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Imagine a city that only exists for a week, once a year, for the purpose of reflection, personal and as a community, and as a means to appreciate art and artistic endeavors. Imagine that, at the end of this week, 50,000 people collectively assemble and watch the burning of a man. Imagine no longer and perhaps plan your own trip to the scorching Nevada desert the week prior to and including Labor Day weekend. The Man always burns the Saturday night before Labor Day.
Started by Larry Harvey in 1986 at a beach local to San Francisco, the original Burning Man was only 8 feet tall. Over the years, the Man himself has been as tall as 80 feet. Frequently, he is standing upon a large, creative object. In 2006, for example, the Burning Man stood on a 32-foot tall Pavilion that contained a maze. The structure that holds the man has also contained, at varying times, marriage chapels, theaters, and interactive exhibitions. The tallest Man to date was in 2008. He was 40 feet tall, and stood upon a 50-foot obelisk with walls that contained the flags of every nation on earth. Participants at the event have grown from 20 in 1986 to as many as 49,599 in 2008. It is unlikely that the event will grow further due to the population cap on the event permit. The Burning Man event is held in the Black Rock Desert, 120 miles north of Reno, Nevada.
The Ten Principles of the Burning Man were written in 2004 by Larry Harvey, not to indicate how people should be and act, but to showcase the culture of the event. The most interesting of the ten principles of the burning man is “leave no trace”. This is a once-a-year gathering of people that become a city, a community, of people that work and play together. At the end of this week, the burning man community members participate in a clean-up that leaves no trace of the activities that they have engaged in during that week. If you built something, even something as large as a car, you are personally responsible for taking it down. Volunteers may stay for weeks after the event, making the countryside better than they have found it. Imagine how much effort it must take to “leave no trace” of nearly 50,000 people. Imagine taking down and erasing your own city.
Each year, the Burning Man is constructed in keeping with a different theme, such as Fertility, Hell, or Outer Space. The Man operates as a means to determine the location of a person within the event. Since 1999, clock/time numbers are used to name the streets. The external boundaries of the city have taken the shape of a pentagram. Large artworks are placed in a zone outside of the city in the attempt to humble the participant by the contrast of the assembled city behind them with the experience of the desert and sky before them.
In keeping with the Burning Man principle of radical inclusion (meaning everyone is welcome), there is a low income ticket program that requires a screening application for the discounted ticket. For early birds in 2013, there is a holiday sale where 3,000 tickets are available for $650 each with fees. Individual sale tickets are $380 each (40,000 available). Also in keeping with the principle of radical inclusion, children are welcome. Burning Man warns that, in addition to the survival guide that adults should follow, children should practice common-sense safety procedures such as “not looking into the mouth of a fire-breathing dragon” and not “getting too close to aggressive art”. Radical inclusion does not extend to pets; no dogs allowed.
Burning Man is a “commerce-free” event. Each participant must bring everything that they need to survive, including water, food, and shelter. A bicycle is recommended for each participant, and bringing “toys or costumes with which you can express your creative spirit” is recommended. The weather in Nevada ranges from extremes of day temperatures exceeding 100 degrees to pre-dawn temperatures that approach freezing. Thunderstorms and dust storms can come out of nowhere, and winds from 40-70 mph are common during storms. If you are going to stay in a tent during Burning Man, you should be prepared to make it overly secure.
Many people come in RVs. There are no RV hook-ups, and discharging sewage is not allowed. If you are going to stay in your RV, you should make sure the water holding tanks are big enough for the amount of time you will be at Burning Man. If you don’t own an RV, rental facilities in Nevada can be found here:
People love the experience of Burning Man so much that many of them make it a lifestyle. The Burning Man Regional Network is a group of people that try to make their lives more like the Burning Man experience. There are regionals on five continents, including North America, Africa, Asia, Australasia, and Europe. Burning Man participants, also called Burners, take RVs and modify them to make them more environmentally friendly, sometimes by burning biodiesel or waste vegetable oil for fuel. Other groups of Burners, such as Burners without Borders, have organized themselves to promote art as a platform for employment and self-reliance in locations such as Haiti. Burners without Borders also help out with clean-up after national disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy.
Reading about the Burning Man experience, it seems quite impossible that a person can do it justice through writing. This would only seem possible if the writer had lived the experience, and if the writing that resulted from that experience was art of its own.
To learn more, visit //www.burningman.com/.