The Bay Lights Will Blink On as a Permanent Installation

Image courtesy of thebaylights.org

The Bay Lights, which first started sparkling across the Bay Bridge in March 2013, just hit its funding goal and will now be a permanent installation. The 1.8 mile-wide, 500-foot-high LED sculpture is the world’s largest, made of 25,000 white LEDs whose patterns glow from sundown to sunrise and never repeat. It will stay lit until 2026 at least.

In an email to supporters, Ben Davis, founder and CEO of Illuminate the Arts and big-time Burner, says that the $2 million raised so far was matched by philanthropist Tad Taube, bringing the organization to the $4 million baseline goal.

The Bay Lights installation is the brainchild of Leo Villareal, a world-renowned artist with many equally dazzling installations under his belt. He’s also one of the founders of Disorient, which is a Burning Man camp that, even if you haven’t heard of it, you’ve definitely heard. You know the blinky orange-y camp on the 3-o’-clock side of the Esplanade? Used to rock a giant orange traffic cone-looking thing? Yeah, them. Leo joined the inaugural Burning Man Board of Directors in 2011, and he re-upped after his initial term ended, continuing to serve on the Board today.

Villareal has been coming to Black Rock City since 1994, and he brought his first blinky installation in 1997 to solve a clear, simple problem: he had trouble finding his camp at night. That drove him to build his first large-scale piece in New York in 2003, and it just got more ambitious and beautiful from there. As a Burning Man veteran, Villareal is surely used to having to take apart his art and pack it up, but now he’s built the largest LED sculpture in the world, and the people have raised the money to keep it lit.

The piece has to be taken down for bridge maintenance next year, but the New York Times arts blog reports that the piece will be up again by January 2016.

Thank you to everyone who donated to keep this beautiful piece alight in the cities from which the global Burning Man culture has spread.

Crimson Rose Addresses World Cities Culture Forum

World Cities Culture Summit Amsterdam 2014 - Day 2Burning Man founder Crimson Rose attended the 2014 World Cities Culture Forum and Summit in Amsterdam and brought back insights from some of the world’s greatest cities. These insights can help us think about Black Rock City in new ways, of course. But they’re also lessons Burners can bring to any city at any time, just as we do with the art and the values we’ve developed in our home of Black Rock City.

The overarching issues discussed at this year’s summit were remarkably relevant to Burning Man culture, and it’s a good thing a Burning Man founder was there to offer reactions. Crimson reports that there was a pervasive attitude among the representatives in attendance that the culture of a place can be “branded” and sold like any other economic product. Crimson’s response was that culture is more like a living organism; it must grow, eat, breathe, and change, or else it will die. Black Rock City residents know this well.

Crimson Rose (r) speaks at the World Cities Culture Summit, 2014
Crimson Rose (r) speaks at the World Cities Culture Summit, 2014

In another example, Amsterdam is attempting to change the word “tourist” to “visitor” in its tourism culture. We know this “no tourists!” problem well enough to understand that changing the word for it is not enough. All the norms around integrating newcomers into the city have to change, and that extends to all residents, not just official policy. That challenge is going to be harder in Amsterdam than it is in BRC; the Netherlands is starting to see anti-tourism protests during big events.

Cities are also often hosts to spectacular cultural events, like sports and performances, which have a tried and true formula for how they run: people buy tickets, buy concessions, sit down, watch the show, and leave. Crimson was pleased to see that some cities, particularly Montreal, are beginning to push for more interactive and participatory events.

World Cities Culture Summit Amsterdam 2014 - Day 2Crimson herself appeared on a panel called “Transformational Outdoor Creative Projects.” The other panelists were Pep Gattell of La Fura dels Baus, Helen Marriage of Artichoke (a Burning Man Project partner), and Mark Ball from Lift. The moderator was Ruth MacKenzie, director of the Holland Festival. It was an open, free event attended by Summit attendees and locals. In further conversation after the panel, Crimson introduced Daniela from the Amsterdam Regional Group to some of the officials and guests at the Summit, many of whom didn’t know about the Burning Man Decompression event happening in Amsterdam two days later. These kind of serendipitous connections are just waiting to happen at a summit like this.

Crimson says Amsterdam was delightful, bike-friendly, and arts and culture were bursting into the streets. Sound like a dusty city you know?

Wisdom Has Costs

Photo by Scott London

You know what? I fucked up. I told her, “Don’t worry about your bike.” I honestly thought we’d be able to keep our eye on it. But come on, brother. It was the middle of nowhere out there, and I know better.

Still, seriously, what the fuck, right? Don’t take the material advice of some dust-wizard in the dark of night.

Hold up. Let me begin at the beginning. (more…)

Video: The Black Rock Desert and Caravansary

Photo by Bob Wick, BLM Natural Resource Specialist
Photo by Bob Wick, BLM Natural Resource Specialist

The Black Rock Desert is a place unlike any other – a wide expanse of possibility set in the heart of the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area. This area is part of nation’s prized National Conservation Lands, a special designation given by the U.S. Government to some of the most scenic, culturally rich, scientifically important and yet least known public lands in the country. We’re lucky to build Black Rock City in this beautiful location, and we should be equally committed to respecting and protecting this special place.

The relationship between Burning Man and the Bureau of Land Management hinges on our mutual care for this exquisite desert. The BLM released a very friendly video showing how they do their part in protecting the land where we build Black Rock City. The video also features the Earth Guardians, the Burners who represent our communal effort to be environmentally responsible and respectful. Check it out:

Jayson Barangan, BLM’s Public Information Officer for Burning Man 2014, wrote in about the recent signing of the Special Recreation Permit (SRP) for the event. “With a 68,000 Burner threshold, this SRP is the biggest and most complex within BLM. Burning Man is a monumental logistical undertaking and through cooperative integration with BRC and multiple agencies and jurisdictions, the world’s largest Leave No Trace (LNT) is able to occur on federal public lands. LNT is one of the founding principles for Burning Man and is in unison with the SRP’s stipulations, whose chief priority is natural and cultural resource protection, as well as public safety.”

He also pointed out how this year’s Caravansary theme fits in beautifully with the heritage of the surrounding lands, which are National Landscape Conservation Lands (NLCS) lands administered by BLM. “There is a very interesting nexus between Burning Man’s theme this year, ‘Caravansary,’ and the Black Rock High Rock Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area (NCA), Jayson writes. “One of the cultural resources contained within the NCA is the Applegate Historic Trail, which is an emigrant trail used by early pioneers. It is the longest stretch of protected and intact emigrant trail in the USA. I think this particular resource dovetails very nicely with this year’s theme. The NCA also contains several designated wilderness areas; 2014 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act.” Once again, Black Rock City is about to become a temporary oasis for this year’s Caravansary, just like the caravansaries of old.

It’s for the sake of this land and its heritage that we leave no trace of Black Rock City after our caravan moves on. If you want to contribute more to this effort, check out the Earth Guardians and consider joining up.

Photo by Bob Wick, BLM Natural Resource Specialist
Photo by Bob Wick, BLM Natural Resource Specialist

Sabbath on the Playa

sukkatshalom

Friday evening of my second Burn, I had one of the holiest meals I can remember. As the stars came out, a big group gathered at camp Sukkat Shalom, lit candles, gave blessings, drank wine, and fried up crispy, savory latkes for each other to eat. It was an ideal way to ground the frenetic energy of the week in preparation for the following night’s burn. The cross-section of Burners interested in gathering to welcome the Sabbath was unlike that of any other on-playa scene. The wine, talk, and song flowed late into the night.

In subsequent years, the scene has been crazy. An overwhelming number of people show up. While I think that’s a great sign, it overloads the camp, and food is scarce. No theme camp’s gift is inexhaustible. But this year, Sukkat Shalom is crowd-funding a blowout Shabbat dinner experience. Here’s why I hope you’ll support it. Disclosure: I know and love lots of the people who run Sukkat Shalom.

The next-level Sukkat Shalom Shabbat dinner will begin under a blinky dome with LEDs that respond to the group’s singing as it welcomes the Sabbath, the holy day of rest and reflection, which ends at sundown on Saturday before the Man burns. The multi-course meal will be served at a Bedouin-style communal table in a subtly designed sound environment. It will be a sacred celebration, but it will also be a full-spectrum stimulus any Burner will love.

Sukkat Shalom is not a religious camp. Its name means “shelter of peace” in Hebrew, which is a thoroughly Jewish concept, but surely it’s one that makes sense to anyone who’s ever been to the Black Rock Desert. The camp calls itself “Jew-ish” (emphasis on “ish,” a term I personally can’t stand), but it does so in the name of inclusivity. It’s a camp run by some Jewish people and some non-Jewish people, and it has no religious requirements or expectations, but it’s framed by some Jewish concepts that apply beautifully on the playa. Shabbat is, in my opinion, the most powerful. Who doesn’t feel the specialness of Saturday at Burning Man?

sukkat2

I think about religion the whole time I’m in Black Rock City. There are so many pieces of religious life there if you’re inclined to look at them that way. The annual trek out there can feel like a pilgrimage. One of the central architectural features of the city is its Temple. Over the course of the week, time is demarcated by a series of ceremonies and offerings, the burns being the biggest examples. The desert itself is a classic site of personal revelation.

But the most powerful part of Burning Man culture is that it’s not prescriptive. These components of the experience are not specific representations of religious ideas. They’re archetypes of them, there for participants to share through their own lenses of meaning, even totally unreligious — or sacrilegious — ones. Just like the Temple is for everyone on the playa, regardless of what it means to them, I think Shabbat can be, too.

So consider supporting Sukkat Shalom’s Shabbat dinner on Indiegogo and help celebrate the sacredness of Friday night at Burning Man.

Images courtesy of Sukkat Shalom

Global [freespace] Movement to Hack the 2014 World Cup

We Burners of the San Francisco office have a story we like to tell. Burning Man is not just a week in the desert, the story goes. It’s not just the 40 regional Burns around the world, either. Burning Man is a global culture now, living, working, playing and growing year-round in the cities and hinterlands formerly known as the Default World. Here’s a new chapter in that story.

The [freespace] movement expects to launch in 10–13 new cities around the world in June. Each [freespace] is an open building that provides freedom, community, and permission for makers, hackers and artists of all stripes, like an urban version of the “permission engine” we have on the playa. The buildings are donated essentially for free, just to see what people will do with them. Turns out they make art, hold fashion shows, host lectures, and make stuff for Burning Man, and they do it all in decommodified 10 Principles style.

And during this year’s World Cup — arguably the most global cultural phenomenon there is — [freespace] participants will tell the whole world what they’ve been up to.

(more…)

Play the Giant Groovik’s Cube Online Via Webcam

Groovik's Cube

Groovik’s Cube, a reincarnation of a 2009 playa installation, is now on display as part of the 40th anniversary celebration of the invention of the Rubik’s Cube in Jersey City. You can actually play the 26-foot-high light-up cube live via webcam from the Groovik’s Cube website. How cool is that?

Mike Tyka and a team of Burners from Seattle built the original Groovik’s Cube in less than five months on an out-of-pocket budget of $20,000. It has about 15,000 components. Since the 2009 Burn, the Cube has been on public display for more than a year.

Forget today’s 40th anniversary Rubik’s Cube Google Doodle. That’s just a virtual cube. Go play the 26-foot Groovik’s Cube hanging over people’s heads!

And check out this cool video of the Groovik’s Cube being built:

GLC ’14: Here’s What Happened

Photo by Sidney Erthal
Photo by Sidney Erthal

It’s a wrap! The 2014 Burning Man Global Leadership Conference was a heck of a party, but it was also a great meeting of minds. It was a chance for the far-flung leaders of Burning Man regional culture to learn from each other, and that includes the San Francisco Regional, sometimes known as Burning Man HQ. After all these groups compared notes at GLC, there could no longer be any doubt: Burning Man happens everywhere, all the time. The one week in Nevada is just for practice.

We had people on the ground tweeting and blogging about the conference and the sessions that seemed of interest to the wider world. Here’s a round-up of the major messages, so you can share in the learning, and some photos of the beautiful people. (more…)