On June 22, 1986, Larry Harvey and Jerry James organized a small gathering on Baker Beach in San Francisco along with the first “Man,” which they built themselves. For four years the festival would be held on Baker Beach before the park police would intercede to prevent the burning of the man. On this day in 1990, the event would change forever — moving locations, changing its date and adopting not only a new beginning but a new meaning to the celebration. Fast forward a few decades and the Burning Man festival continues to be held annually, spanning from the last Sunday in August to the first Monday in September (Labor Day) in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
Burning Man isn’t your usual festival. It’s a vibrant participatory metropolis generated by its citizens.
Each year, tens of thousands of people gather in the Black Rock Desert to create Black Rock City, a temporary and flourishing cityscape dedicated to community, art, self-reliance, self-expression and self-discovery. Burning Man is a practice in community – where “Burners” create art, exchange ideas, practice inclusiveness and participate in the longtime tradition of the burning of the Man, a symbol whose meaning is as varied as the attendees themselves. Every year, Burning Man attendees will find the community has decided on a different theme. From here, you’ll see art, attire, gifts and of course, the Man, follow suit. The whole Burning Man festival is designed and celebrated around the chosen theme of that year.
Burners are not simply “attendees,” but active participants. Those who go to “The Burn” create the city, the interaction, the phenomenal art installations, the performance and, ultimately, the entire experience and feeling of the weeks leading up to the festival, the week of the festival itself and the weeks following it. Participation is a gift given to the larger community for everyone’s benefit. This includes ensuring that burners know and understand the “pack it in, pack it out” or “leave no trace” mentality.
Burning Man is a cultural movement based on a gift economy that promotes 10 major principles: Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommodification, Radical Self-Reliance, Radical Self-Expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leaving No Trace, Participation and Immediacy.
The Burning Man Organization’s co-founder Larry Harvey wrote the ten principles in 2004 as guidelines for the newly-formed Regional Network. These principles are by no means rules, but a reflection of The Burn and the community’s culture and spirit that has organically developed since the festival’s inception.
With these principles in mind, through art grants, mentorships, art management programs and more, Burning Man Arts supports the philosophies of the festival by encouraging artists to change the notion of art from a commodified or ‘packaged’ object to an interactive, participatory, shared experience of creative expression. Following this idea, art cars quickly became a favorite on the playa. Art is often used as a form of currency on the playa in addition to other goods–a staple of the gift-giving culture. The more eccentric the gift, the better.
From mutant vehicles to art cars coordinated with theme camps, the sky’s the limit. If you can dream it, there will be someone to help you craft it and get it to Black Rock City. It’s not just art cars that you should keep your eye out for; some of the most exquisite and larger-than-life sculptures are made in honor of the burn. Two former Burning Man pieces, the Space Whale and BELIEVE, live in the heart of the city of Reno, located downtown at the corner of First and South Virginia St. Check out some of the Burning Man art that’s made its way to Reno.
The intention of the Burning Man festival is to connect everyone to his or her creative powers. It calls for patrons to participate in the community in any way they can and learn more about how to make a positive change in the world through true and honest interaction both on the playa and in the outside world. Don’t worry, you’ll soon refer to the playa as “home” like so many others do after they leave.
Burning Man offers two different art grants: grants for art from around the world and grants for art destined for Black Rock City. Global Art Grants support interactive, participatory art experiences around the world. Black Rock City Honoraria helps artists create for the annual Burning Man event, and the Black Rock City Template Grant supports artists selected to build the Temple at the annual Burning Man event, which provides a quiet spot on the playa for remembrance and introspection.
Burning Man is loved and well-known by people around the world, so it’s no surprise Burning Man tickets are usually in high demand.
Tickets for this dusty, bohemian paradise sell out quickly. If you’re dedicated to attending Burning Man, make sure you plan ahead and buy ticket as soon as possible. Early bird tickets typically go on sale in mid-to-late January, and the Low-Income Ticket Application opens shortly after.
While all Burning Man ticket sales are final, don’t forget to check out the Secure Ticket Exchange Program (STEP). STEP is an available online system that facilitates the safe resale of face-value tickets and vehicle passes that have been purchased directly from Burning Man. So if you’re still looking for a ticket, start here first.
Didn’t get a Burning Man ticket this time around? It’s okay! There’s always next year, and the festival will surely deliver a once-in-a-lifetime experience no matter when you go. As an alternative to visiting Black Rock City, plan a summer road trip on the Burner Byway and experience Burning Man’s influence in the Northern Nevada desert.
The core of the Burning Man festival will always be immediacy: experience before theory, moral relationships before politics, survival before services, roles before jobs and embodied support before sponsorship. How does it accomplish all this? The Burning Man festival must endure as a self-supporting enterprise that can sustain the lives of those who dedicate themselves to its work. Does this sound like something you want to be a part of? Well, come on!
If you’d like to learn more about the festival that brings tens of thousands of participants to Black Rock City in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, explore this year’s Burning Man Festival!
P.S. Don’t forget to upload your Burning Man photos to social media using the hashtag #RenoTahoe for a chance to be featured on the site. Post your pictures for others to experience the Burn, too!