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.
The Morris Hotel in Reno is nothing less than the first Burner hotel in the world. It’s more than 80 years old, and for much of that time, it was dark, dingy, and underutilized. But that all changed when Jungle Jim and his community of Burners got his hands on it.
Now the hotel’s 43 rooms are designed and decorated by artists, and the facility provides space for the practice of the many Burnerly Arts, not the least of which is helping the homeless. The Reno Gazette-Journal has posted an 11-minute documentary on the work they’re doing, which we present here for your viewing pleasure:
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.
The creative generosity of Burners Without Borders never ceases to amaze. One project in particular, run by the Detroit BWB chapter has gathered enough momentum that you should definitely know about it, in case it inspires you to help out the homeless in your community.
The Burners Without Borders Detroit: Homeless Backpack Project has given away over 1200 backpacks full of water, food, clothes, blankets, and hygiene products to the homeless people of Detroit since it was conceived by Danielle “Doxie” Kaltz in 2008. Their target for this year is to give between 400 and 500 more. It gets cold in Detroit. These people need lots of supplies to survive. This 100% volunteer organization, nearly 100 people strong, is making a major difference for them, making grantors like the Pollination Project into repeat customers.
“It started out of the back of my Jeep,” Doxie says. “In winter 2006/2007 I started to see homeless under the bridges on the highways in Detroit, and it made me realize I had too much stuff. Don’t we all. So I started to fill my car with blankets and food, then I would stop and take items to the people who I started to call the Highway Men. Brave or stupid I realize this, but it was a calling, and I had to do it.”
Then Doxie’s friend, Rosey, asked her family to donate supplies to the Backpack Project instead of giving her Christmas gifts that year, and that’s when Doxie says “the project leveled up.” Rosey had the idea to put the supplies into sturdy backpacks instead of paper or plastic bags. Now nearly 100 volunteers help fundraise, gather supplies, and distribute backpacks. Anew Life Prosthetics and Orthotics has donated office space to the project for storing the supplies and hosting the backpacking events. Best of all, now that other volunteers are helping out, Doxie can now spend more time getting the word out.
“I do have one request of everyone who helps pass out backpacks,” Doxie says, “and that is that they ask the name of the person they are engaging with and that they tell them their name. It is easy for us to ignore homeless as we busy ourselves with our phones or radios or just simply refuse to turn our heads. I hope to humanize the experience as everyone deserves to be acknowledged, and I really do think we can change humanity if we just say ‘hi’ to people, not just homeless, and mean it. Time to bust our bubbles and connect to others.”
Hello! I’m Rebecca Throne, aka nimbus, and I manage Ticketing for Burning Man, including Box Office operations on the playa. 2014 was a tough year for the Box Office, and if you were one of the many people picking up tickets at Will Call you may have had the misfortune of experiencing that firsthand. For some context: the Black Rock City Box Office operates 24/7 for 11 days. In 2014, some participants on five of those days experienced excessive wait times of up to seven hours or more, which is unacceptable by any standard.
As has been our policy in previous years, all tickets sold through the OMG Sale, STEP, the Low Income Ticket program, and those sold to international participants were held for Will Call pick up at the Box Office. This is in addition to tickets bought in our other sales by those who choose Will Call pick up.
In 2014, the Box Office was faced with even more volume than ever. We were able to add some late-season ticket releases, which were all distributed via the Will Call-only channels of STEP and the OMG Sale in August.
With the change of ticketing partners in 2014, we had to get up to speed with learning a new system and training the Box Office team, some of which took place onsite.
The introduction of vehicle passes in 2014 meant we were handling twice as many physical things, so each transaction took a bit longer.
We were understaffed for the flow of tickets and people coming to the Box Office for tickets.
A tremendous amount of information-gathering, research, and strategizing has taken place since the event. In addition to collecting input from community discussions we’ve been monitoring online, we’ve also conducted our own in-depth debrief process, and hosted a cross-departmental forum to gather potential solutions. We’ve gotten a ton of valuable input, and we’ve incorporated much of it into our approach for 2015.
So what are we doing to fix it?
It’s important to understand that there is no single silver-bullet panacea that will fix the problem. Just as the long wait times were a byproduct of numerous systems buckling under increased stress, the approach to solve it will also need to be multi-pronged. Here are a few of the changes we’re working on:
For the first time, you’ll be able to choose to have your STEP and OMG Sale tickets shipped to you. This alone can reduce volume by thousands of orders, and has the potential for the largest impact in reducing overall traffic to the Box Office. We are also investigating alternative shipping options for international ticket buyers.
We are increasing staffing levels at the Box Office. With more people to assist participants, we’ll be able to process more requests in a shorter period of time.
We’re designing a better model for Box Office operations, including changes to our roles, reengineering our training process, and expanding the number of days the Box Office is open to take care of Early Arrivals and staff.
And finally, we’re redesigning our physical infrastructure (adding more windows and shade, implementing some ‘queue theory’ best practices, increasing informational signage, etc.) so it can better handle the load and make for a smoother experience for everyone (it wasn’t fun for us, either!).
While print-at-home tickets has been floated as a possible solution, there are a number of practical reasons we believe this is not the best fit for Burning Man, the most important being our commitment to preventing counterfeiting (there is no way to prevent print-at-home tickets from being photocopied). Other, more cultural reasons, include the fact that gifting physical tickets is a longstanding tradition in our community. We’re positive we can address the Box Office’s challenges without that solution right now, but we will continue to revisit the idea as necessary.
We are learning from our experience in 2014 and making changes in order to get it right in 2015. We’re using this as an opportunity to optimize our systems, and to ensure you have the best possible experience at the Box Office in the future. All told, we hope to cut the number of transactions at the Box Office down by nearly half.
How can you help?
There are a number of things you can do to help both before, and when you arrive, at the Box Office:
If at all possible, have your tickets shipped to you. Choose the delivery option that works best for your travel plans. Last year we expanded our offerings to include UPS 2nd day, which is especially helpful for those traveling long distances who leave home long before the event begins, and have opted for the security of Will Call in the past. This option gives more people the viable option of delivery instead of Will Call.
If you or anyone you know (like somebody in your vehicle, for instance) is expecting to pick up an order from the Box Office, encourage them to be prepared, with their order confirmation and valid legal ID handy. This will speed up processing times.
Join us! We’re greatly increasing our Box Office staff this year. We screen folks heavily for accountability and specialized skillset, and so we frequently rely on personal referrals. If you are looking for a new playa family and have great in-person customer service experience, are savvy using point-of-sale systems, are the epitome of grace under pressure, and/or are a front-of-house ninja, please get in touch with us at boxoffice here: boxoffice (at) burningman.com and fill in/update your volunteer questionnaire to indicate that you want to work with Box Office. (Keep in mind that because we make a significant investment in training people, we require our crew to work a minimum of four 6-hour shifts.)
I hope this helps give a better understanding of what created the situation we faced in 2014 and what we’re doing to address it. Please know that we are keenly aware of the problem, we agree that what happened in 2014 was unacceptable, and we are confident the changes we are implementing will significantly improve the Box Office experience for 2015.
I invite you to leave your thoughts in the comments below – we look forward to reading them and continuing the conversation.
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.
Metamorphosis by Alex Thevenot
2013 Black Rock Arts Foundation Grantee
The Metamorphosis Projects Needs Some Helping Hands!
Alex Thevenot of the Metamorphosis Project are presenting an updated version of this crowd-pleasing, mind-boggling piece at two forthcoming events. They will be at OneSpark in Jacksonville, Florida from April 7-12, 2015, and at the Maker Faire Bay Area May 16-17, 2015. They are looking for two volunteers to help at those events. It will be fun! People love this project and the Metamorphosis team is a friendly and fun team to work with. Lend a hand!
A Shout Out by Afrika Burn to the Global Burner Community
South Africa’s Afrika Burn 2015 would love for Burners worldwide to get involved in a very special transformational project. Project team members Verity Maud and Lauren Clifford-Holmes write us with a call for participation:
Metamorphosis: A temple for change
Metamorphosis is a temple of transformation being built for the AfrikaBurn 2015 event in South Africa. It is, however, much more than just an art project – it is a social project for change with a vision to facilitate mass metamorphosis at the Burn; within ourselves and within our home communities.
The temple will be built for and burned at AfrikaBurn, but the journey of Metamorphosis will live on through all those involved in making the art piece a reality and all those that reveled in it. Personal journeys of transformation will be shared with others, helping to teach and inspire through our website.
Our first request to the global Burn community is that you share your stories of transformation on our website. These stories will be printed and incorporated into the structure of the temple and the most inspirational stories will be made into an e-book following the Burn and shared with all our contributors.
We also want to take the movement for change beyond the microcosm of the Burn by inspiring practical and real transformation in our home communities. To this end we are going to be upskilling workers from underprivileged communities by getting them involved in the building of Metamorphosis – the perfect opportunity to learn to work with carpentry tools and metal from some experienced builders. The vision is to empower underprivileged people, uplifting their self-esteem, their connection to life and their belief that they are important enough to dream big.
After the Burn we are revamping the incredibly dilapidated Home of Hope in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. The home is a place of safety for women rescued from prostitution and human trafficking. All our leftover funds, materials and energy will be going towards ensuring these women have a comfortable and safe environment to live in.
AfrikaBurn and The Temple
Our intention is that Metamorphosis will be the most powerful temple space South African Burners have ever experienced. We want it to be a space that helps centre participants in the culture of consciousness we value at the Burn. Last year was the biggest AfrikaBurn yet – it is beautiful to see the community growing! However, some of the essence of the Burn can be lost as we grow and find our feet. This year the temple will be in the centre of the playa – we believe here it can serve as a constant reminder of the best, most loving principals of the Burn.
The temple is made of eight butterfly wings and will stand at eight meters high. In numerology, eight signifies both building and destruction. Temples are places to do just that – places where we can destroy unhealthy patterns and build new ones. The wings symbolize freedom, flight, and metamorphosis. The wings are supported by four gateways, facing the cardinal points, which bear symbols of the four elements: wind, water, fire and air. From the center, a cut crystal chandelier will hang from a flower of life, casting prism rainbows around the space.
In addition to the temple being a quiet place for personal reflection, we are calling on artists, musicians, dancers and facilitators to use the space for conscious activity during the course of AfrikaBurn. We envision morning meditations, musical gatherings, weddings and other conscious ceremonies being held here.
The Metamorphosis project is being headed up by Verity Maud who has been involved with AfrikaBurn since it began. She runs an interior design business and works in the personal transformation arena by facilitating creativity workshops called The Artery, which encourages and enables people to connect deeply to their own creative life force.
We are relying on the donations and participation of our community to realise this dream. It is a mammoth undertaking to build a structure of this size, transport materials from our building base of Johannesburg to the Karoo, and construct it in the desert. You too can be part of sharing this gift with AfrikaBurn.
The Department of Arts and Culture in South Africa has given us a grant for this project, which is a huge vote of confidence! However we need to raise an additional R120 000 – around $12 000 – to make the project happen.