Priceless Temple

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I got a message in my inbox about fundraising for the 2015 Temple.

And it made me think about how the Burning Man Temples have impacted my life.

I’ve hugged, sobbed, spoken and performed weddings there.

I’ve taken offerings to the Temple for myself, family members and online friends.

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  • My Grandparents’ bibles.
  • Love letters for deceased spouses.
  • My grandfathers’ ashes.
  • And I’ve placed the ashes of a friends’ child who lived just hours. (The child was named, “Caleb” after my grandfather.)

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I have sobbed so deeply that I can barely recognize what it was I was feeling… just that I was FEELING.

I have read the written words and felt soul-connected to people I have never met. I’ve had conversations there about the nature of life itself.

The Temples have changed what my concept of “art” could be and what a sacred space was.

What is the value of a place where all this is possible?

Priceless, of course.

Thank you to everyone who has helped design, build, fund, and protect the Temples of the past. I appreciate the opportunity to contribute towards this year’s Temple. (Fundraiser ends in a few days)

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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.”

As Bliss Dances into the Sunset, Truth is Beauty Gets a New Home

It is quite possible that there is nothing we here at Burning Man Arts love more than when our community’s artists and their art thrive in the world. After a successful four-year stay on Treasure Island in San Francisco bay, Marco Cochrane’s Bliss Dance is relocating. Bliss Dance was his first sculpture in The Bliss Project series, the intention of which is to celebrate femininity and encourage self-acceptance and self-love in women.

Last Tuesday, the artist announced that the second work in the series, Truth is Beauty, will be installed in San Leandro, California in late 2016, on a 10-year lease. The appreciation and love for these works doesn’t surprise us – we know that they’re both gorgeous works of art! But we are increasingly encouraged by the public demand for these works. Let’s hope other cities follow suit and seek out collaboration with our community’s artists … and it’s our aim to connect artists with such opportunities.

Debuting at Burning Man in 2010, Bliss Dance left us with wide eyes and jaws dropped. Our community hadn’t seen anything like this 40-foot tall, 9000lb figure celebrating the strength inherent in femininity, and practically demanded that it be shared with the world. The Black Rock Arts Foundation (now Burning Man Arts) couldn’t have agreed more, and collaborated with the artist in a successful fundraising campaign and installation of Bliss Dance on Treasure Island in 2011. Like many of our associated public art installations, Bliss Dance’s residency on Treasure Island was extended beyond its expected stay, and remained on view — to the delight of many — for four years. We were so fortunate to have enjoyed her sparkly, dazzling presence for so long.

Bliss Dance on Treasure Island, San Francisco, 2011. (Photo by Michael Holden)
Bliss Dance on Treasure Island, San Francisco, 2011. (Photo by Michael Holden)

But, alas, the time has come to say goodbye to Bliss. Although we (and everyone we know, it seems) would love to see her dancing in front of that gorgeous San Francisco skyline forever, the sculpture’s stainless steel interior structure was just not designed to withstand long-term exposure to the sea air. Last month Bliss Dance was de-installed from Treasure Island. Cochrane and his team will be restoring and improving the piece’s components, making its lighting effects even more brilliant, and readying it for its next home.

Truth is Beauty by Marco Cochrane, 2013 (Photo by Dan Adams)
Truth is Beauty by Marco Cochrane, 2013 (Photo by Dan Adams)

However, for those of us in the Bay Area, we don’t have to wait long to enjoy more of Cochrane’s fine work. Last Tuesday’s announcement of Truth is Beauty’s installation at the San Leandro Tech Campus proves that the public’s interest in Cochrane, and in other artists in our community, is only growing. Truth is Beauty will be the centerpiece of the new San Leandro Tech Campus, a 500,0000 square-foot technology and business center, where thousands of commuters will be able to see it each day from the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system’s San Leandro station.

The sculpture, with its 2,500 L.E.D. lights programmed with near-infinite algorithms of slowly changing color displays, is a perfect monument to how technology contributes to art and civic beautification. Yet another feat of engineering, Truth is Beauty is even taller, more massive, and more intricate than Bliss Dance, standing at 55-feet tall, weighing 13,000lbs, with over 20,000 feet of steel rod and pipe welded together in triangulated geodesic struts, and with over 50,000 single-weld points.

Congratulations to Marco and the Bliss Crew, and thank you for all the wonderful work you’ve created!

Sunset Piano in Golden Gate Park in Memory of Nina Elizabeth Nilssen

opus3web500Nina was a young San Franciscan Burner passionate about music, nature, human rights and education of all people. During her short life she composed beautiful, startling, personal and passionate music all while often traveling, engaging and interacting with people from around the world.

In the wake of the tragic and senseless murder which cut her life short at the age of 29, family and friends were committed to remembering Nina as the remarkable person she was, and to do it in a way that would make her proud. And so, the Nina Elizabeth Nilssen Scholarship Fund began in 2010 to support Nina’s love of the arts.

Nina’s fund has donated $1,000 to Sunset Piano to support a two-week event celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Botanical Gardens in San Francisco. The Burning Man Civic Arts Program is supporting the program with an additional $10,000.

From July 9-20, the Botanical Garden inside Golden Gate Park will partner with Sunset Piano to bring 12 pianos and a host of amazing performers to its idyllic settings. During this time a number of amazing musicians will play, as well as leaving the pianos open for anyone to play. The installation will last 12 days and will have at least one or two special “concert” days when folks can wander between pianos and experience different kinds of music in different botanical settings.

The Playa Provides

by Alberto Martinez

Writing on the walls of the Temple send final messages to those that are remembered.

Writing on the walls of the Temple send final messages to those that are remembered.

As I sat on the bench at the Temple, staring at the ground, contemplating what to write for my mom’s epitaph, someone entered my field of vision. I looked up, she said hi, I replied hello. Then in an instant she fanned a deck of note cards in front of me. She asked me to pick a card. Without hesitation I picked one from the left side of the deck. I said thank you and she replied you are welcome and walked away.

Overwhelmed by sadness, tired, unable to concentrate, I’m at the point of saying fuck it, I’ll write something tomorrow. So, you can imagine how surprised I was when I read what was on the card. It was an excerpt from “Outbreak of Peace” by Isacc Shapiro. It read: “Once there is duality, there is some sense of needing something, or wanting something, or being vulnerable, or being scared.” I read it over again. Then again. All of a sudden, I felt at peace. I no longer had that hollow feeling in my chest, that lump in my throat, or felt the tears on my face. I immediately grabbed a marker from a nearby bench and wrote the quote above my mom’s memorial. To this day, when I feel sad about her death, I think about that experience & make it a point to remember that everything is one & it’s all going to be alright.

More Butts, Fewer Seats!

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UGH.

Back when Black Rock City’s population would barely overwhelm an In ‘n’ Out drive-thru, let alone the two-lane highways leading to the Black Rock Desert, the Burning Man Rideshare board was just a handy way for people to catch a ride to the playa.

But with our burgeoning population — and hopes of burgeoning it yet more — ridesharing has become a necessity to ensure the long-term survival of the Burning Man event in Black Rock City (we say “in Black Rock City” because there are 60+ Burning Man events around the world … but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here). The environmental impact aside, the reality is our favorite two-laners to nowhere just can’t take the traffic. So the Rideshare board? Very important.

The board was getting seriously long in the tooth and creaky at the knees, so we sent in our crack tech team to beef, clean, and pretty it up, and then add flight sharing into the Black Rock City Airport (or any other airport for that matter … but there we go getting ahead of ourselves again) and other cool features to help you find the ideal seat for your butt.

Rideshare!
Rideshare!

OK so here’s the really cool part: we’re making our Rideshare board available to any Burning Man Regional event to manage their own carpooling efforts. That’s right, we’re taking our sustainability efforts global. Any of the 60+ Burning Man Regional events around the world will be able to facilitate carpooling and flight-sharing using this system (whether they do or not is up to them).

Wait, flight-sharing what? Yes, that’s right. If you’ve got an extra seat to share on your plane, we got that covered too — whichever airport you’re using.

Cool huh? OK so say it with us: More Butts, Fewer Seats!

Now … get in there, and find your ride.

Showing Promise

alamedaApril picked me up from West Oakland BART in a little blue coupe with a white racing stripe. As we sped off into the sunshine toward Alameda, excitement crackled in the air around her as she described the opening weeks of working on the Temple of Promise.

I was fired up, too. The Temple is immensely important to me, but I’d never been to a build site for one before. I’d never seen one come together from the very beginning. (more…)