Burning Man recently hosted a panel discussion on innovative uses of urban space, from temporary parklets and community gardens to maker spaces and pop-up art. If you’re interested in activating your own city in radical ways that don’t necessarily rely on city bureaucracy and established processes, there’s a lot to learn from these folks.
Moderated by Blaine Merker of Gehl Studio and REBAR, with panelists Marc Roth of Learning Shelter and TechShop, Jake Levitas of the Urban Prototyping Festival, Jessica Hobbs of Flux Foundation, and Jay Rosenberg of 49 Farms and Hayes Valley Farm, this event was recorded at Burning Man headquarters in San Francisco in December 2014.
Over 100 community leaders from twenty-five nations converged on Amsterdam for the second annual Burning Man European Leadership Summit, February 6-8 in Amsterdam’s historic Beurs van Berlage. Burning Man Regional Contacts, Meta-regionals, event organizers, and headquarters staff joined forces for a fast-paced weekend of teaching, learning, and creative collaboration.
After kicking off the event with a celebratory parade through the streets of Amsterdam (the latest installment in Jan Beddegenoodts’s “Moving Europe” project), participants enjoyed two busy days of panels, workshops, group discussions, and networking.
A highlight of the program was a series of talks on art, technology, and culture. Philosopher Alexander Bard introduced the group to syntheism, a model of how atheists can achieve the same feelings of community and awe experienced in theistic religions. Author Yuri van Geest discussed the attributes of what he calls exponential organizations, agile groups that can survive and thrive in periods of rapid change. And the artist Dadara hosted a showcase of his work, which includes celebrated and sometimes controversial on-playa projects such as the Exchanghibition Bank and Like4Real.
Another popular offering was a half-day seminar in collaborative creativity hosted by the THNK School of Creative Leadership. Participants were guided through an accelerated cycle of small-group ideation, prototyping, and refinement at the THNK campus, generating a number of actionable projects that people were buzzing about for the rest of the weekend. Back at the Beurs van Berlage, breakout sessions offered in-depth discussion of topics including BWB-style civic projects, leaving no trace, community event production, volunteerism, and conflict resolution, which spilled over into many after-hours discussions of art, culture, collaboration, and the challenges of translating the Burning Man ethos to new languages, cultures, and physical environments.
Thanks to all the conference participants for an amazing weekend, and especially to the Dutch Burners for their gracious welcome and hard work in helping to make this summit a success.
Belgian filmmaker, photographer, and art-activist Jan Beddegenoodts brought his Moving Europe project to Amsterdam last week with a spectacular mobile gallery and interactive parade. Participants took to the streets of the old city carrying oversized prints of Burning Man art photos taken by Jan and fellow photographers Thomas Dorn, Sidney Erthal, Scott London, and Gaby Thijsse, accompanied by a brass band, dancers, fire spinners, and no small number of delighted Amsterdammers caught up in the spontaneous celebration.
The event was an apt kickoff for the second annual Burning Man European Leadership Summit, a two-day event bringing together community leaders from twenty-five countries for an intensive weekend of knowledge-sharing, alliance-building, and cultural collaboration.
In the months ahead, Jan and his team will bring the Moving Europe experience to more cities including Riga, Athens, Lisbon, Berlin, and Reikjavic, working with local artists and burners in each country to imbue the event with local flavor and make each parade a unique street party. The Moving Europe team is also compiling video footage for a documentary project, interviewing people of all ages but particularly children and the elderly about their impressions of the show and their dreams for the future.
It doesn’t seem all that long ago when everyone at Burning Man came from California and the only language spoken was English. This year, in a single night, I overheard conversations in Russian, Japanese, Mandarin, Dutch, German, French, Portuguese, Afrikaans, and a half-dozen other tongues I couldn’t ID. I clinked glasses with a cider-maker from England, an architecture student from Russia, and an intrepid young South African named Kayden, who had ridden his bicycle all the way to Black Rock City from the RSA.
According to early census numbers, nearly a quarter of our city’s population now comes from outside the US, or roughly 17,000 people this year. And for every one who makes it to BRC, how many friends did they leave back home who would love to join us if they could? Though now written on a global canvas, it’s an old story: people come to BRC and get their lives changed, and they take that experience home to whatever part of everywhere they came from. Maybe they’ll be back next year or maybe they won’t, but they can’t stop thinking about it, talking about it, and wanting to live this way year-round.
Small wonder, then, that the Regional Network has grown so dramatically over the past few years, with hundreds of sanctioned groups now hosting scores of burnerish events around the globe. Afrikaburn alone had over 7,000 attendees this year. Whatever it is we’ve built here in the desert, demand clearly outstrips supply. The playa can only hold so many, but we’re not just the playa anymore – we’re the planet.
This global spread of our culture – organic, viral, and largely unplanned – is where all the action is. On a personal level, it’s why I chose to rejoin the Burning Man Project after a long hiatus. How do we channel and fuel that mad growth? How do we translate the Ten Principles, and stay true to their spirit as we cross cultural and linguistic boundaries? How can we continue to serve as a catalyst for positive change in the world? From the beginning, we’ve always viewed our event as an experimental community – but who could have guessed that the subjects would assimilate so completely with the observers, burn down the lab, and take the experiment to so many corners of the globe?
If you’re wondering what part you can play in all this, I have a few suggestions. Pick a region – any region – and get involved with your local burners. Maybe it’s just an afterburn they’re after, or maybe it’s something more ambitious, like the YES project or the Carver Garden Alliance, two great examples of how burners are working with kids in their local communities. If there isn’t a regional group yet in your area, think about starting one. And if you’re short on free time, but still want to add a little fuel to the fire, consider making a tax-deductible donation to the nonprofit Burning Man Project. Your dollars – or yen or rubles or pounds – will help keep things burning those other 51 weeks of the year.
Thanks to all of you. Danke, merci, xiexie, and gracias. Wherever you live in the default world, you are part of an amazing global community. The playa speaks, and the world is listening.
Stuart Mangrum coined the phrase “TTITD” and claims to have seen the Playa Chicken. He works for the Burning Man Project.
People tend to go all fish-eyed when you use the words “Burning Man” and “education” in the same sentence, but even a quick look at this year’s What Where When (WWW) guide should convince the skeptics that there’s going to be a whole lot of learning going on Out There. Or to use the technical term, “edjumication.”
Though it’s not specifically addressed in the Ten Principles, ours has always been a culture of teaching and learning. It’s the glue that holds us together, the DNA that links the generations of our oddball family. Small wonder when you consider that our people are freakishly well-schooled in the default world – 64 percent listed a bachelor’s degree or higher in the 2012 Black Rock City census. And while no one can say for certain how many are educators by trade, it’s clearly in the many-to-hella range. So many, in fact, that a pack of education-themed theme camps are joining forces this year to create the Aspire Village, with a projected population of 1,800.
Aspire Village will play host to the Black Rock Educator’s Consortium (Tuesday through Thursday), the Burning Nerds Global Unconference (Friday), and a series of TEDx talks (Thursday), capped off by a high-stepping, clothing-optional sing-along to Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher.” Okay, I made that last one up, but the rest is all legit, and promises a lot of useful cogitation around the notion of burnifying the academic world (and vice-versa).
But what if academia’s not your cup of tea? Do ivory towers give you nosebleeds? Rest easy, friend – there will be hundreds of other courses and workshops catering to your every Burner-learner whim, from the ridiculously practical to the sublimely surreal. Want to learn some new dance moves? Take your pick of belly, break, butoh, capoeira, Polynesian, swing, or tango. Does yoga matter to you? Practice your usual practice or pick up a new style at about a hundred pop-up studios. And of course there will be no shortage of sex ed – male, female, solo, couples, fetish, and other, including something called “dildo fencing,” which frankly frightens me.
Speaking of dildo fencing (and how often do you get to write that twice in a day?), there will be no shortage of “only on the playa” quirky classes of every imaginable persuasion. Seriously, there are dozens of these in the WWW guide, but I’ve applied my own idiosyncratic lens to the list and pulled out a personal top ten:
How to Start Your own Religion (Fractal Camp). Don’t tell Larry H. I’m going to this one, he might get nervous.
DIY Flying: What to do if the pilot is dead (DIY Camp). You mean, other than wet my pants and cry like a baby? Color me curious.