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All The News That's Fit To Burn : 2003 Summer Newsletter

Art is Alive outside of Black Rock City
by Jenny Slafkosky

For one week each year, on an expanse of open playa, the lines between art and everyday life are blurred. Burning Man participants interact with art in the same way that they interact with each other — by striking up conversations and developing intimate relationships with the myriad works that dot the sun-parched canvas of the Black Rock Desert.

Out in the less dusty world, art is often alienated from Burning Man's sense of intimacy and interactivity. In the "real world" art is subjected to the laws of commerce and the marketplace.

In order to bridge the gap between experiences on the playa and the impersonality of the outside world, the Black Rock Arts Foundation was founded in May 2001. Its mission is to support the art of Burning Man's ever-expanding community off of the playa. "The real mission of the Black Rock Arts is to extend our culture nationally," says Larry Harvey, founder and director of Burning Man. "By sponsoring art in the context of the social milieu that is being generated around our regional contacts... we want to support art that is produced communally by our participants in their home towns. We believe so strongly in the ethos that we've created [at Burning Man] that we have faith that it can be translated into other settings."

The Black Rock Arts Foundation provides financial aid to a growing group of regional artists. During its second year, the Black Rock Arts completed its first grant cycle and distributed nine grants to interactive projects. "Not only do we want to promote interactive art, we want to support socially robust art," says Harvey. "This art affects not only the public that encounters it, but the community that joins together to create it." The Black Rock Arts Foundation views this social aspect in an even larger context. "We hope to bring art to truly public venues that are created by our participants and open to everyone," says Harvey. "We want to support the continuing life of art and allow it to travel the world. The problem with the art market is that work disappears; people buy it, invest in it, even put it in vaults. It's removed from the realm of human experience."

In fostering the social exchange between Burning Man artists and an expanding community, the Black Rock Arts Foundation hopes to spur the creation of new groups dedicated to the pursuit of interactive art.

In May, by invitation from the Atlanta-based magazine Art Papers, the city's Metropolitan Public Art Coalition (MPAC), and Emory University, Larry Harvey spoke at the Woodruff Art Center's Rich Auditorium about the social, civic, and economic contexts of art in Black Rock City. In conjunction with the lecture, the Burning Man-inspired interactive art event RIPE was created. Organized by members of the Burning Man community, including Zach Coffin (Rock Spinner, 2001) and Charlie Smith (Hearth, 2000-2001; Infanity, 2001), RIPE became a reflection of both the Burning Man spirit and the distinctive character of the Atlanta arts community. In a chain reaction of events begun by the effort of creating RIPE, the arts collective RIPE Atlanta was born.

Partially funded by grants from the Metropolitan Public Art Coalition, RIPE Atlanta continues to grow as a separate but allied support network for not-for-profit interactive arts in the Atlanta community.

The organic development of Ripe Atlanta from within the Burning Man community creates a relationship of reciprocity between regional artists, the Black Rock Arts Foundation, and a larger segment of the public. These developments, along with the support of individuals, further expands both creative and financial resources that can be redistributed back into the community to help keep interactive art alive off the playa. "Ideally we want it to make it possible for people who don't attend Burning Man to experience our culture," says Harvey.

Contrary to common belief, Harvey stresses, the Black Rock Arts Foundation is not the funding body for Burning Man art grants. Instead, the Black Rock Arts grants are distributed to artists whose work creates participation and social communion in the greater world beyond the gates of Black Rock City. By this time next year, the Black Rock Arts Foundation hopes to expand its membership. Why would anyone want to become a member? "Simple. " says Harvey, "If Burning Man has changed your life, why not help it change the world? "

To see a list of this year's grant recipients or to become a contributing member of the Black Rock Arts Foundation, visit the foundation's website.