RIP Jay Houston Marx

Jay speaking at the anti-nuclear vigil’s 25th anniversary in 2006
Jay speaking at the anti-nuclear vigil’s 25th anniversary in 2006

I’m hardly the only person to whom Jay Marx offered a memorable introduction to Washington, DC. Jay passed through this world entirely too briefly, but he touched a great many of us and presented a powerful example of how to apply the principles of conscious counterculture beyond building community to help refashion a new default world.

Jay and I first crossed paths in 2002. I’d finished an internship interview with a law firm office on K Street, and stumbled into a peace march that he had helped organize six months before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. We went on to organize, perform, and party together in countless settings over the next 13 years before he passed away at Transformus in North Carolina this July. (more…)

Corporate Courting

The line in the sand has been getting more and more blurry over the years.

While there is no commerce on Playa, obviously we need to buy goods and services for our trips. As a community, we are still working out how corporations can work with Burners in a healthy way.

For example, many rental companies have had an “illicit affair” model in place where lying was a part of the process. “Don’t come back with hickies, lipstick on your collar, or dust in the engine…and whatever you do, don’t tell us you are taking it to Burning Man!”

But check out U-Haul’s olive branch offering to Burners renting trucks: A video showing how to cover logos (and honor the Decommodification Principle) without damaging the truck. Plus they share a list of clean up tips and local resources.

U Haul would have scored 100% except for the cutesy use of “Barter Supplies” as a header at the bottom instead of just “Supplies.” (Gifting is NOT Barter.)

Now, if this video is a part of a marketing push, I may change my tune. But for now I’m giving big dusty props to U-Haul for addressing the reality of the situation without pandering or exploiting the community.

NOTE: I am a 17 year Burner with a passion for the event, the principles and our community. Like the vast majority of writers in this space, I am not a representative of the BMORG. This is not an endorsement of U-Haul by myself and especially not by Burning Man. It is simply an (interesting to me) data point in the ever-evolving integration between the default world and Burning Man.

Barron Scott LevKoff’s Mystical Midway

This year the Man will be surrounded by a most exquisite clever Midway, a Carnival of Mirrors where participants can turn the surfaces reflecting themselves inside out if they dare, and by participating they may very well discover the multifarious circus of our ordinary life and create new personas. The Midway beckons to us to discover new perspectives and bring them out into the world at the conclusion of our week in Black Rock City.

Our Midway is going to be populated with mind-bending and playful attractions, and I was most fortunate to meet one of this year’s artists, Barron Scott LevKoff aka The Professor, who will be bringing his Mystical Midway to that space around the Man this year.

Barron Scott LevKoff Talking with Scott you get a feeling of how whimsical yet intentional he is. A self described dandy with a very sharp and developed mind highly attuned to the creative force, he is a font of brilliance and ideas flow from him in rapid succession; ideas that range from casual mentions of conscious evolution, social theater, the Human Potential Movement, Wisdom Sharing Networks and Cosplay, to his use of carnivalesque motley fools, hobos, devils , angels and roaming puppetry to provide tools for the creator culture that he cares very deeply about.

He’s spent time sharing the Beauty Engine Social Design he and Polly Superstar created in the early 2000’s. He told me about his work with Polly on another venture, Mission Control, where they tested out, in his words, the “language for creative collaboration” and the “commonalities of social dynamics, social techniques and methods that are similar among creative communities.” Mission Control worked with thousands of people, some of them digerati, and provided inspiration for social networks that came into being including the Abundance League that became Shareable.

Edwardian Ball  Mystic MidwayHe and I sat down for tapas and sangria in the Mission and Scott shared with me his experience of the last 25 years as a performer. Barron Scott LevKoff has had a hand in creating or participating in some of the more surreal ongoing events in the San Francisco Bay Area including Anon Salon, The Edwardian Ball, Mission Control, The Renaissance Faire at Black Point Forest, Club Ritual, Soookeasy, Master Mondos Cabare’, Lost Horizons Box Trucks, Kinky Salon and the Lagunitas Beer Circus to name a few, with his most recent foray being his Mystic Midway.

His involvement in the San Francisco Alternative scene is somewhat epic.

I asked him to tell me about his Mystical Midway that will grace Black Rock City this year and the description poured out of him …

“The Mystic Midway is a trans-media STORYWORLD based on the characters and attractions you might find in a strange, mystical carnival: “The Hat of Many Closets”, “Mister Nobody’s Swamp Shack”, “The Mirror Maze”, the “Haunted Castle” and characters such as Lady Fortuna, Mister Nobody, the Blue Mystic, Professor Grimaldi, The Snakeoil Salesman and others. Each of these characters and attractions has a corresponding card that illustrates a specific area of inquiry attributed to each. Our Mystic Midway ensemble of performers brings these characters to life and we have also created a Cosplay guide crafted specifically as an invitation for anyone to create their own Midway persona and join the Midway!

Mystic Midway“We also bring the Mystic Midway to life through fantastical sets, props, banners, wagons, flying airships and more. We host Tea Party ‘socials’ where the community comes together and we go into the Midway, almost like a role-playing game. (The ‘HOME GAME’) We go on storytelling adventures of discovery and inquiry, prompted by encounters with the MM attractions and characters. It’s a collaborative, ‘gameful’ style of group storytelling. For example, something like “Fear” might come up in an adventure and we know that it’s time to bring out ‘Mr.Nobody’, a gleeful skeleton figure who eats fear. So the goal in that moment is to name and release the fear to Mr.Nobody, so it’s a bit like a shamanic story telling game. It’s all about identifying the scripts inside us that rule our actions on the ‘mythic stage’ of our lives.

“What’s ruling us, what’s holding us back, what’s keeping us from sharing the magic within us, but feel scared to give it a name or form?”

Scott is a true believer and he’s up to something much larger than entertainment. About the Mystical Midway’s immersive environment he continued, “There’s almost no separation between participant, audience, spectator, performers. It really is immersive social theater. People can jump in with whatever they’re comfortable with. The first time they come, they kind of sit on the periphery, and say, ok I kind of see what this is about. Next time they come and they have a persona and they’re offering their gifts. Maybe I’ll do readings, or I’m more of a clowny person, or I have fairy wings and horns or whatever. You know what I mean?”

Our nice waiter brought us some bread and butter and as Scott and I conversed, I began to realize that there is a deeper level to this sort of play and creative culture. He’s not just creating an immersive experience that will no doubt delight participants on the playa this year.  I took in this phenomenon of a man across the table from me, wearing a black and white striped hat, spectacles and who sported a well groomed handlebar mustache. We discussed the language of creative culture, how he is producing events, creative community and Improv Theater  and I realized I was in the presence of a visionary. We discussed what a crazy journey these last 25 years have been for him and before that, his childhood of “hippie parents, raised in communes, in boats and vans. My mom was a psychic channel and I was raised around all these different intentional communities. So as a kid I got to see all these intentional ways of coming together so I was primed my whole life for alternate ways of living.” He then brought up his interest in magic and alchemy.

It was then that he leaned in, suddenly somewhat serious, and as he spoke he brought his visage forward and upward and I could see his brown eyes and that slyly mustachioed mouth as he flashed an upward smile and I thought — he’s up to something. Oh he’s up to something.

Barron Scott“I see society as a sculpture; it’s created intentionally by people. And a lot of people don’t see that our society has been crafted by capitalists and industrialists and consumerists towards people like you. You NEED THINGS. Medicine men knew this. Like, oh I’ve got something you need. This is a shiny thing and it’s awesome if you have this thing. You need these sneakers to be more desirable. You need this makeup or you need this clothing, you know what I mean right? And these are scripts that are running in society and so many people think, oh that’s the way it is, that’s the way life is.

“Burning Man is a place where people can look at the scripts and be like, wait a minute, does that serve me? Does this way of being serve me? Does the way of connecting and relating to other people, does this actually have value to me? So I want to create the permissions and give people the tools to examine, do these scripts serve them anymore.

“That’s why we embrace the term SOCIAL THEATER. You know because the Midway is a place of heightened social interaction, where everything is a mirror. Every character on the Midway is a mirror, a card, the story cards of the Midway that everything is based on, that I’ve been developing, I’m taking all my observations of creative culture they’re all in the story cards. Everything’s a mirror, hey take a look at this. What has value to you what are you pulling yourself to?

“How does insight serve you? Are you just a mental, intellectual person or do you have insight and intuition, so everything is inquiry. Hey what do you think about this, what do you think about this, no truths, just inquiry. Just questions. It’s all questions.

“It’s a crazy experiment. And I need a Christmas miracle to pull this off.”

The Mystical Midway, Carnival of Mythic Possibility has an ongoing IndieGOGO campaign to get them to Burning Man.

Go there. Contribute and read on.

Our sangria arrived, we toasted a cheers and I took a plunge into the fascinating world of Barron Scott LevKoff also known as “The Professor”.


Everyhere Logistics: They Bring the Art to You

nightmarketBurners know how much art one can pack into a box truck, but Everyhere Logistics is about to raise the bar. This team, spread out all across the United States, is rolling out multiple convoys of box trucks full of pop-up art exhibitions to traverse the country, descending upon a different U.S. city each Saturday in August. In each city, the trucks will join up with a local Lost Horizon Night Market, an interactive art carnival experience that will welcome in the locals. The point is to demonstrate how portable and scalable even big, inspiring art experiences can be.

“There is a myth that viable art is only found on the coasts and in a select few big cities,” the trailer video says. “Help Everyhere Logistics shatter that myth.”

These people want to build a national network of such Night Markets, to make them a part of the fabric of city life, and nailing this crazy trucking part would enable the free flow of art and artists across this network. You can help them make that happen on Kickstarter for just a few more days.

Homeless Advocacy Art Bus Is Bringing New Life to Your Streets

Artists give street performance in Downtown Washington, DC
Artists give street performance in Downtown Washington, DC

Here’s the thing about art: It turns an ordinary perception into an encounter. In art mode, you aren’t just sensing objects anymore, you’re in a conversation with another creative being. This is how the Homeless Advocacy Art Bus wants to transform the all-too-common perception of homelessness.

This converted school bus will show up in your city and unload a party of performers and poets, some wearing masks, others showing their faces. They’ll open a pop-up gallery of sculptures, writings and drawings made of the stuff of city experiences. These artists are homeless, but they’re no longer invisible. You no longer want to just walk past them. Now you’ll stop, watch, listen and talk. Won’t you get on the bus?

The Homeless Advocacy Art Bus has no Burning Man affiliations whatsoever, but it’s exactly the kind of thing we want to see everywhere. They’re using art to snap people out of complacent states and getting them to confront the reality of homelessness, but doing it with color and story and creative force. The world needs much more of this.

The project is trying to raise $57,000 to get the bus on the road, starting in their home base of D.C. but eventually rolling out to cities across America. Please support their StartSomeGood campaign by June 30.

A Nation of Makers: Burning Man at the White House

At the White House this week, President Obama is hosting makers of all stripes to present the ways they’re welding, programming, sculpting, building and teaching our way into the future. The program is called A Nation of Makers, and it coincides with the National Maker Faire in Washington, D.C. You can watch the kickoff event, featuring presentations and panels on this exciting work, live now:

Last year, on June 18, President Obama hosted the first-ever White House Maker Faire and challenged “every company, every college, every community, every citizen [to] join us as we lift up makers and builders and doers across the country.” This administration sees the maker movement as a national priority.

Over 100 U.S. cities have taken a Maker Cities pledge, developing maker spaces, redesigning education along the lines of participation, STEM and civic participation, and engaging citizens in the co-creation of their cities. This effort will be expanded this year as cities work together in an emerging Open Innovation network to pursue these goals. All of this will be a centerpiece of announcements during the National Week of Making.

That all makes good enough sense, but… Burning Man at the White House? Really??

Messaging by Mac Maker, made of recycled found objects

Messaging by Mac Maker, made of recycled found objects

In fact, organizers of this White House maker stuff tell us that Burning Man comes up often in their work as an example of some of the best aspects of making and the American experience. Burning Man is a federation of wildly diverse groups of people who come together to celebrate that diversity, the powerful and different personal expressions within it, and the shared values underlying all of it.

It’s kind of like a microcosm of the United States that way.

Burning Man and the U.S. share this element of experimenting with unprecedented models of community, which requires constant innovation and reinvention. Since our earliest days on Baker Beach, we’ve seen how that effort starts with the maker spirit. It’s inspiring to see that spirit catching on at the highest levels of government.

Burning Man has been turning up its civic maker efforts lately, too. Burning Man Arts does more than provide grants for art projects in Black Rock City. It reaches out to communities globally that would never come to Burning Man and gives grants to kindred interactive civic art projects to catalyze new communities. And Burners Without Borders sends our culture’s talented makers, builders and fixers into areas stricken by poverty or disaster to provide relief efforts. They help local grassroots movements solve their own problems with sustainable solutions.

So that’s why the White House invited Burning Man to participate in this year’s National Week of Making. We’ve got staff on the ground in D.C. this week, and they’ll be reporting back. Stay tuned.

Midburn 2015 — The Burn that Almost Didn’t

Midburn, 2015 (Photo by Sharon Avraham)
Midburn, 2015 (Photo by Sharon Avraham)

Holding the second-largest regional Burn for more than 6,500 participants in Israel’s Negev Desert is no small achievement. We Burners are used to the hot desert climate, but our community in Israel also has another kind of heat to deal with. As you can imagine, in a country with no separation between church and state, a staunchly conservative government and a contentiously divided sociopolitical environment, there’s little room for new movements promoting radical self-expression. However, this year’s Midburn proved that when Burners stick to the Ten Principles and explain them clearly and persuasively, even to reluctant listeners, anything is possible.

In the final week of preparation leading up to the event, Midburn organizers were suddenly presented with a court order to immediately stop building the city. It appeared the police, who believed that Midburn was nothing more than a party, had no intention of permitting the event. To add a layer of complexity to what was already a difficult situation, Israel’s mainstream media covered the police opposition and the court order on television, radio, newspapers and social media. Up until this moment, few in Israel knew about Midburn’s existence, and the majority of those who did lived in Tel Aviv, or, as some refer to it, Tel Aviv Nation (more on this later). When this spark of conflict ignited, however, Israelis across the country became aware of the situation and “Midburn” became a household word. Which, as you can imagine, added to the already immense pressure event organizers were under.

At this point, Midburn’s organizers and participants-to-be were faced with two options. One was to assume the role of indignant Israelis deprived of their basic right of self-expression, which would have meant head-on confrontation with the authorities and increased resistance and opposition. The second was to identify as Burners, for whom the Ten Principles are the highest priority, and to use Civic Responsibility to keep the channels of communication with authorities open and work with them and the media in a civil manner.

Civic Responsibility

We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.

When it seemed as though the event would not go on, Nir Adan, the CEO of Midburn and a Burning Man Regional Contact, urged the Midburn community to show restraint, despite their great disappointment, hold fast to the Ten Principles and keep the channels of communication open. Watch:

Over the next few days, the Burner community mobilized. Letters of endorsement were gathered, Midburn’s representatives were interviewed on radio, television and social media, volunteers posted updates and calls for support on Facebook (in both Hebrew and English), and volunteer lawyers worked their way up the court system to appeal the initial court order to cease building the city. Thanks to these collaborative efforts, the court order was reversed, construction was resumed, and the police withdrew its opposition, rescinded its initial demands and allowed the event to take place without surveillance or intervention of any kind.

Midburn was granted autonomy and given the responsibility to organize and regulate itself. The Burner community in Israel was warned that if we failed, we would not be given permission to hold the event in 2016. The permit was finally signed at nearly the same time the gates were scheduled to open, and as a result the opening was delayed four hours. Although cars were backed up for six hours on the rocky trail to the city, no horns honked, no one protested, Burners got out of their cars to spray boiling drivers and passengers with cool mist, while others played instruments or distributed Turkish coffee, fruits and sweets to feed, distract and entertain them. The rite of passage ended, all Burners arrived at the city, their eagerness undimmed, and the event was a tremendous success.

Midburn site, 2015 (Photo by Moran Itzckovich)
Midburn site, 2015 (Photo by Moran Itzckovich)

Because Civic Responsibility is not just about working respectfully with authorities and municipalities, but also about supporting and integrating with communities, in the weeks leading up to the event, Midburn’s organizers urged participants to purchase supplies in the towns and kibbutzim in the area to help boost their economies and connect with their residents. In a country small enough to traverse on one tank of gas, purchasing supplies from merchants in peripheral, less prosperous areas is not a necessity, but a choice. It was an option many chose with pride and pleasure. As Burners drove toward and away from the site of the event, near the desert kibbutz of Sde Boker, long lines were visible at groceries, restaurants, coffee shops, and gas stations in the surrounding area.

Midburn was a victory for Civic Responsibility on two levels. First by working with the municipalities, police and the court system in a civil and respectful manner, the community won the right not only to conduct the event, but to regulate itself with no external oversight or intervention. Second, in a country divided in large measure politically, economically and culturally into two principal entities: Tel Aviv, a heavily populated, profoundly western, liberal and prosperous urban enclave in the center of the country (virtually a separate nation, to many) and the markedly less affluent, more traditional periphery, it became a matter of pride among the Burners from the Tel Aviv region to help support the businesses and communities in the Negev region by making their purchases there.

The theme of this year’s Midburn was transcendence, and much was transcended: The gap between Burners and an initially hostile police force and court that nearly extinguished the fire before it was lit, and that between Tel Aviv Nation and Israel’s periphery. If only for several days, though we like to think more, Midburn provided a transformational experience to thousands of participants and showed that Israel’s Burner community is part of a global movement dedicated to the core principles of cooperation, communal effort, creativity and giving.

(Photo by Ilanit Turgeman)
(Photo by Ilanit Turgeman)

Lastly, you may have heard in the news about Midburn’s Temple burn possibly harming ancient archeological artifacts. The Midburn organizers have been investigating together with the Israel Antiquities Authority, and have issued this statement:

“The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) approached Midburn after the event had already begun, with all proper permits and supervisions already in place, to present some concerns about the impact of our Temple burn. On June 9, we met with the IAA and reached the following conclusions:

Midburn’s production team had gone through all necessary authorities and received all required permits pre-event in order to execute its event. According to the IAA, Midburn had proceeded in good faith throughout the pre-event process and the event itself and co-operated with IAA demands. We addressed every concern to the IAA’s satisfaction.

After investigating the site with the IAA once again after the event, ancient flints were discovered on the hill where the Temple stood and burned. There was no archaeological site pointed out, only a cache of human-made flint objects the size of a matchbox. There was no way anybody but a professional archaeologist could see a potential problem.

IAA knew about and approved of the Temple burn and asked our crew to follow certain instructions, all of which Midburn crews followed accurately. An IAA representative claims there could still be minor damage, which will be revealed only after first rains. We agreed to wait until first rains and then inspect the hill to collaboratively identify any consequences.

Since the IAA is not one of the official permit-granting authorities, we decided that from now on we will open a direct line of communication. Midburn will inform the IAA and coordinate all activities from now on.

Midburn community and production crews will continue to uphold the Ten Principles, one of which is Civic Responsibility. In order to strengthen the connection with the IAA, we are planning a workshop that will teach our community to spot signs of potential ancient human activity, such as these flints.

We are deeply disappointed that Ha’aretz newspaper published incorrect facts about this situation, and we are working with them to clear those errors in the press.

Midburn will continue to follow its vision of spreading Burning Man principles while respecting all cultural and natural value which surrounds us all.”