GLC ’14: Burners Bringing Worlds Together

glc audience

Burners have a lot to be proud of here at the GLC. After a rousing first morning of high-level talks about the power of Burner art and values, we were treated to a series of presentations by Burners from all over the world about how they pulled off some fantastic feats of civic art. Not only will these works be a part of Burning Man history, they’re useful templates for us to consider when we’re out building the next crazy thing.

The Renossance

First up were members of the so-called “Renossance,” the explosion of Burner culture taking hold in Reno, NV, Black Rock City’s biggest neighbor. Jungle Jim, a Burner since 2008, worked on the astonishing Temple of Transition in 2011, and now he’s the owner of the Morris Burner Hotel in Reno. He and his collaborators saw bright potential in this dilapidated building, and they fixed it up and turned it into a year-round hotel that runs on Burner values, has pay-what-you-can room rates, and radiates playa magic from every room.

matt schultz

Matt Schultz introduced us to The Generator, a 34,000 square-foot, open, inclusive, decommodified warehouse build space in Reno with no fees for use. These people have built amazing piers and shipwrecks on the playa for a few years, and now an angel investor has helped them convert their skills and processes into a year-round space Reno artists can use. They’re trying to support an entire community — including staff salaries, building maintenance, everything — on the notion of the gift economy.

maria partridge

Maria Partridge had to explain Burning Man to her young students in Reno. They didn’t know about the awesome art being generated two hours from home, but she says they filled with pride when she taught them about it. She seems to be having that effect on lots of people in Reno. Maria has been working with the city of Reno to get Burner art installed around the city, gradually moving up from small, temporary installations to gigantic, fire-breathing ones. The proof was in the pudding: vibrant community gatherings started popping up spontaneously in the public spaces where this art got installed. Even when the bureaucracy got thick, these Burners stuck with it, and their dedication to pulling things off impressed the city. Some temporary installations became permanent as museums started purchasing them. At this point, the city is commissioning new art and asking for it to be installed at Burning Man first, just to give it the cool factor.


yoga

After a much-needed yoga break courtesy of CameraGirl, the next round of talks were from similarly ambitious and successful artists from all over the Burner world.

Hippy Tim – The Temple for Christchurch

Hippy Tim

The AV power system blew out again, but Hippy Tim from New Zealand went on and read his talk anyway, and the mics came back up before too long. Tim and his comrades wanted to build (and burn) a Temple for Christchurch modeled after the Temple in Black Rock City, a place for mourning and healing and venting of The Heavy Stuff, as well as for celebration of being alive. Their first two tries at crowdfunding did not succeed, but a series of big earthquakes in the city created this spiritual yearning that they had an opportunity to fill. They based the design of the Temple on the seismographic data from the biggest quake. How cool is that! They had to fight with the powers that be in all kinds of ways, but they stuck with it, and when it opened, it was an overnight sensation. It quickly filled with heartfelt writings all over the walls, just like on the playa. When they moved it out of town to the burn site, more than 800 people showed up.

Dana Albany, known for the iconic Bone Tree playa sculpture, presented the Youth Educational Spacecraft, or Y.E.S. Project. It’s a mosaic UFO that’s a mobile classroom in the Bay Area. Kids from around the city created mosaic stars or planets, then Dana put them on the spaceship and designed it. She opened up the studio for visits on the weekends, and kids got to climb around on it and see that “this was their canvas.”

ufo kids

The UFO traveled around the city, making it more accessible to kids from different neighborhoods. “The spaceship broke down all these barriers and brought all these worlds together.” The installation was full of blinking buttons and gizmos, and it recorded the kids’ voices and played them back, so they would literally travel with the spaceship wherever it goes.

Mike Zuckerman – [ freespace ]

zuck

Last but not least was Mike Zuckerman of [ freespace ] in San Francisco. This project was glommed onto the National Day of Civic Hacking, but [ freespace ] took it further. Why not do whole a month instead? Zuck and his collaborators wanted to stretch the definition of the word “hacking,” including any “people who are reimagining their environments and creating new things.” To encourage that, they wanted a big, open space to work and play, one that felt like a slice of the playa. They got sharing economy start-up ReAllocate to sign on and take the risk, which convinced the owner of a huge, vacant SF warehouse to let them rent it for a month for $1.

Just on the strength of the idea, [ freespace ] received generous gifts of work and time to spruce the place up including huge murals on the walls. They established a few ground rules to properly decommodify things and make it feel inclusive, and then they started letting people in to give talks, lead workshops, make art, write code, and draw on the walls. [ freespace ] hosted 119 entirely participant-run events in first 30 days, including a Burning Man-focused event called BurnerHack, which we covered here on the Burning Blog. The momentum supported [ freespace ] in SF far beyond the planned 30 days, and the phenomenon has begun to spread worldwide. The organizers were even invited to the White House to talk about it. If you want to see evidence of Burner culture changing the world, look no further than [ freespace ] Dammam, “a community which promotes creativity and interaction free of limits,” organized by women in Saudi Arabia.

Okay! That’s the end of the beginning of GLC! Stay tuned for the rest of the conference here on the Burning Blog and on Twitter using the hashtag #bmglc14.

Photos by Sidney Erthal

About the author: Jon Mitchell

I'm the managing editor at Burning Man. I wrote this book and this record. I co-wrote a big story about spending 24 hours at the Temple of Juno in 2012, which lives at templestories.com. I've been a Burner since 2008.

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