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All The News That's Fit To Burn : 2004 Summer Newsletter


Kids have always been a part of Burning Man. When Jerry James and Larry Harvey first burned a Man in 1986, they included their sons, Trey and Robin. Trey was five. Robin was about to turn six years old. On that afternoon the boys worked alongside their fathers. With a little help and the aid of a glue gun, they produced the Burning Dog: the Man's best friend. Since then, children have always participated in our community. Burning Man has become a gigantic playground for children as well as adults. Seen through a child's eyes, Burning Man can be a wondrous experience. Playing alongside grownups and freely expressing one's self in a world that's so receptive is not only healthy — it is healing. Viewed in contrast with a world where children are routinely segregated from adults and parked in front of television sets, Burning Man can be revelation.

However, it is equally true that children have needs that are different from those of adults. They require special care and attention. In order to meet these needs, the first and most important requirement is that parents communicate with their children. Burning Man is like a kid's cartoon. While its content is not nearly as violent as most children's entertainment, it certainly is jam-packed with novel images and new experience. This is why we ask all parents to consciously take the time to talk with their children about each day's experience. Such daily debriefings can be very rewarding — far easier, in fact, than trying to discuss the more hermetic worlds of school or television. This is because Burning Man is an experience that both parent and child can actively share and create.

Our most important advice to parents is this: The single factor that most affects children at Burning Man is your willingness communicate with your children in a way that allows them to express their own interpretations of experience. In the spirit of radical self-reliance, it is your duty at our event to assume complete responsibility for your child at all times. At Burning Man, however, this duty can become a real delight. This is your chance to see your child's world as he or she perceives it. In other words, what children witness is very often far less important than how they actually experience what they encounter. If something that is unexpected has disturbed your child — a "monster", anything that's incompletely understood — you should always take time to discuss this with them. Pay close attention to how your child feels and imagines the world. Considering the way we lead our normal lives, you might never have a better opportunity.

Black Rock City houses a community and, as in any other community, its citizens also have a responsibility for the welfare of children. This year, we plan to enhance Black Rock City's family-based resources. Artists will be encouraged to perform in Kidsville, our participant-run village for families with children. Special art tours will be organized for Black Rock City's youngest citizens. Families who wish to affiliate with Kidsville should contact this group in advance of our event. For more information about this village please contact kids(at)burningman(dot)com.

As in previous years, Kidsville will be featured on our city map. We encourage other families to camp near them between streets 4:30 and 5:30 to create a family quarter. Adult oriented theme camps will be asked to camp at a distance from Kidsville, and all participants should show respect for both its purpose and its boundaries. This is the kind of geographic solution to the problem of potentially conflicting uses that we have employed in the past, akin to separating walk-in camping from automobile traffic or locating large-scale sound installations at the far ends of our city.

Likewise, in 2004, we will request that all adult oriented theme camps take responsibility for restricting the access of children to sexually explicit activity. These camps must employ doorkeepers, someone on duty to prevent minors from entering such environments. This follows models that are used in any city. Parents, however, must assume primary responsibility for the safety and well being of their children at all times, and families who do not behave responsibly will be asked to leave our event.

Burning Man has an exemplary record in regard to children's welfare. Over the years, we have experienced no incidents of child abuse, molestations, abductions or serious injury. But every parent's worst nightmare is losing track of a young child in a public setting. In order to prevent this from happening in 2004, we encourage parents to equip young children with identity bracelets that indicate who they are and where the live. Participants who encounter unaccompanied children are encouraged to ask them, "Where is your adult?" If a parent isn';t present, a Black Rock Ranger should be summoned. A community that truly cares can make a difference. This has been our approach to other social concerns, to the problem of litter, to the problem of human waste disposal. In both of these instances, community-wide action has triumphed.

Black Rock City has grown into the radical, thriving and magical place it has become for three primary reasons. One is our steadfast support of the ideals of community. Another is our ban on commercialism and commerce. The third is our willingness to adapt to the changing needs of our citizens and the environment. In this respect, children are symbols of our city's success. In the fourteen years since the founding of this city, people have met here, fallen in love, even married here, and now it follows that they would return with their kids. In fact, the fastest growing trend in Black Rock City has become family reunions in which three and even four generations are present. The more we, as a community, welcome these newest citizens and accommodate the needs of families, the more Black Rock will resemble an actual city. It will truly represent the attributes of life well lived.