How Does Burning Man Compare to Kumbh Mela?

Kumbh Mela “art car”. Photo by Chip Conley.

Chip Conley is (amongst other things) a successful hotelier, world-traveler, festival aficionado and Burning Man Project board member. He’s just returned from a five-week tour of Asia, during which he attended five different festivals. Lucky for us, one of the festivals he attended — along with 80 million other people — was the centuries-old Kumbh Mela, the world’s largest gathering of religious pilgrims, which takes place every three years in India.

So how does Kumbh Mela compare to Burning Man? Well, seeing distinct commonalities in the experiences, Chip penned a fascinating post comparing the two in his Fest300 blog. And we? We are the beneficiaries of his perspective.

Read Chip’s blog post here. While you’re there, be sure to poke around his other posts … they’re great.

Have you been to Kumbh Mela? What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments.

Burning Man should treat “Academia” the way it does “Commercialization”

Looked at in the proper light, the Ivory Tower is a terrifying art project.


The academics have come to Burning Man.  They’re through the gates.

They’ve always been here, actually:  but now they’re getting organized.  I was at the very first meeting of “Burning Nerds,” a Burning Man staff initiated gathering of academics who attend Burning Man.  I helped carry snacks for the party into Ashram Galactica, then stood in the corner and listened as meteorologists in leather skins and topless sociologists and dramaturges in fuzzy boots introduced themselves and discussed their research.

That was, I think, in 2010, and since then Burning Nerds has had more meetings in the desert and established a thriving email list.  This year, they’re planning their first theme camp.

And good for them.  The more participation, and kinds of participation, the better.  But … lemme skip to the end here.  I’ve reluctantly concluded that academia per see is very, very, bad for Burning Man – and that we’d be better off if Burners engage in a campaign of civil disobedience against it.

Not, let me emphasize, against the academics themselves.  We’re all welcome at Burning Man, and the work they do just as legitimate as whatever other crazy project someone wants to put in the middle of the desert.  I read all of their studies avidly, which is more attention than I pay to your theme camp.

But while any given piece of individual research is likely harmless, the project of academia itself is kryptonite to the spirit of Burning Man.  Indeed, a case can be made that academia as an institution stands firmly opposed to the 10 Principles.  Outside of “prison,” if there was ever a practice that contradicted “immediacy,” “radical acceptance,” and “radical self-expression” it is academia.  This is true in theory, and especially in practice.

So much in the way bankers are welcome to attend Burning Man but we try to keep commercialization out, I think we’d be well advised to welcome academics but do our best to frustrate “academia” every chance we get. (more…)

BMHQ Seeks Interns for 2013 Event Cycle

This could be you!

Greetings! We’re excited to announce three Internships in our San Francisco office.


Three unpaid internships will provide the right candidates with opportunities to engage with the pre-event preparations of Burning Man’s Communications Department, Regional Network and/or the Art Department during the busy pre-event production cycle (June-August) and on site in Black Rock City during the 2013 Burning Man event (August 25th – September 2nd).  Internships require a high level of organization, acute attention to detail and deadlines, top-notch written and verbal communication skills, and a keen ability to think quickly and function well in a high-pressure, creative environment that is often chaotic but always a lot of fun.

Interns will be required to attend the Burning Man event, and must be prepared to be radically self-reliant for up to two weeks in that environment, one of few resources and intensely harsh conditions. Work leading up to the event will be conducted in a professional office environment in downtown San Francisco. The number of hours per week is flexible depending upon candidates’ needs, schedule, and experience. Candidates who are available to continue their internship post-event (through the end of September) are encouraged to apply.

Internships will provide invaluable experience for someone wishing to learn about media relations, event production, and Burning Man arts and culture.  Interns will have opportunities to attend high level meetings, participate in planning processes, draft communications, and work alongside many accomplished professionals in the field of communications and arts management.

PLEASE NOTE: In order to be eligible, interns MUST receive official school credit for their internship.  Prior to beginning an internship with Burning Man, candidates must provide written proof that credit will be received from the relevant educational institution. (more…)

Temple of Gracelessness

In the middle of the afternoon on the middle day of my Burn, I was sitting in the middle of a bench in the temple, working through the problem of my fairly happy life. After many years of struggle, my life had recently started to straighten itself out. My projects were bearing fruit. I had my health. I had found love.

Problem was, could I trust it? For the sake of myself and the people I loved, I was going to have to own this good life, take action, build on it. It was no longer right for me to hide and hope, to expect the worst, to stay small and safe. But as soon as I got to the threshold of believing that everything could really be okay, I’d start thinking about my family. All their hopes and suffering and directives and defeats, the small kindnesses they could never dare to depend on. My martyred mom, my angry, exploited dad, my alcoholic brother, all the suffering I’d grown up with, all the suffering my parents had grown up with, on and on, far-flung ancestors and recently deceased relatives. How could I depend on my hard-won happiness when they never even had half of it?

I called it survivor guilt, and I knew I was going to let go of it. I didn’t know how that was going to happen, exactly, but I brought along a red marker in hopes of writing whatever needed to be written on the wall of the temple, so that days later I could watch it burn. (more…)

Mike The 8-Foot-Tall Voodoo Doll

When people ask me why I make the cross-country journey to Burning Man year after year, I tell them it is intensely therapeutic. And then I watch them laugh.

“What do you get at Burning Man?” they’ll probe, as if the price of admission includes something.

“What you get at Burning Man,” I tell them, “is entirely up to you.” (more…)

Fertility 2.0: Living the Theme

My daughter, Sally, loved Burning Man so much that when we returned for our second year, she was living the Fertility 2.0 theme. Yes, she was 6 ½ months pregnant. We met so many people who just wanted to touch her belly and bless the baby. They were thrilled that she was living the theme. So many wonderful women introduced themselves as doulas or midwives and offered any assistance that was needed.

To help Sally get around the playa, I built a quad out of two old bikes that I had. It was loosely based on one we’d seen the year before. The design allowed it to be operated by one person, so Sally could take it easy and enjoy the sights.

Making simple quilts is one of my passions, so I pieced a baby quilt for Sally. We mounted the front on a piece of plywood and set it up in front of our camp at 7:00 and Dandelion. Passersby were invited to write or draw on it with fabric paints. Here’s the front with a few early contributions.

The backing went around with us on our travels and people were much more creative in their drawings on the back. I was surprised at how most people felt constrained by the patchwork squares on the front and rarely crossed the lines even with coaxing.

Instead of making my usual printed and sewn on label, I used fabric paints to fill in a couple empty spaces on the back.

Here’s the quilt all put together. I started by quilting a heart in Sally’s belly and then shadow quilting out from there like the ripples in a pond. I love the idea that the baby’s ripples will go forth into the world.

Thanks to all the people of Burning Man who helped create such a beautiful keepsake. Here she is — Miss Willow Simone — who joined the Burning Man community on November 29, 2012.

by Megan Thompson

Finding hope at the Temple in 2009

In October of 2007 I was diagnosed with a grade 3 oligo-astrocytoma, a rare form of brain cancer that is virtually always fatal. After a year of brutal treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation, I was told in November of 2008 that the doctor’s had done all they could for me and I likely had “weeks or months” to live. My wife and I decided to move in with my parents in rural southern Ohio so that I could die around family. Months passed and MRI after MRI showed that, despite the lack of ongoing treatment, the tumor was not growing.

Hope is a double-edged sword when battling cancer. You need hope to keep going, but a battle against cancer is full of cycles of hopes raised and dashed. It takes great courage to continue to hope knowing the great probability of disappointment that faces you. It was in the context of these same thoughts that I decided to return to the Playa in 2009 after having missed the previous 2 years. It was my way of committing to believe I would live despite the probability that I wouldn’t.

As the months passed and the Burn approached I found myself increasingly anxious, wondering if my tumors would remain stable or if my hopes would be dashed at the last minute. Each dollar and hour I invested in planning and putting together my ‘burn kit’ represented to me a commitment that I would make it there. I had t-shirts printed saying “I’m not dying of cancer, I am LIVING with cancer”.

Finally the day came when I passed through the BM gates in the late evening. The next morning I went directly to the temple and wrote those same words on the Temple, willing the flames at the end of the week to burn away my fears the the temple. I began to weep then, as I am weeping now, overpowered by the simple thought that life is possible.

I return to the Playa this year for the first time since then. As then, I find myself renewed in my fight, having been diagnosed with a recurrence of my cancer in 2011. My cancer is still here, and still threatens my life every day, but my journey back to the Playa represents a triumph over fear, not by conquering it, but by accepting it, understanding it and embracing it.

Burning man is a culture of giving. I have neither the time, nor the skill nor the ability to create great art installations or mutant vehicles, or to commit weeks to cleaning the Playa or preparing it. I deeply appreciate everyone who does. My gift is the one thing I can give. My gift is hope, and the message that hope is possible and life is possible, even when the odds and the weight of reality tell you it isn’t.

by Ted Chapman

Colors of the Playa

I had been wandering around all night on the playa. Exploring what could be explored in the short time I had. I let my feet be my guide. I had witnessed magnificent things like fire-breathing mutant vehicles and sculptures that sparkled in vibrant lights. But that was all about to be outdone by one of the most beautiful events on this planet, a sunrise in the desert. I was near the Temple when I noticed the night sky beginning to change. I found a spot on the playa and laid down. I was one with the playa, I accepted that I was going to get playa dust on me so I made myself as comfortable as I could. I was very tired from my journeys throughout the night, my eyes were getting heavy. My eyes would close for a minute then re-open back up to an all new scene in front of me. Every time I did this it was like my mind taking snapshots of the landscape in front of me in time lapse. I was creating a mental image for future paintings each time I dozed off and re-awakened. There’s no real way or words to fully describe what was happening to me. It is beyond beauty to witness a sunrise in the desert. I loved how as the sun came up, so did the moisture trapped in the ground from the night. It came up as vapor, catching the colors of the sunrise in its ethereal wisp dancing all around me. The surrounding hills were filled with a radiant magenta color constantly morphing into different hues of red then orange. Off in the distance the mist coming up from the ground gave me the illusion that the hills were floating on white fluffy cotton. The clouds above were just as beautiful. Racing across the sky constantly being transformed by the colors. Finally, the burning orb broke the horizon. When it did it was like time stood still. I saw its beauty unfold before my very eyes. I felt its warmth instantly. There were hundreds of souls around enjoying this very moment with me. We all stood up and began to sing and dance and hoot and holler about, with rants and chants of joy and ecstasy. People all around were laughing, crying, hugging, kissing, and beaming with radiant smiles that would last them through the day. During my 10 days at Burning Man, I experienced the joy of seeing seven sunrises.

by Bill Ball