Burning Man is an annual gathering that takes place at Black Rock City—a temporary community erected in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. The event is described as an experiment in community and art, influenced by 10 main principles, including "radical" inclusion, self-reliance and self-expression, as well as community cooperation, civic responsibility, gifting, decommodification, participation, immediacy and leaving no trace. First held in 1986 on Baker Beach in San Francisco as a small function organized by Larry Harvey and a group of friends, it has since been held annually, spanning from the last Sunday in August to the first Monday in September (the U.S. Labor Day); for example, Burning Man 2015 took place August 30 – September 7, 2015.
At Burning Man the community explores various forms of artistic self-expression, created in celebration for the pleasure of all participants. Participation is a key precept for the community – selfless giving of one's unique talents for the enjoyment of all is encouraged and actively reinforced. Some of these generous out-pourings of creativity can include experimental and interactive sculpture, building, performance, and art cars among other mediums, often inspired by the yearly theme, chosen by organizers. The event takes its name from its culmination, the symbolic ritual burning of a large wooden effigy ("the Man") that traditionally occurs on the Saturday evening of the event.
Burning Man is organized by the Burning Man Project, a non-profit organization that, in 2014, succeeded a for-profit limited liability company (Black Rock City, LLC) that was formed in 1997 to represent the event's organizers, and is now considered a subsidiary of the non-profit organization. In 2010, 51,515 people attended Burning Man. Attendance in 2011 was capped at 50,000 participants and the event sold out on July 24; the attendance rose to 70,000 in 2015. Smaller regional events inspired by the principles of Burning Man have been held internationally; some of these events are also officially endorsed by the Burning Man Project as regional branches of the event.
1986 to 1989
One of the roots of the annual event now known as Burning Man began as a bonfire ritual on the summer solstice in 1986 when Larry Harvey, Jerry James, and a few friends met on Baker Beach in San Francisco and burned a 9-foot (2.7-meter) wooden man as well as a smaller wooden dog. Harvey has described his inspiration for burning these effigies as a spontaneous act of "radical self-expression". The event did have earlier roots, though. Sculptor Mary Grauberger, a friend of Harvey's girlfriend Janet Lohr, held solstice bonfire gatherings on Baker Beach for several years prior to 1986, some of which Harvey attended. When Grauberger stopped organizing it, Harvey "picked up the torch" so to speak, and ran with it. He and Jerry James built the first wooden effigy on the afternoon of June 21, 1986, cobbled together using scrap wood, to be torched later that evening. In 1987, the effigy grew to almost 15 feet (4.6 meters) tall, and by 1988, it had grown to around 40 feet (12 meters).
By 1988, Larry Harvey formally named the summer solstice ritual "Burning Man," by titling flyers for the happening as such; to ward off mistaken references, such as "wicker man." Harvey has stated that he had not seen the 1973 cult film The Wicker Man until many years after and that it did not inspire the action.
1990 to 1996
In 1990, a separate event was planned by Kevin Evans and John Law on the remote and largely unknown dry lake known as Black Rock Desert, about 110 miles north of Reno, Nevada. Evans conceived it as a dadaist temporary autonomous zone with sculpture to be burned and situationist performance art. He asked John Law, who also had experience on the dry lake and was a defining founder of Cacophony Society, to take on central organizing functions. In the Cacophony Society's newsletter, it was announced as Zone #4, A Bad Day at Black Rock (inspired by the 1955 film of the same name).
Meanwhile, the beach burn was interrupted by the park police for not having a permit. After striking a deal to raise the Man but not to burn it, event organizers disassembled the effigy and returned it to the vacant lot where it had been built. Shortly thereafter, the legs and torso of the Man were chain-sawed and the pieces removed when the lot was unexpectedly leased as a parking lot. The effigy was reconstructed, led by Dan Miller, Harvey's then-housemate of many years, just in time to take it to Zone Trip #4.
Michael Mikel, another active Cacophonist, realized that a group unfamiliar with the environment of the dry lake would be helped by knowledgeable persons to ensure they did not get lost in the deep dry lake and risk dehydration and death. He took the name Danger Ranger and created the Black Rock Rangers. Thus the seed of Black Rock City was germinated, as a fellowship, organized by Law and Mikel, based on Evans' idea, along with Harvey and James' symbolic man. Drawing on experience in the sign business and with light sculpture, John Law prepared custom neon tubes for the Man in 1991 so it could be seen as a beacon at night.
In its first years, the community grew by word of mouth alone, all were considered participants by virtue of surviving in the desolate surreal trackless plain of the Black Rock Desert. There were no paid or scheduled performers or artists, no separation between art-space and living-space, no rules other than "Don't interfere with anyone else's immediate experience" and "no guns in central camp."
1991 marked the first year that the event had a legal permit, through the BLM (the Bureau of Land Management). 1992 saw the birth of a smaller, intensive (about 20 participants the first year; about 100 in years two and three) near-by event named "Desert Siteworks," conceived and directed by William Binzen and co-produced (in 1993 and '94) with Judy West. The annual, several weeks-long event, was held over summer Solstice at various fertile hot springs surrounding the desert. Participants built art and participated in self-directed performances. Some key organizers of Burning Man were also part of Desert Siteworks (John Law, Michael Mikel) and William Binzen was a friend of Larry Harvey. Hence, the two events saw lots of cross-pollination of ideas and participants. The Desert Siteworks project ran for three years (1992-1994). 1996 was the first year a formal partnership was created to own the name "Burning Man" and was also the last year that the event was held in the middle of the Black Rock Desert with no fence around it.
Before the event opened to the public in 1996, a festival worker named Michael Fury was killed in a motorcycle accident while riding from Gerlach, Nevada, to the Burning Man camp in the Black Rock Desert. Harvey insisted that the death had not occurred at Burning Man, since the gates were not yet open. Another couple was run over in their tent by an art car driving to "rave camp," which was at that time distant from the main camp. After the 1996 event, co-founder and partner John Law broke with Burning Man and publicly said the event should not continue.
1997 to present
1997 marked another major pivotal year for the event. By 1996, the event had grown to 8,000 attendees and unrestricted driving on the open playa was becoming a major safety hazard. To implement a ban on driving and re-create the event as a pedestrian/bicycle/art-car-only event, it was decided to move to private gated property. Fly Ranch, with the adjoining Hualapai mini dry lake-bed, just west of the Black Rock desert, was chosen. This moved Burning Man from Pershing county/federal BLM land into the jurisdiction of Washoe County, which brought a protracted list of permit requirements.
To comply with the new requirements and to manage the increased liability load, the organizers formed Black Rock City, LLC. Will Roger Peterson and Flynn Mauthe created the Department of Public Works (DPW) to build the "city" grid layout (a requirement so that emergency vehicles could be directed to an "address") designed by Rod Garrett, an architect. Rod continued as the city designer through 2011 until his death at 76. He is also credited with the design of all of the man bases from 2001 through 2012, the center camp cafe and first camp. With the success of the driving ban, having no vehicular incidents, 1998 saw a return to the Black Rock desert, along with a temporary perimeter fence. The event has remained there since.
As the population of Black Rock City grew, further rules were established in relation to its survival. Some critics of the event cite the addition of these rules as impinging on the original freedoms, altering the experience unacceptably, while others find the increased level of activity more than balances out the changes.
- A grid street structure.
- A speed limit of 5 mph (8 km/h).
- A ban on driving, except for approved "mutant vehicles" and service vehicles.
- Safety standards on mutant vehicles.
- Burning your own art must be done on an approved burn platform.
- A ban on fireworks.
- A ban on dogs.
Another notable restriction to attendees is the 7-mile-(11 km) long temporary plastic fence that surrounds the event and defines the pentagon of land used by the event on the southern edge of the Black Rock dry lake. This 4-foot (1.2 meter) high barrier is known as the "trash fence" because its initial use was to catch wind-blown debris that might escape from campsites during the event. Since 2002, the area beyond this fence has not been accessible to Burning Man participants during the week of the event.
One visitor who was accidentally burned at the 2005 event unsuccessfully sued Black Rock City, LLC in San Francisco County Superior Court. On June 30, 2009, the California Court of Appeal for the First District upheld the trial court's grant of summary judgment to Black Rock City, LLC on the basis that visitors who deliberately walk towards the Burning Man after it is lit assume the risk of getting burned by such an obviously hazardous object.
Transition to a non-profit organization
In April 2011, Larry Harvey announced that the LLC was beginning a three-year process to transfer ownership and control of the event over to a new non-profit organization called the "Burning Man Project." The move towards becoming a non-profit organization was the result of "bitter infighting" between members of the board. At one point it looked like all of the board members were going to hire lawyers. Corporate appraisers were brought in to determine how much the company was worth, which Larry Harvey found "abhorrent" and against all of the values that Burning Man stood for.
An earlier agreement stated that each member of the LLC would only receive "sole compensation for many years of service, a golden parachute of $20,000." But the members now agreed to an arrangement whereby each member of the LLC would receive an undisclosed sum prior to the transfer of their ownership rights to the Burning Man Project. Marian Goodell, board member and head of communication, addressed concerns about the lack of transparency with this statement: "When you’re in the middle of a storm, if you’re going to explain all of how you got there, and how you’re going to get out, it often sets more panic among the survivors than if you just sail the boat out of the darkness."
It was announced in March 2014 via the official Burning Man Blog that the non-profit transition was complete. Under the new non-profit structure Black Rock City LLC, the longtime for-profit responsible for the event, would be a subsidiary of the non-profit Burning Man Project. Although unmentioned in the initial announcement the Terms and Conditions for ticket buyers was changed to reflect an alteration in the structure of the business. Under the new terms it was made known that a new LLC was created, Decommodification LLC. Decommodification LLC, in the new non-profit business structure, owns all of the intellectual property associated with the Burning Man brand, including ownership over logos and trademarks, it will be responsible for enforcement. The non-profit Burning Man Project licenses usage of all intellectual property associated with Burning Man from Decommodification LLC. After questions were raised by the community about this new LLC within the comment section on the original non-profit announcement Larry Harvey confirmed that he and the other founders were the sole owners of this new LLC.
Timeline of the event
The statistics below illustrate the growth in attendance of the Burning Man event, as well as other facts and figures. The event has experienced significant growth in popularity, changing from a small handful of people to over 49,500 attending the event in 2008. Burning Man 2006 was covered extensively for television for the first time by subscription television channel Current TV which handed out cameras to participants and broadcast daily updates via satellite from the dry lake. "TV Free Burning Man" also provided TV viewers an hour-long live feed of The Burn and was shown without commercial sponsorship. TV Free returned in 2007 and 2008; the 2007 coverage was nominated for a news Emmy Award.
The height of the Burning Man itself has remained close to 40 feet (12 meters) tall since 1989. Changes in the height and structure of the base account for the differing heights of the overall structures.
|Year||Height from ground|
to top of Man
|Location||Participants||BLM population limit||Admission|
|1986||8 ft (2.4 m)||Baker Beach||20||N/A||Free||None||Larry Harvey & Jerry James build & burn wooden man on Baker Beach on the summer solstice, following a ritual bonfire tradition begun by Mary Grauberger|
|1987||20 ft (6.1 m)||Baker Beach||80||N/A||Free||None|
|1988||30 ft (9.1 m)||Baker Beach||150–200||N/A||Free||None|
|1989||40 ft (12 m)||Baker Beach||300+||N/A||Free||None||First listing of Burning Man in the San Francisco Cacophony Society newsletter, "Rough Draft" under "sounds like cacophony."|
|1990||40 ft (12 m)||Baker Beach &|
Black Rock Desert
|500 (Baker Beach) +|
120 Black Rock Desert
|Free||None||Figure erected at Baker Beach on Summer Solstice (June 21) but not burned. Man is invited to San Francisco Cacophony Zone Trip #4 on Labor Day weekend in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada.|
|1991||40 ft (12 m)||Black Rock Desert||250||Free||None||First year of neon on the man.|
|1992||40 ft (12 m)||Black Rock Desert||600||None|
|1993||40 ft (12 m)||Black Rock Desert||1,000||None||Theme camps: 1— "Christmas Camp"|
|1994||40 ft (12 m)||Black Rock Desert||2,000||None||First year of wooden spires and lamplighting|
|1995||40 ft (12 m)||Black Rock Desert||4,000||$35||None||Unofficial theme was "Good and Evil".|
|1996||48 ft (15 m)||Black Rock Desert||8,000||$35||Inferno||Theme featuring Dante's Inferno/HELCO (a satire on corporate takeovers). First year the man is elevated on a straw bale pyramid and guns banned in central camp. First fatality in motorcycle collision. 3 people seriously injured in a tent run over by a car. 10 of 16 BLM stipulations violated, putting BM on probationary status for next year. An injury claim drives liability coverage up by a factor of 6. Featured in an article in Wired magazine. Theme camps 130+|
|1997||50 ft (15 m)||Hualapai Playa||10,000||$65||Fertility: The Living Land||The BM org. forms management structure, the DPW to meet strict permit requirements newly imposed. First year the city has grid streets and driving banned. Washoe County officials impounded gate receipts to ensure payment after the fire and protection fees along with more than 100 new fire and safety conditions are imposed before the event. Registered theme camps: 400+|
|1998||52 ft (16 m)||Black Rock Desert||15,000||$80–$90||Nebulous Entity||Burning Man returned to the Black Rock Desert although much closer to Gerlach than before. The "Nebulous Entity" was Harvey's satirical concept of alien beings who thrive on information—who consume it but do not understand it.|
|1999||54 ft (16 m)||Black Rock Desert||23,000||$65–$130||Wheel of Time||Listed in the AAA's RV guide under "Great Destinations." Registered theme camps: 320|
|2000||54 ft (16 m)||Black Rock Desert||25,400||$200||The Body||First active law enforcement activity, 60 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and police arrests and citations. Most are for minor drug charges following surveillance and searches. Registered theme camps: 460|
|2001||70 ft (21 m)||Black Rock Desert||25,659||$200||Seven Ages||See Seven Ages of Man. Over 100 BLM citations and 5 arrests. Registered theme camps: 466, placed art: 150|
|2002||80 ft (24 m)||Black Rock Desert||28,979||$135–$200||The Floating World||First year for FAA approved airport. 135 BLM citations and 4 Sheriff citations. Registered theme camps: 487, placed art: 120|
|2003||79 ft (24 m)||Black Rock Desert||30,586||$145–$225||Beyond Belief||Dogs are banned for the first time. 177 BLM citations, 9 police citations, 10 arrests and 1 fatality. Registered theme camps: 504, placed art: 261|
|2004||80 ft (24 m)||Black Rock Desert||35,664||The Vault of Heaven||218 BLM citations, some issued from decoy 'art car'. Camps giving away alcohol subjected to state law compliance examinations and 1 arrest. Pershing County Sheriff's office: 27 cases, 4 arrests, 2 citations. Nevada Highway Patrol: 2 DUI arrests, 217 citations, and 246 warnings were issued. Malcolm in the Middle used burning man in one of their episodes. Registered theme camps: 503, placed art: 220|
|2005||72 ft (22 m)||Black Rock Desert||35,567||$145–$250||Psyche: The Conscious,|
Subconscious & Unconscious
|The Man, perched atop a "fun house" maze, can be turned by participants, confusing those at a distance who use it to navigate. Dream related art work. 218 BLM citations, 6 arrests and 1 fatality. Registered theme camps: 485, placed art: 275|
|2006||72 ft (22 m)||Black Rock Desert||38,989||6%> previous highest|
|$185–$280||Hope and Fear: The Future||The Man goes up and down reflecting a hope/fear meter. Voting stations were set up around the playa, allowing residents to cast a Hopeful or Fearful vote for the future of Man. If the vote was hopeful he would burn with his hands in the air- not- hands down. They voted hopeful- and his arms were raised till the end. 155 BLM citations and 1 arrest. Pershing County Sheriff's office: 1 citation and 7 arrests. Nevada Highway Patrol: 234 citations, 17 arrests, and 213 warnings. Placed art: 300|
|2007||65 ft (20 m)||Black Rock Desert||47,366||6%> previous highest|
|$195–$280||The Green Man||The Man was prematurely set on fire around 2:58 am, Tuesday August 28, during full Lunar eclipse. A repeat Burning Man prankster, Paul Addis, was arrested and charged with arson, and the Man was rebuilt for regular Saturday burn. Addis pleaded guilty in May 2008 to one felony count of injury to property, was sentenced to up to four years in Nevada state prison, and was ordered to pay $30,000 in restitution. 331 BLM citations. Registered theme camps: 681, placed art: 300|
|2008||100 ft (30 m)||Black Rock Desert||49,599||6%> previous highest|
|$210–$295||American Dream||First year that tickets are not sold at the gate. The size and layout of the city is enlarged to accommodate a larger central playa and a longer Esplanade. Because of excessively high winds and whiteout conditions on Saturday, the burning of the Man was delayed for over an hour and a half and the fire conclave was canceled. Many longtime contributors opted out allegedly due to the chosen theme ("The American Dream"), jailing of dissenter Addis, and the founders' rift. The perimeter of BRC extended to 9 miles. The BLM made 6 arrests and issued 129 citations. Registered theme camps: 746, placed art: 285|
|2009||66 ft (20 m)||Black Rock Desert||43,435||6%> previous highest|
|$210–$360||Evolution: A Tangled Bank||Tickets sold at the gate once again. As the result of some criticism, the size and layout of the city was returned to roughly the same as the 2007 event. The BLM officials said that as of noon Saturday, 41,059 people were at Burning Man, and the crowd peaked at 43,435 at noon Friday, a noted decline after years of steady attendance growth, due mainly to the 2008 stock market crash. BLM issued 287 citations and 9 arrests. Registered theme camps: 618, placed art: 215|
|2010||100 ft (30 m)||Black Rock Desert||51,454||6%> previous highest|
|$210–$360||Metropolis – Life of Cities||Attendance over 50,000 mark, for first time. The gate opened early, at 6 pm Sunday, for first time. Coincided with the inaugural Black Rock City Film Festival. BLM issued 293 citations and 8 arrests. Registered theme camps: 700, placed art: 275|
|2011||104 ft (32 m)||Black Rock Desert||53,963||50,000||$210–$360||Rites of Passage||According to Black Rock LLC, 27,000 tickets (all discounted tiers) were sold by midday the day following the opening of ticket sales. For the first time in Burning Man history, tickets sold out before the event on July 24, 2011.|
|2012||40 ft (12 m) on a 50 ft (15 m) base||Black Rock Desert||56,149||60,900||$240–$420||Fertility 2.0||Due to the sellout of the event in 2011, the BMOrg opted for a complex multi-round, random selection system of ticket sales with a separate low income program. On January 27, BMOrg announced that the number of tickets requested in the Main Sale was around 120,000 vs the 40,000 that were available. In consequence a significant number of registrants would not be awarded tickets in the Main Sale. The Main Sale was originally planned to be followed by a secondary open sale of 10,000 tickets. However, as the huge demand from the Main Sale left many veteran burners and theme camps without tickets, BMOrg opted for a "directed ticket distribution" instead, i.e., "manually redirect them to some of the vital groups and collaborations that make up Black Rock City" rather than an open sale.|
|2013||N/A||Black Rock Desert||69,613||68,000||$380||Cargo Cult||The year's theme was based on John Frum and Cargo Cults. Ticket tiers were eliminated and a flat rate price structure was adopted (except for low-income ticket program).|
|2014||105 ft (32 m)||Black Rock Desert||65,992 ||68,000||$380|
Vehicle pass: $40
|Caravansary||This year, the Burning Man Traffic Mitigation Plan went into effect. All vehicles entering Black Rock City needed a $40 vehicle pass. Only 35,000 passes were available.|
A woman is killed in a vehicle accident.
|2015||60 ft (18 m)||Black Rock Desert||70,000||$390|
Vehicle pass: $50
|Carnival of Mirrors||First time in nearly 10 years that the Man base is on the ground (vs a raised base). Only 27,000 vehicle passes were made available this year.|
|2016||Black Rock Desert||$390|
Vehicle pass: $80
Because of the variety of goals fostered by participatory attendees, known as "Burners," Burning Man does not have a single focus. Features of the event are subject to the participants and include community, artwork, absurdity, decommodification, and revelry. Participation is encouraged.
The Burning Man event and its affiliated communities are guided by ten principles that are meant to evoke the cultural ethos that has emerged from the event. They were originally written by Larry Harvey in 2004 as guidelines for regional organizing, then later became a universal criterion of the general culture of the multifaceted movement. They are:
- radical inclusion
- radical self-reliance
- radical self-expression
- communal effort
- civic responsibility
- leaving no trace
The descriptions in quotes are the actual text:
"Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community." This was written with a broad stroke for general organizing, meaning anyone is welcome to the Burning Man culture. Prerequisites for the Burning Man event are participants expected to provide for their own basic needs, follow the guidelines stated in the annually updated event "survival guide," and have a ticket to get in.
"Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value." Instead of cash, participants at the Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert are encouraged to rely on a gift economy, a sort of potlatch. In the earliest days of the event, an underground barter economy also existed, in which burners exchanged "favors" with each other. While this was originally supported by the Burning Man organization, this is now largely discouraged. Instead, burners are encouraged to give gifts to one another unconditionally.
"In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience." No cash transactions are permitted between attendees of the Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert. Cash can be used for a select few charity, fuel, and sanitation vendors as follows: 
- Café beverages such as coffee, chai, lemonade, etc., which are sold at Center Camp Café, operated by the organizers of the event.
- Ice sales benefit the local Gerlach-Empire school system.
- Tickets for the shuttle bus to the nearest Nevada communities of Gerlach and Empire which is operated by a contractor not participating in the event: Green Tortoise.
- A re-entry wristband, which allows a person to leave and re-enter the event and may be purchased at the gate upon exit.
- An airport use fee, payable at the airport upon first entry.
- Diesel and biodiesel sold by third-party contractors.
- RV dump service and camp graywater disposal service.
- Private portable toilets and servicing, which can be arranged with the official contractor.
"Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources." Because of the event's harsh environment and remote location, participants are expected to be responsible for their own subsistence. Since the LLC forbids most commerce, participants must be prepared and bring all their own supplies with the exception of the items stated in Decommodification.
"Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient." Participants at the Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert are encouraged to express themselves in a number of ways through various art forms and projects. The event is clothing-optional and public nudity is common, though not practiced by the majority.
"Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction." Participants at the Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert are encouraged to work with and help fellow participants.
"We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws."
Leaving no trace
"Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them."
"Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart." People are encouraged to participate, rather than observe.
"Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience."
Art on the dry lake is assisted by the Artery, which helps artists place their art in the desert and ensures lighting (to prevent accidental collisions), burn platform (to protect the integrity of the dry lake bed), and fire safety requirements are met.
Since 1995, a different theme has been created, ostensibly by Larry Harvey, for each year's event. For 2006, the theme was Hope and Fear, and for 2007, it was The Green Man. The 2011 theme was "Rites of Passage". The 2012 theme was "Fertility 2.0". It determines to some extent the design of the Man (although his design and construction, while evolutionary, has remained relatively unchanged) and especially the structure on which he stands (an Observatory for "Vault of Heaven," a Lighthouse for "The Floating World"). These themes also greatly affect the designs that participants employ in their artworks, costumes, camps and vehicles.
Burning Man primarily features outsider art and visionary art, though a great variety of art forms appear during the event. Creative expression through the arts and interactive art are encouraged at Burning Man. Numerous Theme Camps, registered and placed by organizers, are created as event and residence centers by sizable sub-communities of participants and use extensive design and artistic elements to engage the greater community and meet interactivity requirements. Music, performance and guerrilla street theatre are art forms commonly presented within the camps and developed areas of the city. Adjacent to the city, the dry lake bed of Lake Lahontan serves as a tabula rasa for hundreds of isolated artworks, ranging from small to very large-scale art installations, often sculptures with kinetic, electronic and fire elements.
Artwork is generally viewed as a freely given gift made by the artist to the community at his or her own expense. Art grants are, however, available to participants via a system of curation and oversight, with application deadlines early in the year. Grants are intended to help artists produce work beyond the scope of their own means, and are generally intended to cover only a portion of the costs associated with creation of the pieces, usually requiring considerable reliance on an artist's community resources. Aggregate funding for all grants varies depending on the number and quality of the submissions (usually well over 100) but amounts to several percent (on the order of $500,000 in recent years) of the gross receipts from ticket sales. In 2006, 29 pieces were funded.
Various standards regarding the nature of the artworks eligible for grants are set by the Art Department, but compliance with the theme and interactivity are important considerations. This funding has fostered artistic communities, most notably in the Bay Area of California, the region that has historically provided a majority of the event's participants. There are active and successful outreach efforts to enlarge the regional scope of the event and the grant program. Among these is the Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF).
While BRAF does not fund any installations for the event itself, it relies on the donations from the Burning Man Project for a significant portion of its funding, and does facilitate presentation of work created for the event in outside venues as well as offering its own grants for artworks that typify interactivity and other principles and traditions the event.
Mutant Vehicles, often motorized, are purpose-built or creatively altered cars and trucks. Participants who wish to bring motorized mutant vehicles must submit their designs in advance to the event's own DMV or "Department of Mutant Vehicles" for approval and for physical inspection at the time of the event. Not all designs and proposals are accepted. The event organizers, and in turn the DMV, have set the bar higher for what it deems an acceptable MV each year, in effect capping the number of Mutant Vehicles. This is in response to constraints imposed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which grants permits to hold the event on federal property, and to participants who want to maintain a pedestrian-friendly environment. Vehicles that are minimally altered, and/or whose primary function is to transport participants, are discouraged or rejected. One of the criteria the DMV employs to determine whether an application for a proposed Mutant Vehicle is approved is "can you recognize the base vehicle". For example, if a 1967 VW van covered with glitter, dolls' heads, and old cooking utensils can still be recognized as a VW van, it is considered to be "decorated not mutated" and is less likely to be approved. This criterion led to the exclusion of some "Art Cars", which historically have been a staple of the event. There were over six hundred approved Mutant Vehicles at the event in 2010.
Bicycles and tricycles are popular for getting around on the dry lake. Mountain bikes are generally preferred over road bikes for riding on the dried silt, which is normally hard but becomes loose with traffic. Participants often decorate their bikes to make them unique. Since lighting on the bikes is critically important for safety at night, many participants incorporate the lighting into their decorations, using electroluminescent wire (a thin, flexible tube that glows with a neon-like effect when energized with electricity) to create intricate patterns over the frame of the bike. Every night during Burning Man, thousands of bikes and art cars drive around, creating a visual display similar to Las Vegas at night, except that the lights are mobile.
The burning of a temple, as well as the Man, has become a tradition activity at the event. It takes place the evening after the destruction of the Man. Sculptor David Best's temple projects were ritually burned from 2000 to 2004. The tradition of participants inscribing the surfaces of the piece with personal messages has continued through all of the iterations of the temple.
- 2000—The Temple of the Mind
- 2001—The Temple of Tears
- 2002—The Temple of Joy
- 2003—The Temple of Honor
- 2004—The Temple of Stars
- 2005—The Temple of Dreams
In 2005, Best stepped aside to allow for another artist, Mark Grieve, to build his own interpretation of a Temple. Grieve's temples were seen in both 2005 and 2006.
- 2006—The Temple of Hope
- 2007—The Temple of Forgiveness
In 2007 David Best took over the temple building duties for what he thought would be one last time. The 2007 Temple was named "The Temple of Forgiveness." Best stated that after 2007, it was time to hand the Temple over to the community.
- 2008—Basura Sagrada
In 2008 the "Basura Sagrada" (Spanish for "sacred trash") Temple was a collaboration of Shrine and Tucker Teutsch 3.0, built with the extensive help of their friends and the greater Burning Man community.
- 2009—Fire of Fires
In 2009, the "Fire of Fires" Temple for Burning Man was built in Austin, Texas.
- 2010—The Temple of Flux
In 2010, the Temple of Flux was designed and orchestrated by artists Rebecca Anders, Jess Hobbs and Peter (pk.) Kimelman who formed the Flux Foundation. This group was notable for drawing from a broad section of the Burning Man community, including the large-scale sound camps and other existing BM art groups. The Flux Foundation has since continued to make large-scale public art outside Burning Man. The Temple of Flux broke from tradition and was highly abstract in nature, appearing as a series of landforms with canyon and cave-like spaces.
- 2011—The Temple of Transition
The 2011 Temple was the first Temple built in Reno, Nevada. The International Arts Megacrew, helmed by Chris "Kiwi" Hankins, Diarmaid "Irish" Horkan and Ian "Beave" Beaverstock returned to a more traditional style. The Temple of Transition took the form of a 120-foot tiered, hexagonal central tower, surrounded by five 58-foot tiered, hexagonal towers. The towers were vaulted and lofty, cut with a profusion of gothic style arches.
- 2012—The Temple of Juno
With the 2012 Temple came the return of David Best. The Temple of Juno incorporated a large central tower with central altar space, sitting within a 150' x 150' walled courtyard lined with benches, accessed from four entrances. Intricately cut wooden panels and detailed shapes covered the courtyard walls as well as the interior space and altars.
- 2013—The Temple of Whollyness
This temple was created by The Otic Oasis team, led by architect and artist Gregg Fleishman, Terry Lightning "Clearwater III" Gross, and Melissa "Syn" Barron. This was the first Temple built without nails, bolts, adhesives, or fasteners of any kind. This Temple incorporated a massive 17-ton black basalt Inuksuk sculpture created by artist, James LaFemina to act as the central altar. Conceptual artist and composer, Aaron 'Taylor' Kuffner, who debuted at Burning Man with the 2011 Temple of Transition, returned to contribute musical elements with a different execution of the Gamelatron.
- 2014—The Temple of Grace
Following the sudden withdrawal of chosen 2014 Temple builder Ross Asselstine, who was to build the Temple of Descendants, David Best came out of retirement a third time to build his eighth Temple. The Temple of Grace was intended to be a spiritual and sacred space for memorials, reflection, celebration, and to commemorate life transitions. The structure incorporated a central interior dome within a graceful curved body made of wood and steel. Again, it had intricately cut wooden panels for the exterior and interior skin. Eight altars surrounded the temple inside a low-walled courtyard, creating a large exterior grounds for the community.
- 2015—The Temple of Promise
This temple was created by Dreamers Guild and built primarily in Alameda, CA. The temple welcomes participants through an archway soaring 97 feet overhead. As the path continues to curve, it opens into the contemplative altar and the heart of the Temple: a grove of three sculpted trees. The branches are initially bare. Participants will write messages on long strips of cloth and attach them to the trees, creating the gentle shade of Weeping Willows, increasing as the week progresses.
Camps focusing on electronic music, often played by live DJs, began to appear in 1992, as influenced by the rave culture of the San Francisco area. Terbo Ted was identified as having been the first ever DJ in Burning Man history, opening with a Jean Michel Jarre song played off a vinyl record. DJs typically occupied an area on the outskirts of the Playa nicknamed the "Techno Ghetto". In later years, designated spokes of the main camp were designated for "sound camps", with limits on volume and speaker positioning (angled away from the center of Black Rock City). To work around the rules, mutant vehicles with live DJs and large sound systems began to appear as well. A number of major electronic music camps have been well-known recurrents at Burning Man, including Opulent Temple and Robot Heart. Major producers and DJs representing various eras and genres have performed at Burning Man, including Armin van Buuren, Carl Cox, François Kevorkian and Freq Nasty among others.
In recent years, concerns began to surface among attendees that a growing number of "mainstream" electronic dance music acts (such as Skrillex and Diplo's Jack Ü in 2014) had begun to appear. In 2015, organizers established a new area known as the "Deep Playa Music Zone" (or DMZ), to serve as a new host for sound trucks featuring live DJs.
Black Rock City
Black Rock City, often abbreviated to BRC, is the name of the temporary city created by Burning Man participants. Much of the layout and general city infrastructure is constructed by Department of Public Works (DPW) volunteers who often reside in Black Rock City for several weeks before and after the event. The remainder of the city including theme camps, villages, art installations and individual camping are all created by participants.
The developed part of the city is currently arranged as a series of concentric streets in an arc composing, since 1999, two-thirds of a 1.5-mile (2.4-km) diameter circle with the Man Sculpture and his supporting complex at the very center ( in 2012). Radial streets, sometimes called Avenues, extend from the Man to the outermost circle. The outlines of these streets are visible on aerial photographs.
The innermost street is named the Esplanade, and the remaining streets are given names to coincide with the overall theme of the burn, and ordered in ways such as alphabetical order or stem to stern, to make them easier to recall. For example, in 1999, for the "Wheel of Time" theme, and again in 2004 for "The Vault of Heaven" theme, the streets were named after the planets of the solar system. The radial streets are usually given a clock designation, for example, 6:00 or 6:15, in which the Man is at the center of the clock face and 12:00 is in the middle of the third of the arc lacking streets (usually at a bearing of 60° true from the Man). These avenues have been identified in other ways, notably in 2002, in accordance with "The Floating World" theme, as the degrees of a compass, for example 175 degrees, and in 2003 as part of the Beyond Belief theme as adjectives ("Rational, Absurd") that caused every intersection with a concentric street (named after concepts of belief such as "Authority, Creed") to form a phrase such as "Absurd Authority" or "Rational Creed". However, these proved unpopular with participants due to difficulty in navigating the city without the familiar clock layout.
The Black Rock City Airport is constructed adjacent to the city, typically on its southern side. The airport serves a variety of aviation traffic, including private airplanes, helicopters, hot air balloons, ultralights, gliders, and skydivers.
Center Camp is located along the mid line of Black Rock City, facing the Man at the 6:00 position on the Esplanade. This area serves as a central meeting place for the entire city and contains the Center Camp Cafe, Camp Arctica and a number of other city institutions.
Villages and theme camps
Villages and theme camps are located along the innermost streets of Black Rock City, often offering entertainment or services to participants.
Theme camps are usually a collective of people representing themselves under a single identity. Villages are usually a collection of smaller theme camps which have banded together in order to share resources and vie for better placement.
Theme camps and villages often form to create an atmosphere in Black Rock City that their group envisioned. As Burning Man grows every year it attracts an even more diverse crowd. Subcultures form around theme camps at Black Rock City similar to what can be found in other cities.
The Burning Man event is heavily dependent on a large number of volunteers.
Safety, policing and regulations
Black Rock City is patrolled by various local and state law enforcement agencies as well as the Bureau of Land Management Rangers. The local police issue $1500 fines for drug use and serving alcohol to minors. Burning Man also has its own in-house group of volunteers, the Black Rock Rangers, who act as informal mediators when disputes arise between participants.
Firefighting, emergency medical services (EMS), mental health, and communications support is provided by the volunteer Black Rock City Emergency Services Department (ESD). Three "MASH"-like stations are set up in the city: station 3, 6 and 9. Station 6 is staffed by physicians and nurses working with a contracted state licensed ALS Medical provider, while Stations 3 and 9 are staffed by Black Rock City ESD personnel. While Station 3 and 9 provide emergency services and basic life support, the volunteers are generally doctors, nurses, EMTs/paramedics, and firefighters. Both station 3 and 9 have a small fire engines available in addition to a Hazardous material/ Rescue truck and Quick response vehicle for medical emergencies.
In from February 2013 first made public on August 29, 2015, it was revealed that in August 2010, the FBI had sent a memo to its field offices in Nevada stating that it would patrol Burning Man to "aid in the prevention of terrorist activities and intelligence collection." Although a threat assessment performed by the FBI in consort with Burning Man's contracted security determined that drug usage and crowd control were the only major threats to Burning Man, the Bureau still sent an unspecified number of undercover officers to the event, with "no adverse threats or reactions."
The airport with regular commercial service closest to the event is the Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Reno, Nevada, over two hours' drive away. An airport spokesperson said in 2009 that 15,000 burners arrive to the event via the airport annually, making it the second-busiest time for them. In 2008 and 2009, an information desk for burners was organized in Reno airport.
A section of the Playa is used for a non-permanent airport, which is set up before each event and completely erased afterward. Pilots began camping there about 1995, and once compelled to add structure, it was established in a form acceptable to the BLM in 1999 through the efforts of Tiger Tiger (Lissa Shoun) and LLC board member Mr. Klean (Will Roger). In 2009 it was recognized by the FAA as a private airport and designated 88NV. It is found on the Klamath Falls Sectional, using a CTAF of 122.9 MHz. Black Rock Unicom and the airport are operational on that frequency from 6:00 am to 7:30 pm PDT each day during the event. The runway is simply a compacted strip of playa, and is not lighted. Because of the unique air traffic and safety issues associated with the airport, pilots are strongly encouraged to familiarize themselves with published information and procedures provided by, for example, AOPA. Because of the changes of the surface each year, information about the airport is subject to change.
There are prepaid shuttles, originating in Reno and San Francisco, that move participants to and from the event. During the event there is also a paid shuttle between the event and the nearby towns of Gerlach and Empire. Exiting and reentering the event requires an additional fee, and is highly discouraged.
"Leave No Trace" policy
Burning Man takes place in the middle of a large playa and while not inhabited by humans itself, the area around the playa is home to many animals and plants. Supporters of Burning Man point out that participants are encouraged to leave no trace (LNT) of their visit to Black Rock City (BRC) and not to contaminate the area with litter, commonly known as MOOP (Matter Out Of Place). Despite the BLM and LLC's insistence on the practice of LNT, the amount of residual trash at the site has increased over the years,
[t]he number of items per plot in the City consistently increased over the 2006 to 2009(....). Although the observed trend was not statistically significant, regression analysis indicated that the predicted trend explained over 97% of the variance in the data.
While fire is a primary component of many art exhibits and events, materials must be burned on a burn platform. From 1990 through 1999, burning was allowed to take place directly on the surface of the playa, but this left burn scars (fired pinkish clay-like playa surface). When it was finally determined that they did not dissipate with the annual winter rains and flooding, in 2000, the organization declared that fires had to be elevated from the playa surface for its protection. When it was discovered by two of the founders of the Friends of Black Rock / High Rock (Garth Elliott & Sue Weeks) and BLM Winnemucca district director Terry Reid, that Burn scars from prior sites (numbering 250) still remained, they were finally eradicated in 2000 by the DPW clean up crew headed by Dan Miller.
On the last day of the event, public shared burn areas are prepared for participants to use. It is an ongoing educational process each year to inform the public not to burn toxic materials for the protection of the environment and participants.
Even gray water is not to be dumped on the playa, and used shower water must be captured and either evaporated off, or collected and carried home with each participant or disposed of by roving septic-pumping trucks, which also service RVs. Methods used for evaporating water normally include a plastic sheet with a wood frame.
The Bureau of Land Management, which maintains the desert, has very strict requirements for the event. These stipulations include trash cleanup, removal of burn scars, dust abatement, and capture of fluid drippings from participant vehicles. For four weeks after the event has ended, the Black Rock City Department of Public Works (BRC – DPW) Playa Restoration Crew remains in the desert, cleaning up after the temporary city in an effort to make sure that no evidence of the event remains.
Effect on the environment
Burning Man's carbon footprint is primarily from transportation to the remote area. The CoolingMan organization has estimated that the 2006 Burning Man was responsible for the generation of 27,000 tons of carbon dioxide, with 87% being from transportation to and from the remote location. The Sierra Club has criticized Burning Man for the "hundreds of thousands" of plastic water bottles that end up in landfills, as well as ostentatious displays of flames and explosions.
Burning Man's 2007 theme, "Green Man", received criticism for the artwork Crude Awakening, a 99-foot oil derrick that consumed 900 gallons of jet fuel and 2,000 gallons of liquid propane to blast a mushroom cloud 300 feet high into the sky.
In an attempt to offset some of the event's carbon footprint, 30- and 50-kilowatt solar arrays were constructed in 2007 as permanent artifacts, providing an estimated annual carbon offset of 559 tons. The Burn Clean Project is a volunteer organization that has helped replace the use of fossil fuel with biodiesel.
The terms of the Burning Man ticket require that participants wishing to use photo and video-recording equipment share a joint copyright of their images of Black Rock City with Burning Man, and forbid them from using their images for commercial purposes. This has been criticized by many, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
A Burning Man spokeswoman replied that the policies are not new, were written by a former head of the EFF, were used when suing to block pornographic videos and ultimately arose from participant concerns: "We’re proud that Black Rock City (a private event held on public land) is widely acknowledged as a bastion of creative freedom. [B]ut that protection [of participants' freedoms] does necessitate the acceptance of some general terms of engagement when it comes to cameras... EFF seems to think that anyone attending any event somehow has an absolute right to take photographs, and then to do whatever they want with those images without any effective restriction or manner of enforcement. While we believe that such rights do make sense for any of us taking pictures in purely public spaces, this is not true in the private space of Burning Man – if it were it would mean that Burning Man couldn’t protect participant privacy or prevent commercialization of imagery."
The popularity of Burning Man has encouraged other groups and organizations to hold events similar to Burning Man.
In recent years, burners wishing to experience Burning Man more frequently than once per year, without the need for travel to Nevada, or otherwise free from the specific restrictions of the Black Rock City event, have banded together to create local regional events such as Burning Flipside in Texas; Apogaea in Colorado; Playa del Fuego in Delaware; Firefly in New England; Kiwiburn in New Zealand; Blazing Swan in Australia; Transformus in North Carolina; AfrikaBurn in South Africa; NoWhere near Zaragoza in Spain; Midburn in Israel; and many others.
Some of the events are officially affiliated with the Burning Man organization via the Burning Man Regional Network. This official affiliation usually requires the event to conform to certain standards outlined by the Burning Man organization, and to be substantially coordinated by a "Burning Man Regional Contact," a volunteer organizer with an official relationship to the Burning Man Project via a legal Letter of Agreement. In exchange for conforming to these standards, the event is granted permission to officially advertise as a Burning Man Regional Event.
In popular culture
- Malcolm in the Middle: "Burning Man," Season 7, Episode 1, the family goes to Burning Man.
- Community: "Social Psychology" Season 1, Episode 4. At the end of the episode, Troy and Abed impersonate passers by, referencing Burning Man in relation to one man.
- Reno 911!: "Burning Man Festival," Season 1, Episode 10. Reno Sheriffs Dangle, Jones and Junior go undercover as Burning Man participants and attempt to attend the event. They get lost trying to find it and run out of gas since they have no place to put their wallets (or badges or guns for that matter).
- Homeland: Cory Doctorow's 2013 novel opens at a near-future Burning Man.
- Lucy, the Daughter of the Devil: "Temptasia" is centered around DJ Jesús' trip to Burning Man for a performance.
- American Dad!: "Francine's Flashback," Season 1, Episode 4, daughter Hayley poses as her roommate while her boyfriend Jeff tries to get her to go with him to Burning Man. Hayley refuses and, in order to get a rise out of her, Jeff takes Francine instead. Stan and Hayley (along with Klaus the fish in tow) follow to get their respective significant others back.
- Google Doodle: The first playful adaptation of the Google logo announced the founders' attendance at Burning Man in 1998.
- The Days of Anna Madrigal: The 2014 novel in the Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin has the main characters attending 2012 Burning Man as a major narrative.
- The episode "Blazed and Confused" of The Simpsons features a "Blazing Guy" festival based on Burning Man, with one character even referencing "Burning Man" before correcting herself with "Blazing Guy".
- South Park: "Coon vs. Coon and Friends," Season 14, Episode 13, Cartman, disguised as The Coon, and Cthulhu massacre hippies at Burning Man.
- Burning Man: Beyond Black Rock, a 2005 documentary of the Burning Man phenomenon.
- Dust & Illusions, a 2009 documentary about 30 years of Burning Man history from the perspective of 20 interviewees.
- Taking My Parents to Burning Man, a 2014 film documenting the adventures and misadventures as Bryant Boesen takes his parents on their first Burn.
- Spark: A Burning Man Story, a 2013 documentary about Burning Man, which includes behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the founders.