Over 100 Burning Man Regional Contacts and Community Leaders converged last weekend in San Francisco to attend the 4th Annual Regional Leadership Summit. A generous donation of space at-cost from the Bently family made it possible for us to hold our event at the beautiful state-of-the art Bently Reserve in Downtown San Francisco. The purpose of the Summit was to bring together leaders from across the world to exchange ideas, learn new skills and to explore the nature of community as it pertains to the evolving Burning Man Regional Network.
The Summit kicked off on Thursday with rolling registration and happy hour at a neighboring bar and restaurant. Just like Burning Man, the Regional Summit is a family reunion for many who return to San Francisco each year to participate. Thursday evening’s happy hour was packed with Summit guests, Burning Man staff, and the local Burner hosts who so graciously open their homes to our out of town guest during the Summit weekend. Later on that evening, many of the Summit attendees caught the midnight screening of Alice in Wonderland in 3D. In pure Burner fashion, there were white rabbits, Alices, Queens of Hearts, and many outrageous and Wonderland-ready costumes.
After savoring a small taste of Sydney life, we took a train up to Newcastle, a city at the very end of Sydney’s Country Train line. Sydneysiders draws a clear and divisive line between the cosmopolitans and the “bogans” (Aussie slang for “hicks”) as you can either take the Countryline or the Cityline train up the coast. Expecting to find nothing but mullet-heads and high tops, I was pleasantly surprised when Marian and I laid eyes on Phil Smart and his partner, Fiona’s, Rolodor Café. Covered in bright murals designed by a local artist, the Rolodor was clearly a bastion of creativity, a pure labor of love. Just as I saw the glimmer of places I loved reflected in Sydney, the Rolodor and its eclectic charm reminded me of my favorite cafes in my San Francisco Mission neighborhood. I felt even more at home when I heard that my friend Holly from San Francisco, who’d recently moved to Newcastle to spend some time with her mom, had met Phil and Fiona earlier that week when they connected over the Burning Man sticker on the coffee maker behind the counter at the café. Similar to my experiences at Burning Man, where there seems to me to be more of a connectedness between encounters and events, delightful synchronicities sprung up for me everywhere in Oz. It made sense to me that on a travel through a new Burning Man world, I would feel like I was in Black Rock City.
Boarding the 14-hour flight to Sydney, Australia, a flurry of butterflies filled my belly. Though I’d been daydreaming about this trip for some time, it only now felt real. Stepping off this plane in Australia would put me farther than ever before from my family, friends, and community in San Francisco. However, the knowledge that I’d be welcomed into a network of Burners in Australia and New Zealand made the start of my journey much less intimidating, the gap between our continents that much smaller.
Maid Marian and I had crafted a tight itinerary for our travels abroad and had a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time. Our first mission was to connect with the movers and shakers behind the upcoming OzBurn Seed 2010, Australia’s first Regional Burn that will take place in June, 2010. Over the past several months, I’d shared countless conversations and emails with Burning Man Australian Regional Contact Robin and local community organizers Phil Smart and King Richard about the work they were doing to nurture the growth of the Burning Man community in Australia. Though I knew that the work they were doing was significant, from my desk in San Francisco—and without a background in Australian culture—I had a limited frame of reference through which to understand their experiences. By visiting them in Australia and connecting with the local Burning Man community, I hoped to gain the perspective I needed to comprehend what their contributions meant to the international Burning Man Regional Network.
View from our plane over Sydney Photo by Maid Marian
In 2005, when I promised my friend Devin that I would to go to Burning Man, little did I know that I would soon be taken in by a community that would school me in the fine arts of friendship, performance, love and BACON. Up until I fell into the Burning Man community, I thought you needed a stage to perform. That’s not to say that this Lioness doesn’t love the limelight but over the course of the past few years, I’ve discovered that life is performance art and that the immediate moment is as good a time as any to act out your grandest gestures.