
Pew pew.

While the list of things you can do at Burning Man is about as long as your imagination, the list of things you can’t do at Burning Man is very, very short. But things on that very short list are the things that can either outright kill you (weapons, speeding vehicles, serving iffy food) or screw up the environment (burning stuff right on the playa floor, visiting the hot springs during the event).

Why is the list so short? Because radical self-reliance, that’s why. We firmly believe that people should exercise their own personal responsibility when it comes to their entertainment and personal safety. The Burning Man organization has long resisted establishing rules when we could instead establish community guidelines that would accomplish the same thing. We believe in acculturation and education over creating a rule when something needs fixing — Leave No Trace is a great example.

But sometimes you have to make a rule, because it’s the right thing to do. And this is one of those times.

At the 2014 Burn, a member of our Black Rock Rangers reported that somebody in the crowd scanned her face with a laser, and that as a result she was blinded in one eye and partially blinded in the other. We didn’t know of any other incidents like this one in the 30 years of our event, but once her story went out on the airwaves, we started hearing from other folks who’d been hit by lasers but had not reported anything to us.

Laser show over BRC, 2011 (Photo by Mark Peterson)
Laser show over BRC, 2011 (Photo by Mark Peterson)

When handheld lasers first came onto the scene, they were expensive and not very powerful. In recent years, they have become stronger and more easily accessible. Lasers are now so powerful that even the handheld ones can do permanent damage to somebody standing 10 miles away. And that, by any definition, by any standard, is a weapon. And dangerous weapons — ones that can permanently and irreparably injure somebody standing literally on the other side of Black Rock City — really have no place at Burning Man.

So this is one of those times. Starting in 2015, handheld lasers will be prohibited in Black Rock City. Mounted lasers are only permitted on art pieces, Mutant Vehicles and in theme camps if they comply with specific restrictions.

To learn more, visit our Lasers page on the Burning Man website.

Female Leadership: “There’s chicks in charge everywhere.”

[This post reprinted with permission from Burn After Reading Magazine.]

Harley K. Dubois and Rebecca Anders (Photo by Sidney Erthal)
Harley K. Dubois and Rebecca Anders (Photo by Sidney Erthal)

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No one takes a tool out anyone’s hands. That seems to be the golden rule that truly fosters leadership. “The more the teacher resists the urge to take the tool out of the hand of the student, the better the student learns,” attests Rebecca Anders who has been apart of large Burning Man art since 1997. She’s worked with the Flaming Lotus Girls, helped to build the Temple of Flux and currently makes within the Flux Foundation. Her cohort for the Female Leadership lecture at the Burning Man Global Leadership is equally amazing. Harley K. Dubois attended her first Burn in 1991 and it has spiraled out of control from there. Harley is responsible for creating the infrastructure of Burning Man. She was the first person to suggest theme camp placement and has served as the City Manager for fifteen years. Now she is the Chief Transition Officer and facilitated the recent transition of The Burning Man Project.

One of the main things these women have learned by being leaders in their communities – it’s about collaboration not competition. The more projects embrace the “We” instead of the “I” the more everyone involved is able to succeed. This kind of attitude leads to the doacracy culture that we all so greatly appreciate.

Thoughtful responses were plentiful from the crowd. (Photo by Sidney Erthal)
Thoughtful responses were plentiful from the crowd. (Photo by Sidney Erthal)

Rebecca has a great example of this from her Burn in 2011. While building the Temple of Flux there was no lead carpenter. The person with the clipboard was the person in charge but that individual was constantly rotating. When it was quitting time for one, another would come in, get briefed, grab the clipboard and take their place. The balance of power was never skewed because everyone had a chance to be in that leadership role. At first the professional carpenters who came to volunteer with the temple at the Burn were fairly confused. There was no main foreman only someone standing there with a clipboard and all the information. “There’s chicks in charge everywhere,” Rebecca joked that this must have been the possibly unnerving realization of all these carpenters who were used to a very different situation. This radical model was insanely successful and to this day The Temple of Flux, which was created by a crew that was 80% women, was the only temple to finish early and under budget.

This success should come as no surprise. “Women have been running Burning Man since the getgo.” Harley states with sincerity and a bit of levity. Marian Goodell, Crimson Rose and Harley were incredibly instrumental in the creation of Black Rock City. Harley built all her teams by making dinner and feeding them. One of Harley’s tricks is to be nourishing and accommodating, it gets the job done.

Throughout the entire workshop and the open discussion that began to take shape between all the participants in the room the concept of the We continuously came up. Everyone needs to feel empowered and if you give value to the volunteers there’s a sense of ownership that creates a work family not just a work crew. Our consensus was that the most powerful thing that a leader of any gender can do is to give their power to others.

Burners Without Borders 2015 Walk the Talk Grantees Announced

Burners Without BordersBurners Without Borders — soon to become a program of the Burning Man Project — has been awarding Walk the Talk Grants for three years, through a partnership with the Burning Man Regional Network. Walk the Talk is a program aimed at funding innovative community projects within the Burning Man Global Network, particularly programs that create collaborations, produce direct actions, utilize Burning Man’s Ten Principles, are reproducible, and creatively tackle local problems.

We are excited to announce the Walk the Talk grantees for 2015. Congratulations to all of these grantees and thank you for the good work you’re doing in the world!

Veggie Gifting Cart for the Angier Ave. Neighborhood Farm – Triangle, NC – $400
These folks are collaboratively fabricating a bike-powered veggie cart. This cart will allow them better outreach to the surrounding community in East Durham (a food desert) where the Angier Ave Neighborhood Farm is located. They will use the cart to gift their overstock of vegetables to community members in need, whom are physically disabled, sick, or for other reasons unable to be mobile.

Christmas Isn't Over crew (Photo by Vert Umnus)
Christmas Isn’t Over crew (Photo by Vert Umnus)

Art Lots Metal Support – St. Louis, MS – $400
Art Lots is a coalition of artists who work to combat blight and make St. Louis neighborhoods more livable. Providing art workshops and access to tools, they take the refuse and discarded items found in St. Louis and turn it into public art.

Christmas Isn’t Over – Vancouver, BC, Canada –  $200
Christmas Isn’t Over is a group of compassionate independents made up of Burners and non-Burners who organize and gather to be of service in our community. They bring stews, soup, baked goods, salads and grill 300 grilled ham and cheese sandwiches all to be gifted to those in need at Oppenheimer Park in the Downtown Eastside, Vancouver, BC Canada, one Vancouver’s most at-risk and in-need areas.

If you’d like to apply for a grant, learn more on the Burners Without Borders website.

5555 Miles Away

by Andre Gehrz

EVEILEB - by Andre Gehrz

I step onto the playa, my bare feet digging into the Black Rock Desert, close my eyes, open my ears and take a deep deep breath. The dust enters my nose and a potpourri of images, feelings, expectations, desires and memories hijack my mind. My brain does a rollercoaster ride like never before and a million impressions are breaking in. I am here, where I planned to be for nearly seven years now. For someone coming from Europe and working in a job where holidays are hard to plan, it’s not easy to organize a trip to Black Rock City. But I succeeded at last and I am desperately curious if all the images I have from reading, watching, assimilating, preparing and organizing will come true. The dust enters my lungs, proceeds through the maze of bronchial tubes and finally settles on the surface of my alveoli. Black Rock Desert is now a part of me where it wasn’t before. Or am I part of the Black Rock Desert now? Whichever it is…I am home! (more…)

Dennis Kucinich Keynotes 2015 Burning Man Global Leadership Conference

Dennis Kucinich at the Burning Man Global Leadership Conference (Photo by Sidney Erthal)
Dennis Kucinich at the Burning Man Global Leadership Conference (Photo by Sidney Erthal)

[Nicole Brydson is an artist and journalist from New York City. She can be found at nb.interchang.es.]

The burning question of the 2015 Burning Man Global Leadership Conference has finally been answered. How exactly did two-time presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich get to Burning Man?

“I drove,” he said.

“I’ll tell you what happened, I was in London and somebody tells me – I’m in London meeting with, um, uh, what’s his name? Julian Assange. And so he’s telling me about Almedalen Sweden and … so I go to this event in Sweden on an island, it’s called Almedalen.

“It’s like a celebration,” he continued, “it’s an elm festival, but beyond that, it’s where people merge with all sorts of political thinking and disciplines and they have this very civil discussion – so foreign to where I’m from – so I met Gustav Josefsson at Almedalen and Gustav told me about Burning Man” – the crowd roars – “so thank you! Here I am.”

A few hundred Burners from around the world cheered for Gustav, a community leader from Sweden, seated in the center of the Imperial Room of Hotel Kabuki in San Francisco’s Japantown neighborhood.

The presentation by the former congressman and mayor of Cleveland followed one by Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell on the strategy and goals of the organization as it strives to scale the culture of Burning Man in service of the next creative renaissance. Goodell shared that she will soon travel to Washington, DC to negotiate with Bureau of Land Management representatives and is positively hopeful about increasing the size of the population of Black Rock City beginning with the 2016 event.

Dennis Kucinich at the Burning Man Global Leadership Conference (Photo by Zac Cirivello)
Dennis Kucinich at the Burning Man Global Leadership Conference (Photo by Zac Cirivello)

Kucinich followed to discuss the theme of humanity as an interconnected and interdependent organism, the physics of which can be changed and progressively propelled through personal education, leadership and transformation, or alternatively set back in the face of a culture and climate of fear.

Most people are probably wondering if Kucinich really “got” Burning Man. So when he stepped across the line into Black Rock City for the first time in 2014, what exactly did he see?

“I saw the colors the textures the forms, that imaginarium that all of us hold within us, but don’t always get a chance to see a physical representation of the images and the fantasies that stream through our head about the world that could be – and suddenly I stood there and I saw a representation of it and I thought how miraculous how beautiful and how true.

“If you remember Keats, ‘beauty is truth, truth is beauty’ – the interchangeability of those principles – I saw it represented, and truth as equates to light. When you stand, when you move through the playa at night, you see how the darkness is illuminated in so many different ways, you start to think about how each person has the ability to bring their own awareness into the world, their own consciousness and to let that light of awareness penetrate the darkness in what is so beautiful, and I saw the potential of that physically represented. We all have this yearning for transformation; we all have this yearning for transcendence. I think that each one of us lives if only for a moment to experience that.”

During his half hour on the stage, Kucinich shared personal stories, including his eight principles of making change happen locally as he relayed an excerpt from his forthcoming book about challenges he faced as a politician.

“Envision the alternative outcome,” he advised. “If we are to be architects of a new world, you better have the plans in your back pocket.”

Kucinich’s must do list for organizing change, in his own words:

  1. Know your subject, research, research, research
  2. Envision the alternative outcome
  3. Create a concrete plan, your roadmap
  4. Enlist the help of people who are like-minded
  5. Communicate
  6. Organize
  7. Work your plan
  8. Be relentless, cheerfully.

“All the world loves a cheerful relentlessness,” he added.

As he wrapped up his question and answer session, a moved Kucinich shared that, “I sure am interested in working with all of you because I think that what you’re involved in is really creating a world that is not just worth living in, but that everyone loves to live in, and that really is what it’s about, its about connecting with a deeper sense of joy.”

As Kucinich’s stage time was winding down the most burning and obvious question of the morning was finally shouted out by Burning Man co-founder Crimson Rose – when would he be running for president? After all, a pile of Kucinich campaign pins and bumper stickers had been sitting at the registration table.

“Check please,” he quipped.

“I’m involved,” Kucinich continued delicately, “as we all are. It’s about being involved in our community in our country, in the world, and I would advise all of you who are looking for candidates: our first obligation is be as presidents of our own lives, and to show people that empire of self can become something that can merge with others who achieve a kind of self sufficiency and an ability to be able to function without a state,” he paused, seemingly in awe of his own statement. “Wow.”

“So rather than being accused of not answering that question, no comment.”

Watch the video of the speech:

Larry Harvey in a Worm Suit: 2015 Global Leadership Conference Kicks Off

The 9th annual Burning Man Global Leadership Conference is officially underway! From humble beginnings in 2007, where 70 regional contacts joined us at Burning Man HQ, the GLC has since grown to include over 400 participants from around the world.

$teven Ra$pa addresses GLC attendees (Photo by Sidney Erthal)
$teven Ra$pa addresses GLC attendees (Photo by Sidney Erthal)

These highly-energized folks are Burning Man’s global representatives and community leaders, ambassadors of Burning Man culture in their regions who throw any of 65 regional events in 20 countries. They participate in the GLC to share ideas, best practices and inspiration, and to make the invaluable face-to-face connections that may just lead to the next big thing.

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Danger Ranger and Stuart Mangrum (Photo by Sidney Erthal)

This morning, Rachel Klegon, Matthew Naimi and Ryan Doyle kicked off the proceedings with an inspiring talk about creative placemaking and “The Next Creative Renaissance”. They should know a thing or two about that topic, as they hail from Detroit, Michigan, where one of the most fascinating urban renaissances is happening.

And what better topic, since Burning Man is all about supporting contexts where connections, creative inspiration and collective action can thrive. These folks have done incredible work using art, community and sheer determination to foster recycling programs, engage the youth of Detroit to take control of their futures, and energize rejuvenation of this economically devastated region. Here’s their presentation:

Their talk was followed by (literally) goosebump-inducing updates from around the Regional Network, including report-outs of goings-on in Lithuania, Asia and Brazil. Want to see how Burning Man is translating around the world? Check it out:

The international report included this video recap of the second Burning Man European Leadership Conference in Amsterdam:

Burning Man co-founder Crimson Rose gave an update on Burning Man Art, and spoke passionately about the emotional experience of building and burning of David Best’s Temple in Derry~Londonderry. Watch:

The next few days are going to be long and exhausting, challenging GLC participants to pack as much information and ideas and conversation into their brains as possible before heading back to their region to bring the seed home. One thing’s for sure, they’ll leave as tired as they are inspired.

Oh and here’s Larry Harvey in a worm costume:

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Larry “Bookworm” Harvey is judging you (Photo by Sidney Erthal)