“Carnival Cosmology” by Gary Warne

This year’s Burning Man theme, “Carnival of Mirrors,” seems to be continuing in the default world, with some not-so-pretty funhouse mirrors clanging and shattering against each other every time non-understanders-of-the-dirt-rave make a dissonant mainstream commercial exploitation device or hone in on rich people and two-day bug infestations in the desert. Instead of maybe talking about how a temporary city for over 70,000 people appears and disappears each year with precision and grace.

However, those of us still cleaning up the desert out here haven’t borne the full brunt of the squares’ warped notions of Burning Man. We’re still away from mass media and mainstream life, safe and sound in the Resto bubble.

We in the Department of Public Works are still riding high on the like-clockworkness of this season’s staging and strike — and still happy to be rolling around the desert as roustabouts in our very own circus sideshow. We are all carnival and circus fetishists here, to some degree. For many of us, life and work are the same thing, to be ridden like a … well, like a carnival ride.

Wouldn’t you know it, Burning Man’s — and the Cacophony Society‘s — dang paterfamilias Gary Warne once wrote himself an infamous essay about just such a concept. We’re posting it in full, because it needs to live on the Burning Man site and we can’t believe it doesn’t already.

Never heard of Gary Warne, have you? Tragically, he died suddenly at age 35 in 1983, but not before leaving a huge scorchmark on the earth. It’s no understatement to say we are all still playing in his smoke and ash.

Gary Warne, c. 1979
Gary Warne, c. 1979

Gary Warne founded the Suicide Club with four other people in 1977, while he was teaching classes on pranks and hijinks as part of the budding “free-school” movement at UCSF’s Communiversity.

The proto-punk Suicide Club morphed a few years later into the Cacophony Society, “a randomly gathered network of free spirits united in the pursuit of experiences beyond the pale of mainstream society.”

Early Cacophonists were the ones who invented Burning Man, after 89 people took one of Cacophony’s newly-notorious Zone Trips out to the Black Rock Desert in 1990, inviting Larry Harvey and Jerry James to bring along their wooden statue the cops wouldn’t let them burn at Baker Beach.

Aurora the Willow Leaves Palo Alto

Join us in saying farewell to Aurora as it ends its stay in Palo Alto, California.

Festivities for Aurora‘s closing reception party will take place Saturday, September 26 at the Palo Alto City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave, 6:30 -­ 8:30 p.m. However, the lights will remain on until Friday, October 2. This event is free and open to the public. There will be performance art, DJs, and fun for all ages!


Almost two years ago, two local Palo Alto children, Sam and Julia Hirschman, took interest in sharing this favorite work of theirs with the broader public. With the help of their father, Harry Hirschman, the artist, Charles Gadeken, Burning Man Arts’ Civic Arts Program, and Palo Alto’s Public Art Commission, they rallied support for the installation of the piece at Palo Alto’s City Hall. Soon, more children joined them in their effort, creating a group of “Aurora Kids”. Several downtown businesses and private donors were compelled to chip in the remaining funds needed to install the piece. The Aurora Kids are an outstanding example of grassroots community initiative and City collaboration. Congrats to this crew for making this public installation a huge success!

First debuted at Black Rock City in 2011, Aurora is an opalescent willow tree with hand-­beaten copper leaves that chime in the wind. At night, Aurora runs a full color light display that changes with the seasons. An interactive mobile app allows the public to play with the tree, modifying the color and pattern of 40,000 LED lights that bring the tree to life and making it an ever-changing, collaborative work of public art. Aurora captured the heart of Palo Alto’s distinctive social and cultural history as a thriving center for innovation, art, and technology. Its presence was greatly appreciated, and it will be missed!

Save the Date! 2016 Global Art Grants Cycle Begins October 15, 2015

Burning Man Arts proudly announces the opening of our 2016 grant cycle for our Global Art Grants program. We will begin accepting Letters of Inquiry (LOIs) for this program on October 15, 2015. Please refer to our grant criteria for a description of eligible proposals, and for an online example of the LOI’s form and questions (which will be posted on our website on October 1). LOI’s are due in early December, 2015, and full proposals will be due in February, 2016. Grantees will be announced in Spring, 2016 (exact dates TBA).

2015 Global Art Grantee, Art Shanty Town / On-Ice, Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo courtesy of the artists.)
2015 Global Art Grantee, Art Shanty Town / On-Ice, Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo courtesy of the artists.)

We are pleased to debut a new online system (which will also be used by the Black Rock City Honoraria program) that will track all art project proposals, for both on and off-playa projects. This system allows us to move data easily between art programs, facilitating our support of the full scope of each art project’s lifecycle. More good news: this system will be free of charge to applicants (our previous provider charged each applicant a small fee). More information about this process is forthcoming.

About the Opportunity

2012 Global Art Grantees, Symphony in D Minor, Philadelphia, PA. (photo courtesy of the artists.)
2012 Global Art Grantees, Symphony in D Minor, Philadelphia, PA. (photo courtesy of the artists.)

The Global Art Grants program funds highly interactive, community-driven works of art that prioritize community involvement in their development, execution, and display. It does not fund art for the annual Burning Man event in Black Rock City (the Black Rock City Honoraria program does). We fund art that is accessible to the public, civic in scope, and prompts the viewer to act. We like art that can be experienced in more ways than visually — art that is touched, heard or experienced as well as viewed. We prioritize funding art that involves the audience in its conception, creation, and presentation and that addresses an existing need of the community. The program offers small grants (between $500 and $10,000, most often around $5,000) to artists, collectives, and organizations. If this sounds like your project, consider applying for a grant. More information is available on the criteria and instructions page.

Global Art Grants History

2010 Global Art Grantees, RUTA, A Santa Fe Bus Opera, Sante Fe, NM. (photo courtesy of the artists.)
2010 Global Art Grantees, RUTA, A Santa Fe Bus Opera, Sante Fe, NM. (photo courtesy of the artists.)

The Burning Man Arts Global Art Grants program began when the founders of Burning Man created the Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF) in 2001 to support and promote the worldwide proliferation of art similar to that which they had seen develop in Black Rock City. They felt compelled to champion similarly forward-thinking public art projects with communities that stood to benefit. Since the first grants were awarded in 2002, the program has funded 126 public art projects in 27 countries. This program has grown from granting $11,000 in awards in 2002 to $100,000 in awards in 2015, giving to approximately 10–20 projects each year.

Grantee Projects

2009 Global Art Grantees, Cardboardia, Moscow, Russia, and other locations. (photo courtesy of the artists.)
2009 Global Art Grantees, Cardboardia, Moscow, Russia, and other locations. (photo courtesy of the artists.)

Our Grantees represent diversity, both in their chosen media and in their strategies of bringing art into their communities. Each project responds to a community’s interests, needs, current issues, concerns, and environment in an innovative and unique way. Read more about our wonderful past grantees. While we are always excited to hear about new approaches to interactive art, we encourage those who are interested in applying for a grant to peruse this archive to get a sense of the characteristics shared by the projects that we typically fund.

We eagerly await this year’s crop of proposals and can’t wait to read about your project!

The Man Burns in 349 Days

Last week, early morning so as to miss a non-existent Exodus, the Mighty Mr. B arrived at my camp and, after loading my generator and whatever else fit into his car, he and I made our way off playa. That was a few days after Burning Man had officially ended and it seems like just yesterday or years ago now.

sunriseThat morning I saw the Black Rock City sun-rise one last time, pink and heavy over the aftermath of our event with black smoke rising from random sites out on the open playa. We drove slowly, trying to find and follow streets that were so defined only days ago. We passed the dismantled colorful detritus of last week’s Black Rock City; deconstructed domes, impossible buses stacked high with bikes, and poles and tarps that sat alone in places, hopefully waiting for someone to come pick them up. Camp strike was in full force just a week after Black Rock City was invaded by all manner of ecstatic pilgrims who built structures to hang their themes upon, and now spent and winding down, gradually one vehicle of tired pioneers repatriated at a time, carrying off all that made our city amazing.

We passed the straggler groups of people packing up the last of their encampments, loading trucks and trailers, cars and semi-trailers. Small last gasp ghost camps of dust colored citizens waved goodbye as we passed them, some reclining beneath minimalist shreds of shade. They sat in fold out chairs sipping morning coffee, milking the last sweet dollop of camaraderie cultivated since they’d first arrived.

We waved back. Bye bye last Happy Campers. See you next year. We were quite happy to be out of there.

This year was wonderful and as they keep saying, challenging.

one view of the Burn

Small cultural idiosyncrasies of this young, new century have invaded Burning Man. They are little trappings that let you know our culture is not within an un-breakable bubble. There were selfie sticks and drones. I never once saw someone walking along the Esplanade talking or texting on their phone, thankfully. Hopefully the cell towers were overwhelmed. There was a lot of vaping this year.

The night of the Burn I was on the periphery with art cars parked and once the fireworks began I made my way past Ranger Sarah Problem into the outer circle and found that I was standing behind a concert sized wall of phones and cameras held up all filming the Man. Once the fireworks ended, only about five of the one hundred folks who were filming kept holding their phones and cameras aloft. I’m not sure if the massive fire balls that rolled up to engulf the Man flashed their video and they quit or if they just wanted to see a good fire and perhaps contemplate what was happening rather than just recording it for later entertainment. I like to believe it was the latter.

Need a ride to Center Camp

As Mr. B and I navigated out of the city on 6:30 towards Laughing Sal, we saw a few young couples clumsily pulling luggage being them, sending up white alkaline powder as they dragged their bags to the Burner Bus Depot to depart. I felt like we were moving through some post apocalyptic video game dream-scape of a frosty dusted roofless airport terminal. A girl was followed by her mate, both of them laughing hysterically at the absurdity of the puffing surface tossing up white spew between their once black rubber luggage treads as they forged on. We saw MOOPed and abandoned properties with only a semi-trailer or a big fresh water, black or grey tank awaiting pick up. It seems that you can rent those now and have them delivered then picked up after the event.

Black Rock City at 70 thousand is a real city and the days of knowing everyone are long gone. We are no longer a small town and there’s no turning back. A Man must burn and everyone knows he will and they want to be there to see it. The cowboys of Burning Man Past still ride before and after the event, masters of that lake bed building it or restoring it, but the event belongs to a much larger swath of humanity now.


Forget the legal questions about sandwiches – are Burners “consumers?” Or are we something else?

The Man burns at Burning Man 2015. 47 mins from start of fireworks to the fall of the man.After every Burn, there is a storm. A media storm.

After 2013’s Burning Man, the big media storm was about whether there were so many famous people at Burning Man that it was ruined. After 2014’s Burning Man, the media storm was over whether the existence of Plug and Play camps – one in particular – had ruined Burning Man. And now, in 2015, the big media storm is about whether a Pedophilic Sandwich Company running an advertisement has ruined Burning Man.

(I know, I know, you think Subway is the actual Pedophilia Sandwich Company. And that’s understandable. But it turns out that this sandwich company had a senior executive arrested for soliciting sex with a 13 year old waaaaay before Subway. So I think the name fits, and I encourage everyone to use it from now on. And if the Pedophilia Sandwich Company objects? Hey! It’s a parody! They believe parody justifies anything, right? No harm, right?)

I don’t know if going from “celebrities are destroying Burning Man!” to “pedophilic sandwich advertisements are destroying Burning Man” is progress, but I do think that under the surface these media storms are really all about the same thing:

The lines between “Burning Man Culture” and what we used to call “The Default World” are blurring into non-existence. All this is what happens when these cultures collide.  And not only has it gotten weird, it’s going to get weirder.

In fact, the weirder it gets, the more successful we probably are.

Weirdness is good because it means that the cultures are running into each other in unexpected ways, and unexpected is what we want because – let’s be honest here – the expected way that counter-cultures go is that they end up with high end boutique product lines at some of our nation’s hippest online retailers. Expected is quite literally buying the t-shirt.

“But isn’t that what’s happening now?” I hear so many people ask.

To which an honest and straightforward answer is: Dear God no! Where did you get that idea?

Since 2013 Burning Man culture has had an active discussion about how it can get fewer celebrities to come to Burning Man, and if they do come how to get them to shut the hell up. Now tell me: what other part of our world is clamoring for fewer celebrities? Who is planning events wondering: “How can we keep celebrities from taking their pictures with us?” Who else is asking “Can get celebrities to stop Tweeting about us?”



Look, I’m not a lawyer. But neither are most of the people posting legal arguments regarding a new commercial featuring Burning Man’s name and art in it. Burning Man has already posted about it, but I have some pretty strong feelings about the commercial, why it matters, and why I’m as excited as I’ve ever been about Black Rock City.

BREAKING: Shameless Marketers are Shameless

Image by GonZoville.com (Creative Commons)
Image by GonZoville.com (Creative Commons)

While we were on playa this year, a certain restaurant chain decided to launch an advertisement clearly designed to go viral specifically by leveraging the creative efforts of Black Rock City’s citizens — in order to hawk sandwich-shaped products.

As creative and funny as it was (we had a good laugh, we’ll admit), clever unfortunately doesn’t trump our commitment to protecting our community from commercial exploitation. We’ve been fielding anguished calls and emails from participants and horrified artists whose creations were used in the video without permission, a number of whom who have issued take-down requests of their own accord. We can laugh at ourselves. But we’re not laughing when a corporation exploits the artwork of others under the guise of poking fun at our event.

The shameless flouting of our Decommodification Principle to hawk sandwich coupons is equally unfortunate (and unnecessary to the purported “parody”). The Burning Man name, and the designs of the Man and Black Rock City, are core affinity symbols of our culture that we protect precisely so they won’t be used in ad campaigns. So as we always do in these situations, we sent a letter to the company to explain Decommodification and ask that they remove the Man and our other intellectual property from their advertising. We hope they’ll quickly comply, as most companies do when they realize how antithetical this sort of commercialism is to our culture. (We’re dismayed they haven’t taken any action yet — but of course they’re trying to collect every last page view.)

Thank you to those who brought this to our attention. Given the increasing number of people (and we use that term generously) who can’t resist the temptation to exploit our growing community by using symbols and imagery of the event to promote their products and services, we appreciate when you help us find them. If you encounter another instance that doesn’t smell quite right, let us know by emailing ip@burningman.org.

So while we appreciate the creativity, we sure do wish it wasn’t attached to a commercial product.