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2002 SUMMER NEWSLETTER

Burning Man Journal
All the News That's Fit to Burn — Summer 2002

A Growing Culture

"One can set it as a question. Is this an event that can have, does have, this feature of ongoing transformative gifts? Perhaps, even more than just asking the question about Burning Man, one could also set it as a goal. Here's an interesting and lively event. If there are places where this feature of transformation is absent, how can we engender and nourish that...?"
— Lewis Hyde
— The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property

In 1998, a group of people who had coalesced around our first regional Internet contact decided to organize a burn of their own. This was Burning Flipside, held in Austin, Texas. Not long afterward followed Synorgy in Utah, Playa Del Fuego in the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area, Burning Corn in Ohio, Burning Snowman in Wisconsin, mOOseman in Canada, a burn in southeastern Alaska, and many other regional events. We have even heard of burns conducted in Antarctica, Japan, and on a boat in the Baltic Sea.

This urge to express our growing culture isn't limited to celebrations. In 2001, a group of participants from New York City returned home to encounter the events of September 11. For days, the island of Manhattan was enshrouded in a pall of dust. By night, police officers huddled in the cold at checkpoints that sprang up throughout the borough, as Americans sat stunned: trapped before their TV sets watching replay after replay of the final seconds of each crash. It was as if, as a nation, we were trapped in that particular corner of Hell the Koran reserves for suicides: condemned for an eternity to helplessly repeat the fatal act. Perhaps it was this feeling of stranded passivity, of depressing isolation in the face of this terrible event, that most contributed to a numbing sense of national trauma.


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But the experience was different for the group that had returned from Burning Man. They decided they would build a bridge between our city in the desert and their struggle to endure in their hometown. Gathering together, they created a series of burn barrels, just like those that line our city's Esplanade like glowing Jack 'o Lanterns. People recruited from throughout the region coalesced to work on the project. Some of them had never heard of Burning Man, but they were glad to participate in a healing ritual: a creative public gesture that redeemed the pain of their experience and clothed it in new meaning by connecting them to others. Fifteen barrels were produced, each carved with a unique design, and given to the city so that rescue workers might have some small comfort during their shifts at outdoor security checkpoints.

No event staff member or Burning Man organizer told these people what to do. The Burning Man Project doesn't dictate the content of radical self-expression. But we have provided participants with a model city that is large enough to illustrate what can be done. This group had forged communal bonds by creating a theme camp, and they used this sense of personal connection to construct a gift that benefited an entire city. If all this sounds like a Frank Capra movie, it's because it is like a Frank Capra movie. It's like It's a Wonderful Life, in which the good deeds of a single individual turn out to have a power to affect the lives of everyone around him. It's a story in which his fellow townspeople decide to give something back, to nourish and perpetuate a gift they have received, and, in so doing, begin to transform their world. This may Capra's film is only shown at Christmastime — as if it were a fable on a par with Santa Claus. But this same sort of process is happening across America. Participants are learning that Burning Man is more than an event. It is an ethos and a culture that has the power to change the world where we live during the remaining 51 weeks of the year.


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Throughout 2002, Burning Man organizers have been working very hard to fashion tools that participants can use to recreate the spirit of our community wherever they live. We have established Regional Contacts in 60 locations around the world — in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia. A list of these contacts appears in the Community Notes section of this journal. If your corner of the world isn't represented, and you would like to assume responsibility for this role, please contact: jackrabbitspeaks(at)burningman(dot)com. We currently provide regional groups with Burning Man newsletters, stickers, videos, and other items to share. However, in the future, we intend to do much more.

It is our plan to provide our emergent community with Internet-based organizational tools and information that describes the Burning Man Project's history and our experience as social organizers. We envision Black Rock Station, currently the staging area for our desert event, as a place for gatherings, workshops, and symposia, where participants in regional activities can meet with staff members and visit with other regional groups who face similar challenges. We also plan to involve the Black Rock Arts Foundation, the not-for-profit charitable organization described elsewhere in this journal, in directly aiding artists and linking other not-for-profit organizations to regional communities.

You can find out more about regional efforts in your area by checking the regional email page on our website. Three regional groups have submitted the following reports, affording a small glimpse into the range of what is possible once people organize.

NEW YORK

The New York Burning Man regional group has been burning since 1998. It has begun to introduce the Burning Man ethos to a broader audience in New York, some of whom may never set foot on the desert. LadyMerv (Cory) and Q (Leslie) are the third generation of Regional Contacts for newyork (at) burningman (com). First to step forward was Erok (Eric Singer), later followed by Gavin Heck. When Cory and Leslie, who are married, were first approached about becoming the regional liaisons, the role seemed to the two of them like a good way to give back to the community. They find it a phenomenal opportunity to learn about community, growth, and people — they call it "a highly recommended participation opportunity.


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In 2000, after an amazing Burn, everyone returned to 'The City' and, discovered, like many participants after the event, that they needed to decompress. One of the locals, Dori, graciously hosted and organized (almost single-handedly) a fantastic Decompression event in late September. But instead of the 30 to 40 people she expected, nearly 150 attended! Unfortunately, the event ended just as it got started, due to a neighbor's complaint. Everyone wandered around Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in costume, carrying toys, and still deeply affected by the emotions they'd experienced in Black Rock City. They found themselves brainstorming about a way to secure a suitable space that could facilitate events.

The following month, another dedicated NYC Burner and Ranger, Olgierd, hosted a blowout decompression party at his home in Long Island City, Queens. After a few months of informal meetings, a small group met — Jung, Justin (Elvis) plus Cory and Leslie — to discuss future plans. Jung said, “We should become a religious organization like the Hassidic Jews! They get tax breaks and all sorts of other benefits.” After laughing about this, the four realized that a not-for-profit arts and educational organization wasn't such a crazy idea after all. The organization that was eventually formed is known as Society for Experimental Art and Learning (SEAL).

SEAL has already organized and hosted a number of events. SEAL's first “playa-esque” gatherings, “Blast Furnace 1.0” and “Blast Furnace Playa Style,” were held March 31 and June 1, 2001, respectively. Attendance of approximately 400 in March increased to 600 participants in June. Both events were located in a small, two-room bar near Wall Street. After tireless work by many volunteers, artists, musicians, and performance artists, the sports bar was completely transformed. The community created an environment and a vibe for two nights that NYC would not soon forget. SEAL also organized a train container to help New Yorkers get their projects, gear, and supplies out to the desert. The bill of lading actually listed the delivery address as “4:20 and Infant Streets, Black Rock City, NV.” This shipment set the stage for Asylum Village, the planning for which began in February of that year. The group experienced plenty of growing pains. It eventually topped 250 residents in Black Rock City, but it all came together with the help of “The Village Star,” the Asylum newsletter, and the Burning Man New York Intranet. In 2002, Asylum has been hosting weekly Happy Hours at Asylum Bar in NYC. The Village Star is still in publication, and the Intranet is still active.

Following Burning Man 2001, the November 17 New York decompression gathering shifted to a full-blown east coast event with nearly 1,500 revelers. Artists came from around the country. Held in a large warehouse in Brooklyn known as the Lunatarium, “FunKnDeCom” provided a space, electricity, and Burning Man energy to all those who brought their art, theme camps, talent, and curiosity. The event raised $1,500 for the Madagascar Institute, another NYC not-for-profit (look for and fear them on the playa in 2002), as well as a $2,000 subsidy for the cargo container.

Truly inspired by that event, the New Yorkers began planning for a short visit from Burning Man founder Larry Harvey. What began as a small project to host a simple lecture with Larry and Maid Marian quickly ignited into a weeklong sequence of events, art, talent displays, training workshops, and fundraisers with members of the Burning Man senior staff. On Thursday, April 25, burners braved a nasty rainstorm and an unsettling mid-town explosion to attend Larry's speech at Cooper Union. His lecture followed an art gallery showing that featured Burning Man inspired art from New Yorkers, as well as fire spinners, drummers, Lamplighters, and even Greeters. The post-lecture reception was at CBGB's. The following night, LadyBee, Burning Man's art curator, spoke to a full house at White Columns Gallery. The week concluded with ‘Day on the Playa,' a celebration of the east coast Burning Man community. Held in the same space as the “FunKnDeCom”, this free daytime event once again recreated the playa in NYC. On this day, Harley Dubois, Burning Man's Human Resources manager, presented a Greeter Training and Crimson Rose conducted a “Show-Me Salon” with local Fire Conclave performers.


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Fire performance has found deep roots within the Burning Man community, and New York is certainly no exception. The New York contingent of the Fire Conclave are a laid back group, focused largely on the therapeutic, meditative aspects of fire play. Various groups have formed, all staying connected via the Flambé Volupte, a mailing list dedicated to fire. They have also undertaken “urban safaris” to various locations for performances, including some enthusiastically received visits to local firehouses to entertain and educate the firefighters about fire spinning as art! Assorted fire performers have been visiting firehouses scattered around NYC. This gives people a way to say thank you to the fire personnel in a personal and thoughtful way.

The New York fire-performance community is in the process of starting an announcements newsletter to inform people about rehearsals and workshops (If you're in the area, you can subscribe by emailing spark-subscribe(at)cyberspacegypsy(dot)com).

ARIZONA

Arizona has a very strong contingent of veteran burners, some of whom have attended since the early 1990s. Gary Taylor, Arizona's Regional Contact, has lived in Tucson for about 16 years. He works as a journeyman diesel mechanic for a local mining company. He is also a Gulf War veteran, serving for ten years in the Navy Reserves as a Construction Mechanic in the Seabees. Gary found Burning Man while working as a sound technician for a local political forum. He came across an article in Wired magazine in the sound booth and found himself intrigued. He undertook research to find out as much as he could about Burning Man, although it would be another year before he would attend.

His first year's trip began as many trips to the desert have: on “playa time.” Gary and his friend found themselves embroiled in one delay after another that day, and getting on the road proved to be very difficult, despite the best-laid plans. After a full day of these setbacks, the pair finally arrived in Fallon, Nevada, where, while filling his water tank, Gary struck up a conversation with a man and woman who also appeared to be on their way to the event. In keeping with the friendly culture of Black Rock City, the woman invited Gary and his friend to join their camp. She was the Arizona regional contact at that time, but she was ready to move on. Gary's tenure as Arizona's Regional Contact had begun.


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In the last two years, participants in Arizona have created many gatherings and road trips, such as “ChickenButz,” hosted by burners Joe and Pammie every year around Thanksgiving. In 2001, Danger Ranger's “Silver Seed Tour of America” stopped at Grover's new place in Mesa for the first large gathering of the trip. During his stop, the Arizona community gifted their handmade art for Danger Ranger to pass downstream to other burners across the country. Other gatherings attract smaller groups, such as theme campers, and members of the community often just send out announcements to “come on over next weekend for a cook out.”

This year, Arizona hosts the first large-scale regional burn in the state. It is known as “Scalping Man” (after a conversation between Gary and a Zuni Indian lady at the Witch Well Tavern, near where the event is held — ask Gary sometime and he'll tell you the tale). Gary and the group spent a year looking for this location.

Gary says, “I personally believe my job as Arizona regional is to motivate others to create. To keep the fire lit year round and answer questions about the Burning Man event that come my way. I view the role as a guardian of the flame for our community. But most importantly, it is my role to make new people, many of whom may have never been to Burning Man, feel at ease and welcome in our community. Along with that, we show them a new way of seeing the world and how one interacts in it. Quoting Danger Ranger, I say, ‘Beyond this line, everything is different.'”

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA

The Burning Man Vancouver community has grown up during the past four years around the Burning Man Vancouver discussion list, where people have gathered together to connect, plan events and camps, and share experiences. Events have included decompression gatherings, Santa rampages, camping weekends, hot tub parties, beach burns, brunches, movie screenings, club nights, and town meetings. The Vancouver community is closely linked to other Burner communities in Victoria, Seattle, and Calgary. Participants in this region are attempting to organize a regional burn this summer and a village for Burning Man this year. In a departure from the mostly solo regional contacts found elsewhere, the highly active Vancouver Burning Man community shares “regional” leadership duties between 4 people. Burning Girl (Diana) serves as announce list administrator, iRony (Ron) is the initial contact person linked to the Burning Man website, and Shimmy serves as chief financial officer. Organizer Jody Franklin, the “official community cheerleader” says, “Burning Man represents human potential; it is everything we, as individuals and as a species, can be. It is a cult — and we're recruiting!”

If you are interested in contacting the regional in your area, subscribing to a regional list, or want to learn more about being a regional, please visit the regional section of our website.