The State of the Man

Mr. Harvey addressing his guests

Larry Harvey had a bunch of people over for dinner last night, and he told them that he and the other board members were going to turn the Burning Man LLC into a nonprofit, and that the organization is looking to create an urban center in the 6th Street corridor of San Francisco.

If Burning Man can turn a desert into an oasis, they might help revitalize the mid-Market. “We want to bring our culture there,’’  Harvey said, “without unduly gentrifying the area.”

“We’d like to recreate our hometown,” Harvey said. Noting that the area has beaten all attempts at revitalization, he said, “The city fathers have decided to send in the artists, you know, like ‘Send in the Clowns.’”

The organization is looking to lease a space in the area, with an option to buy. It had been looking to create an educational and cultural center at Fly Ranch, just down the road from the site of the event in the Black Rock Desert. But those negotiations haven’t proceeded well. “We put an offer down and slid it across the table,” board member Will Rogers said,  “and they wrote one down and slid it across the table, but we weren’t speaking the same language.” Rogers did say that those talks are continuing, however.

Michael Michael and Harley DuBois

The dinner was held in a large tent near First Camp, where the founding members of Burning Man stay together, and it was something of a “State of the Union” address.

Marion Goodell saluted Tom Price, who is leaving Black Rock Solar for a private venture, and she said that Burning Man would like to replicate the organizational success Price established at the solar company. Price was among those who went directly to the Gulf Coast after the 2005 Burning Man to help victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. That effort eventually led to the creation of Burners Without Borders, and to Black Rock Solar.

Tom Price

Black Rock Solar’s various installations are providing more than  a million watts  of solar power in Nevada, and Governor Jim Gibbons on Monday proclaimed Route 447 as “America’s Solar Highway,” with more watts of distributed solar per mile than anywhere else in the U.S.

“We did Katrina because we could,” Price said, likening the effort to what happens on the playa. “Apply your gifts to the limits of your imagination.”

Regarding the organizational changes at Burning Man, Harvey said, “We need collaborators. We’ve been doing this for 20 years.” He said the organization would like to prove itself as a nonprofit operation, “and then we’ll just give (the event) away.”

Kate Raudenbush

He said that it had been a difficult period that led up to the decision. “I’m 62,” he said. “And each decade has its lessons. … In your 60s, you’re past your insecurities … and you have to face death and imagine a world without you in it.”

In sometimes emotional moments, Harvey said the board members were trying to make sure that their efforts would be sustained. “We’d like to last for the rest of the 21st Century,” Harvey said. “I don’t think that’s too ambitious!”

He appealed to the group for financial and organizational support. “Reach deeper than yourself,” he urged. “Come forward and collaborate with us.”

And with that, a marching band appeared at the entrance to the tent, which was also graced by the Narwhal, a giant playa sailboat that resembles a smiling whale. David Silverman, the “Simpsons” director who likes to play a flaming tuba at the event, led the band for three rousing numbers that sent the participants on their way.

Will Rogers' jacket shows a lot of history.
Marian Goodell

Stephen Raspa
Stephen Raspa

David Silverman, working his tuba.
Rod Garrett, the designer of Black Rock City

About the author: John Curley

John Curley has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 he spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. John is a longtime newspaper person and spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he was a deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since leaving the Chronicle in 2007, he was a contributing editor on Blue Planet Run, a book about the world's water crisis, and for the past two years has been a lecturer at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. He has also started an event and editorial photography business, and is also working on a book about the "Ten Dollar Doc" from Arco, Idaho, which will make a lovely film someday.

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