Charlie Dolman, Burning Man’s Event Operations Director, was recently invited by the Project Management Institute to be the Opening Keynote Speaker at their conference in San Diego. The Project Management Institute provides project management practitioners and organizations with standards that describe good practices and provides globally recognized credentials in their field.
Of course, the first question that comes to mind is what can attendees at a project management conference learn from Burning Man, and how could it make them better project managers? Well, Charlie asked the audience … what does it take to build a city in the desert? A lot of spreadsheets!
Organizing Burning Man requires monumental schedule, budget, legal, safety, and risk considerations. As Burning Man’s Event Operations Director, Charlie wanted to share his unique perspective and insights, from project management essentials to lessons learned in the dust.
The conference attendees wanted to hear about the Burning Man event itself and what it looks like from a project management point of view. So Charlie told them about the pre-event build process, including the Golden Spike ritual, surveying the city, and how building the 9.2-mile long trash fence is a cooperative effort, completed by a hardy crew in less than one day.
He described the elements that go into creating Black Rock City, including the street grid with signs and addresses, port-o-potties, an airport, big art, a Department of Mutant Vehicles. He discussed the nuances of working with a volunteer workforce, the challenges of our mandate to Leave No Trace of Black Rock City after the event has concluded, and the prolific growth of Burning Man culture through the Regional Network.
What did Charlie think about this chance to share his experience with project management professionals?
“It was great to have the opportunity to speak to professional project managers about Burning Man. Sharing the thing you love with other interested and professional folks is brilliant fun. There were some great questions and some surprise curve balls too! Overall the experience was great!”
People have lots of ideas about what Portland is like. Portland is weird and eclectic, some think, and the cable comedy Portlandia is partially a documentary (it’s not). I have met a lot of great people from Portland. Yes, some of them are weird. If you are familiar with the kilt-wearing, bag-pipe-playing, Darth-Vader-mask-wearing unicycle rider from the famous meme, I can assure you he has a real name and is a great guy to talk with.
But as far as Burners go we all like to think we are weird. And the team for the Portland region’sCORE project certainly self-identifies as such. They are bringing art that presents Portland’s soul to add to the circle at Burning Man.
Since the year 2000, there has been a Temple at Burning Man, and when we talk about the Temple, most people think of what started that year with David Best and Jack Haye, and became a long line of temples that have graced the playa. The Temple has evolved from what became a memorial to their friend into an “emotional nexus” of our community, where thousands make pilgrimage each year to remember those they have lost, to celebrate and affirm life, to heal and to forgive.
In 2012 I was fortunate to meet many of the people who are involved with building the Temple each year and to research what I came to believe are some of the essentials of understanding what the Temple at Burning Man has become. It is a place where our community goes to unburden itself and it is a representation of our maturity as a community as well as a natural manifestation of something sacred in the City of Black Rock.
Proposing to be the one who builds the Temple at Burning Man is serious stuff involving quite a bit of work within an existing structure of volunteers and other Temple minded folks to create something for the community. One question that was raised over and over again as I spoke with people who have done this before was that you should not ask yourself “WHAT am I doing this for?” but rather “WHO am I doing this for?”
For many Burners, the Temple is a vital place where those who build it possess a solemnity and a respect for that process. It is also a place for those who attend the event to use for grieving or celebration of life in an environment that is in contrast to a lot of the rollicking and outrageous things happening elsewhere on the playa that week in late summer.
Walking around the Temple at the middle of the week, I personally get overwhelmed by the amount of emotion that is focused like a beam in there. It is as if, from its inception each year, to all the planning and all the hands that build it, then when the event begins and it becomes “the largest collaborative art project” on the playa; that the energy of so many caring people turns whatever sublime Temple structure is built that year into something far greater than any art project.
Stopping to read the remembrances of so many loved friends, family and pets who have passed on, seeing the pictures of so many of them, pausing at the altars and shrines where people have lovingly placed tokens of their lost one’s lives, well, that can really get you right in your plexus where you feel that big sorrowful empathy wave. The Temple is a profound space where some of us who have lost loved ones can let them know that they are still loved and missed, but that it is all ok, they can pass and we can move on.
I’m a large, somewhat dim and oafish fellow, and I can only stay in there for so long before I have to walk away from it out onto the blankness of the playa with the Temple behind me, and breathe deeply so as to not betray the tough guy façade I live behind.
It is a heavy place. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean.
Regardless of who builds the Temple, it is always something spectacular and special. There are bona fides and expertise that are a prerequisite to building the Temple at Burning Man and I was privy to finding out what some of those were this year.
I’ve written an article about what I discovered after being on playa (and attending the Temple construction before leaving for Black Rock City) for the building of this year’s Temple of Juno. I was able to research and read some of the intellectuals who’ve written about the concept of the Temple, including Lee Gilmore, Sarah Pike and Larry Harvey; and I had the pleasure of speaking with some of the folks involved with building Temples through the years including David Best, Jessica Hobbs and Jack Haye. The article is on the Burning Man website and is titled, Spirituality and Community: The Process and Intention of bringing a Temple to Black Rock City.
Burning Man would like to have a conversation that explores what you feel about the Temple and to get your insights on it since it is really your Temple. Please read the article as it is meant as a starting point to stimulate discussion. Our community loves discussions and the Temple is something many of us have very strong feelings about. Feel free to read the article and post your thoughts here.
This is Chris “Kiwi” Hankins, leader of the 2011 Temple crew, with a scale model of the Temple of Transition. Those of you who visited the Megatropolis installation in 2010 will recognize its colorful silhouette, which should give you a point of reference. Yes, that’s to scale.
This year, a largely international Temple crew will construct a circle of six structures: five 58-foot-high outer temples, and a 120-foot-high inner temple. The temples will be connected with 60-foot-long walkways. The entire installation will have a diameter of 200 feet, and will be taller than the Man.
To build something on this scale, as Burners well know, you need an impassioned leader. Enter Kiwi, an experienced builder who’s been constructing the Man at Kiwiburn (New Zealand’s regional burn) for several years, and who has also lent a hand to build Black Rock City as part of the Department of Public Works.
Kiwi’s latest achievement is Megatropolis, which he and the International Arts Megacrew built last year.
“Before we were even finished building Megatropolis, I was already thinking ‘what are we gonna build next?'” Kiwi says. Later, as Megatropolis burned, a friend turned to him and asked, “What do you think?”
I recently met a Reno local who is preparing for her first burn. “Do I really need to get an RV?” she asked me. “My friend told me you can’t do Burning Man without an RV. I just want to bring a tent.”
This hurts me on the inside. I haven’t been around that long — my first burn was 2003 — but I’ve spent many burns in a tent, and a couple of two-month work seasons besides. One of the things I hate to see is the rapidly increasing number of rental RVs on playa. They have their place, sure. If you’ve got small kids or a physical need for top-notch shelter, you might want to spend thousands renting an RV, plus hundreds in gas to drive it to Black Rock City and keep the A/C running. But that is a LOT of money (and a fair amount of pollution), and it’s not necessary to spend that much. You can be smarter about it, and I’m about to tell you how.
It is completely possible, and pretty easy, to build your own shelter and cooling system. You can have an airtight, windproof, shaded and cool place to sleep away the day, and you can build it yourself for a fraction of the cost of an RV rental.
Certainly, Burning Man is a society that deviates from The Norm. But it would be silly to suggest that Burning Man is a place without norms. One of the truest conceits of Burner culture, in my opinion, is the distinction between “home,” the playa, and the “default world,” which gives our annual gathering a sense of deviation, but also one of return. We leave behind our default values and behaviors, and we return to something more natural and fundamental to us.
But clearly, “home” is not an arrangement without order, tradition, or hierarchy. I doubt humans can help themselves. We may not like to think of Burning Man as a stratified place, but it is.
Nothing wrong with that, though. Not inherently. The fact is, some people have been burning for 20 years, some for 10, some one, some none. Those are remarkable differences in experience of something so extreme and dynamic as Burning Man. It’s only natural that those who’ve been before will set the tone for those still bewildered by the blinky lights. (more…)
For a lot of Burners, it’s a yearlong task. You plot and plan and meet and talk. You have an idea for an art car, and you wrestle with the logistics and the money and the know-how, and sometimes it comes out great and sometimes … well, it’ll be better next year. It’s an evolutionary thing. Same thing with art projects. Oh yeah, it was all going to fit together just fine. Except it didn’t. And then you had to adjust.
It’s like that for a lot of people in the Burning Man organization, too. A lot like that. And no one knows it better than Sweetthang.
It’s Sweetthang’s job to translate the map of the playa, and the flags on the ground, into actual camp layouts. She has to adjudicate border disputes. She has to confirm (or deny!) where your theme camp begins and ends.
The task has to be daunting. You know how hard it is to make what appears on your planning sheets actually show up in the desert dust. No, the DJ booth goes over HERE. And it faces THAT WAY, not like this. And the sun showers go BEHIND the recycle stuff, not in front of them! Sheesh!
Ok, now exponentially increase the complexity of the undertaking. Imagine trying to figure out where it ALL goes, what ALL those flags in the ground are supposed to mean. Oh, the electrical wires are buried here? The spider box goes over there? Oh, then we can’t have the Airstream park like that. It’s got to go over here.
You get the idea. 40,000 people showing up with there own ideas about how it’s all supposed to come together, about where they’re going to set up, but the map says no. And you’re the person who has to figure it out. That’s Sweetthang.
Of course, things happen. Adjustments must be made. Because really, one of the best things about having a plan is changing it.
So the question is this: How’d you do? Did it all come together the way you thought it would? What did you learn this year that’s going to come in handy next year? Tips and tricks for playa preparation are most welcome …
It was the day before the gates would open, and all through the city, people were getting ready for the new arrivals. It was another day of this and that, and last-minute details. Who do we have to run out the Yellow Bikes? Who’s going to test the systems over at Arctica? Oh, and who is going to lay out the “you are here” signs at the major plazas? That would be us. So off we went, around and about, talking to people along the way, on the day before the event began.